The restaurants reviewed in this report are the following.
Borda Berri Tapas Bar
Viento Sur Tapas Bar
Garbola Tapas Bar
Niza Hotel Bar Operated by Narru
Ganbara Tapas Bar
Narru in Niza Hotel
Elkano in Getaria
Epeleta in Lekunberri, Navarra
Zuberoa in Oiartzun
Etxebarri in Axpe
The restaurants and bars reviewed in this report are the following.
Narru in Donostia
Zuberoa in Oiartzun
Urola in Donostia
Bordo Berri in Donostia
San Telma in Donostia
Bernardo Etxea in Donostia
Elkano in Getaria
Etxebarri in Axpe
Ibai in Donostia
With the closing of El Bulli, there are now quite a few contenders in Spain for the title of the world’s most celebrated trend setting restaurant. Of the contenders, the only one I have not tried is DACOSTA’s restaurant in Denia. ARZAK in Donostia used to be one of the world’s best in the ‘90s, but it has gone downhill since the transition from father to daughter. In my opinion the restaurant now merits one Michelin star. BERASETEQUI is a solid restaurant which cooks contemporary dishes with modern twists and deserves two Michelin stars. CAN ROCA used to be a very exciting restaurant where the chef created some masterpieces for complementary tastes containing a contrasting element. Unfortunately my last three meals there after the restaurant received the 3rd Michelin star have been consistently inferior to the meals of the early 2000s, and merited, at most, two stars. The chef, Juan Roca, seems overworked; too many dishes seem to be created by the underlings; and the cooking now showcases technical virtuosity at the expense of deliciousness. MUGARRITZ was one of my favorite restaurants in the mid-2000s, but since he broke his ties with tradition, the chef, Andoni Aduriz, seems to be rowing towards a no man’s land and is creating dishes which may satisfy the brain, but not the palette. My last meal at Mugarritz, at most, merited one star.
This said, I think Spain may be the most exciting place in Europe to dine out, since it excels in the so called “middle category,” often overlooked by the Guide Michelin.
This is a well hidden gem in Spain. It is a boutique hotel-restaurant complex, hidden in the hills above the wealthy Catalane town of Lloret del Mar.
Our friend Josep Vilella took us to this place, which is only known (for the moment) to a privileged few. He drove ahead of us and for good reason, because you drive on a dirt road among the cyclists and joggers, and, had I been driving there at night, I would have thought that I was lost and would have gone back.
My wife, Linda, was taken aback by the view and character of the place and proposed to take our photo.
We are witnessing a very interesting moment in history today, regarding food and wine criticism. On the one hand, there is a proliferation of bloggers, some with very good taste and the capacity to shape customer preferences. On the other hand, the established professional critics/judges are losing ground and credibility.
This is for good reason. Let’s leave wine critics aside and focus on restaurant critics. (I have previously argued that many established MWs, including Ms. Jancis Robinson have grossly exaggerated the quality of Turkish wines, and I have myself blind tasted and ranked the same wines in this blog.) The MICHELIN Guide nowadays primarily ranks presentation skills and not what is on the plate; RESTAURANT Magazine’s Top 50 list is more like a self-serving crusade in favor of molecular gastronomy; Italian Guides such as ESPRESSO and GAMBERO ROSSO are obsessed by what they call “creativity” at the expense of ingredient quality, etc.
Imagine some perfectly gelatinous bone marrows sitting on top of the world’s tastiest dark jus (long cooked bones and vegetables) and three pieces of thickly cut and perfectly marbled Galician beef from the sirloin, served as the side dish. Yes, the quality of the beef is higher than anywhere else in my experience, save the best quality wagyu.
Had El Bulli served such a dish in its heydays, the news would have travelled faster than lightwaves.
