Elkano | Getaria | Jun ’14 | “turbot”

24 Jul
  • Rating: 16.5/20
  • Address: Herrerieta Kalea, 2, 20808, Getaria, Guipúzcoa, Spain
  • Phone: +34 943 14 00 24
  • Price per person: ~€80 ($108 at 1 EUR = 1.35 USD)
  • Value: 3.5/5
  • Chef: Aitor Arregui (and family)
  • Style: Seafood

 

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In the course of 6 days in Basque country, I had the good fortune of visiting two ingredient temples. The first, Asador Etxebarri, and the second, Elkano in Getaria. Elkano has the reputation as the best seafood temple in Basque country. It is named after Juan Sebastián Elcano, born in Getaria, the first man to circumnavigate the world (the original expedition commander, Magellan, was killed in the Philippines). The restaurant is located in the centre of the sleepy seaside town, opposite a small square with a statue dedicated to Elcano.

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It was a winding drive from the surf-town of Zarautz, where I was staying, to the town of Getaria. The coast is fairly rocky, the road sometimes passing under drilled out rock. The beach was also nothing much to look at, the sand a dirty brown.

Elkano is famous for its innovative barbecue techniques, specifically, roasting fish whole in its own skin. This was invented by founding patriach Pedro Arregui all the way back in 1964. It is quite a sight to behold, the mighty winged turbot being clamped by a custom-made instrument, and sent onto the grill. Like Etxebarri, the implements seem rudimentary, with different grills, and wheeled systems to move the grills up and down. The results were fantastic: the turbot in particular, oozing with gelatin with every bite. It was oily, gelatinous, a mess, and absolutely delicious.

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I found out later, that Pedro Arregui, the patriach of the restaurant, had passed away in February 2014. (Write-up by Geeta Bansal here: http://chefgeeta.wordpress.com/2014/07/15/pedro-arregui-elkano-spain/). Just a month earlier in January, Elkano celebrated its 50th anniversary. As long as Elkano remains in family hands (the chef is now his son Aitor), I believe Elkano will remain a top class destination for seafood.

Not surprisingly, as Etxebarri and Elkano are only an hour away by car, I found numerous similarities (though it may be the conjoined cause of their location in Basque country) – the wheel-pump implements to raise and lower the grill, the custom barbecue equipment, and the serving of milk-based ice cream with berries.

Other notable write-ups:

  • Geeta Bansal’s recent piece on Elkano: http://chefgeeta.wordpress.com/2014/07/15/pedro-arregui-elkano-spain/
  • Vedat Milor extols Elkano’s virtues: http://www.gastromondiale.com/2012/05/donostia-and-three-of-the-world-top-10-restaurants-ibai-elkano-and-etxebarri.html
  • Obituary for Pedro Arregui: http://www.diariovasco.com/20140215/local/fallece-pedro-arregui-alma-201402151108.html
  • Quique Dacosta memorialises Pedro Arregui: http://quiquedacosta.blogspot.sg/2014/02/pedro-arregui-elkano-getaria.html
  • An interview with Aitor Arregui:
    • So the Getaria grill started out here in  Elkano?

      Well, the Getaria grill started out in the boats, as the fishermen already used to grill in the boats, but then red bream and chops were grilled over embers on land. My father began to use other fish and in other ways. They used to take the skin off the flat fish and he decided to grill them whole and in their skin, as he noticed that if you cut up a fish like turbot and grilled it without the skin, the fish tended to dry up. Well, when it is grilled whole, the skin protects it and you keep all the juices, and, you also get a combination of skins and textures with the same turbot. The part that they only used to use to make soup, the nape, well, my father took it and from the hake and put it on the grill, and found out that the nape was better than the tail. That was even an economic change, as the fishermen, who had not been paid anything for the nape, began to be paid as much as for it as for the tail or even more.

      A turning point.

      Yes, in many ways. He began to grill whole shellfish and then he began with the clams. I remember, when I arrived one evening, he said to me: “why don’t we put the kokotxas  (fish cheeks) on the grill?” and we invented a kokotxera (fish cheek grill). We began with a sieve and carried on like that for a year before making the fish cheek grill.  And we then started to try out grilling everything: cuttlefish, vegetables, and many other things… My father was a trail-blazer in the world of grilling, a pioneer and I am only trying to carry on with a team with what he did by himself.


 

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  • Amuse: Monkfish liver (4/5)
    • Tasted like foie, and the comparison is not superficial. It is amazing that this fish can summon up such a fatty texture
    • Served glazed with sherry, and a cherry

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  • Kokotxas – different textures (fried, grilled, and in green sauce [pil pil]) (4/5)
    • Really top class hake cheeks, though I find the traditional preparation “pil pil” to be a bit too garlicky for my taste.
    • Their gelatin lends them the phrase “melt-in-your-mouth”, though I’ve found with all kokotxas, that it slightly overstates the case – to release the gelatin you still need to chew (very very slightly).

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  • Chopped lobster

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  • Squid (3.5/5)
    • Daily catch of the day

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  • Grilled Turbot (5/5)
    • Hello you beauty. So many textures to speak of. The browned roasted fin is like a well done fried potato crisp; the flesh like bouncy jelly, and the various parts of the head filled with tender oily soft melt-in-your-bits.
    • The existence of this marvellous dish is a testament to the superiority of the Arregui whole-fish-grilling method.
    • The larger the fish, the more plentiful the weird odds-and-ends that make eating turbot a delight

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  • Cheese ice cream with strawberry infusion [helado con queso] (5/5)
    • A really good cheesecake flavored ice cream. This was a simple and perfect way to end a feast.
    • This was a good end to the meal. I would find the gesture of a simple milk-based ice cream with berry sauce, repeated at Etxebarri (with Victor Arguinzoniz’s own twist).

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4 Responses to “Elkano | Getaria | Jun ’14 | “turbot””

  1. docsconz July 25, 2014 at 11:53 pm #

    I’m happy to read this positive report as recent reports since the death of Pedro have indicated a decline. Not having yet dined here is one of my most glaring lapses in my experience of great Spanish restaurants.

    • kentiong July 26, 2014 at 10:04 am #

      Good to hear! Of course, I’ve not dined at Elkano before so I can’t compare, but I’m a fan of the turbot (and isn’t the whole grilled fish why we go to Elkano). The cheese ice cream is delicious. More experienced gourmands may differ in mileage! I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot about the golden age of Pedro.

    • kentiong July 26, 2014 at 10:06 am #

      And would love to get a meal sometime (maybe Basque country, or Europe at large?)

      • docsconz July 30, 2014 at 5:26 am #

        That would be great!

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