Throw the Scales Out in San Sebastian!

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Europe, San Sebastian, Spain, Story

The highlight of this trip was to visit the food mecca that is San Sebastian. This is where we threw the scales out – and ate as if we shopped with gusto!  Together with the surrounding area, Spanish Basque country has the highest number of Michelin star restaurants in the world.  19 stars in total from what I read recently.   But apart from the molecular gastronomy, it is the the string of pintxos bars — the Basque equivalent of tapas which form the cornerstone of San Sebastian’s foodie culture.

So many “must visit” names were thrown into our pot.  Apart from our research, Chefs and Basque locals were happy to recommend restaurants like it was a sin if we didn’t eat here or there.  The result was 3 full days of tasting!  Ours senses were on full-blast mode!  Beginning with a feast for the eyes until those savoury bites that leave your brains analysing the flavours.  San Sebastian elevates your foodie standards to a different level!


Our supposed Tapas Crawl that became a Tapas Buffet in for this family of 14pax.  That’s one ticked off our list. More to go the K’s have arrived.

The old quarter of the city is packed with pintxos bars — so many that knowing where to go and what to order can be very overwhelming.

Pintxos eating is rooted in many traditions. First, you’re meant to throw your napkins on the ground. This also means that the dirtier the pintxos bar, the better it is. In the case of La Mejillonera, where the specialty is mussels of all kinds, the empty shells are even discarded on the floor (think peanut shells in a New England ale house). The second most important thing about Basque culture is that everyone respects the honor system. You order drinks and bites as you go. When you’re ready to leave, you tell the bartender what you had and pay.  It’s a superior experience for the diner, so long as no one takes advantage.

I could go on and on about San Sebastian, but the experience is personal. One must discover it individually. Below is a list of favorite pintxos.

Fortunately, a friend of mine was on a food sojourn in San Sebastian months ahead of us.  And as she happily shared the dishes she was enjoying during her round of Michelin Starred Restaurants, it was convenient for her to request reservations for us as well.

My Sister-in-Law Judith celebrated the eve to her Birthday in Arzak.  What a treat it was to be seated by the Chef’s Table – right by the kitchen scene.  It was fascinating to watch the chefs work in “organized chaos”.   No less than Elena Arzak – 4th generation Arzak to run the restaurant – selected the dishes for our tasting menu.  She was also happy to reminisce her recent visit to Manila with us and lead a tour of their cellar and Lab.  It was so surreal!

IMG_8268As if the 3 star Michelin Arzak encounter was not enough, I was keen to compare it with another 3 star Michelin Awardee – Martin Berasategui.  Valuing these as Rock Star Performances, I justified to my husband that witnessing their distinct artistic – culinary expressions first hand were worth spending a portion of my shopping allowance on.  What good is another pair of shoes or an outfit vs. unique gastronomic scenarios.  As the commercials say… such memories are priceless!

Our Maître D suggested that I get half of two Main Dishes instead of one main course. Great Idea! Was able to enjoy two for the price of one – – Sea Bass Fillet over Mariniere Sauce with Crispy Egg Yolk and yes I enjoyed my veggies this time plus Suckling Lamb Chops with Parmesan Whey with Asparagus in Citrus Dressing while Anton enjoyed his Grilled Sirloin over Spiced Spinach. How nice that we were able to sample more.

The day was perfect for a leisurely drive to Lasarte – a few km from San Sebastian City Center.  The views from the restaurant’s deck were so idyllic – so relaxing.  We were received by the warm staff and they were more than happy to make suggestions as we ordered ala carte – I ended up trying two half main dishes instead of one to try more.  They also explained to us, not to fret about just ordering ala carte because chef Martin B really includes tasting appetizers for all guests to enjoy.  They were so sweet to also consider our toddler as another guest to provide appetizers for as well.  From start to finish the food, the wine and the service were impeccable. Our Argentinian waiter was fun, professional and very attentive in a composed and non-stuffy manner. The food was realistic yet sophisticatedly presented. Everything on the plate had a reason for being there.  It tasted just the way it looked – nothing complicated. Flavours were creative and intriguing -they all tasted amazing – thoughts of “why didn’t I think of this before” were bubbling out as if I really had the credence to cook as excellent as these stars. Hands down, this was one of my favourite meals ever – what a relief it was to hear the same from my happy tummy hubby.

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