But no. Nowdays “celebrity chefs” are cooking for 800 or so “distinguished palates” who make up the “50 Best Restaurant Academy” or Michelin inspectors and who are more awed by artificial edifice erected with chemicals and liquid nitrogen than by pure and deep taste, while remaining silent in the presence of the affront to the taste buds by the cooking of all kinds of fish and meat “sous vide.” (Probably they cannot tell the difference between sous vide and good roasting.)
We are living in an interesting gastronomic crossroad as far as restaurant evaluation is concerned.
We are witnessing an increasing DISSOCIATION between taste and status. High status and top rankings are accorded to chefs who use liquid nitrogen as casually as a sprinkling of salt, who love to thicken sauces not naturally but with xantham gun, and who are awed by meat and fish pieces wrapped in plastic so that they can turn everything into the same mushy-cardboard tasting mess via the so called sous vide cooking. (They now call it slow cooking which is a metaphor for sous vide.) Young chefs do not have to learn how to cut the best fillets from the whole fish or how to butcher a carcass. Learn how to operate a sous vide machine, pulverize-dehydrate some grains, assemble in the last minute various components of a dish, and utilize the least ergonomic platter to paint a nostalgic natural scene, and then you are called a genius. Restaurants in the States (like Alinea), in Spain, Basque country (like Mugaritz), and Italy (Osteria Francescana) are now cooking some inedible and malconceived dishes, but their respective chefs are called “genius” by the establishment that controls entry to the high altars of gastronomy.
This sad situation of affairs is certainly creating the wrong incentives and giving the wrong signals to the chefs. For example, the three chefs in the restaurants I mentioned, Achatz, Aduriz and Botturi are actually all very good and talented chefs. But the absurd state of affairs and the increasing polarization between the preferences of those who love to eat and those so called “professional gourmets” are pressuring these chefs to move away from their respective roots and towards a synthetic-artificial-overly fussy cuisine. They would like to think of themselves as experimental artists, telling a “story,” and creating a feast, like a theater. I think of them as artists, mostly skilled in presentation and plating, at the expense of integrity in cooking. They “create” dishes with the “photo” of the dish in mind. It is the “photos” that sell, and they substitute for the real taste, ingredient quality, and true talent in combining ingredients. The dissatisfaction of an amateur client is not an issue, it is the food professionals and trade journals that count. Their model is not the lonely artisan laboring before the stoves and spending years trying to perfect a dish. The model is the scientist working for big industrial food production companies, developing scaleable-industrial food products.
Spain may well have the richest seafood coming from its own seas in the world. Its capital, Madrid, may be considered a particularly privileged location as it is not far from either the Atlantic or Mediterranean Coasts of Spain. Galicia, in particular, in the northwest of Spain, is especially well endowed with excellent fish and shellfish.
There are two restaurants in Madrid which offer this wide selection on an everyday basis. One has two locations: the one on Ortega Gasset street is called Sanxenxo and the one on Reina Mercedes street (a less upscale neighborhood than Ortega Gasset) is called Combarro. O’Pazo is about 50 yards away from Combarro on the same side of the street.
Even if you don’t want to dine in these restaurants, just visit them to see their display of fresh fish and shellfish. You will never see such a bounty anywhere in the world.
I have not been in any experimental restaurant for a long time that excited me as much as Diver-XO. The last time was in MUGARITZ in 2007, but since then Andoni Aduriz adopted a totally new and artificial style, which may be apt to feeding astronauts on their way to Mars in that the food there bears no resemblance to what we can eat on earth or what we do not eat with good reason.
People also do not eat David Munoz’s food on everyday basis. It is actually very hard to characterize David’s cuisine. On the face of it, he cooks FUSION. I, for one, am not a fan of fusion. I may even be overly critical of chefs who derive ideas from Japanese and other Asian cuisines, which mostly strike me as conceptually interesting but as half baked ideas. To use a metaphor, it is like interdisciplinary research in social sciences. One gets ideas from other disciplines and tries to integrate them into your discipline. It is rarely successful.