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Akelarre | San Sebastián | Jun ’14 | “not a fan”

31 Jul
  • Rating: 13/20
  • Address: Paseo Padre Orcolaga, 56, 20008 San Sebastián, Gipuzkoa, Spain
  • Phone: +34 943 31 12 09
  • Price per pax: €190 ($255 at 1 EUR = 1.35 USD)
  • Value: 1/5
  • Dining time: 150 minutes
  • Chef: Pedro Subijana
  • Style: Modernist
  • Michelin Stars: 3

2014-06-14 12.06.40 2014-06-14 12.06.59 2014-06-14 12.07.18 2014-06-14 12.07.26

I have two warnings to gourmet-travellers who are considering whether or not to go to Akelarre.

The first is that the Classics menu is a relative disappointment. Akelarre offers three menus, one based on seafood (Aranori), one based on meat (Bekarki)*, and one a series of Akelarre’s Classics. I ordered the Classics menu, thinking it was a menu of signature dishes. Akelarre has a reputation for turning out creative dishes, and I was hoping to get a meal featuring its creative signatures. I found it to be more Classic in the other sense**, with a very classical dish profile (risotto, pasta, beef, lobster salad). Yes, there were some interesting twists on them – a foie-oxtail tiramisu was interesting – but generally they seemed needless elaboration on top of the classical flavor profile. I was disappointed in the Classics menu, and I think I would have enjoyed myself much more with the other two menus, which seemed more creative, as I found out over lunch by noticing what the other tables were being served.

*(Reference: Entry on “Akelarre”, Where Chefs Eat, Joe Warwick,)

**(This double-meaning seems accidental, for that menu is indeed a compilation of Akelarre hits that have graced the Aranori and Bekarki menus in previous years. They seem to have selected a conservative set of dishes as their “classics”.)

The second is a warning about ingredients. I was served frisee leaves in the lobster salad, that had clearly reddened at its stems. This is a tell-tale sign of old-leaves that have been prepped a long time in advance (maybe hours or days ahead, who knows.) That it made its way to my plate is either a failure of Quality Control from the kitchen, or ridiculously zealous cost-saving from the kitchen. Neither reflects well on Akelarre. I choose to believe the former, since the whole raison d’etre of haute-cuisine is to sample great ingredients, or at very least, better-than-normal ones. I hope my dish was an isolated lapse from the kitchen, and that this is not a systemic pattern at the restaurant.

My meal here plodded with the ordinary. It was less accomplished than a disappointing Arzak meal I had the previous day. While I might return to savour the view (Akelarre is situated beautifully on the Basque shore), I would not order the Classics menu, and in the mean I hope Mr Subijana can ensure that less-than-optimal ingredients will not leave his kitchen.


2014-06-14 12.08.36 2014-06-14 12.12.33 2014-06-14 12.13.02 2014-06-14 12.13.09 2014-06-14 12.19.54 2014-06-14 12.24.30 2014-06-14 12.24.40 2014-06-14 12.26.40

  • Sea Garden
    • Prawn’s Sand (4.5/5)
      • Delicious. Sweet, salty, prawny
    • Oyster Leaf.
      • with local wine jelly. Tasting remarkably like oyster.
    • Mussel with “Shell” (4.75/5)
      • Shell of cocoa butter
    • Sea Urchin’s Sponge
    • Beach Pebbles (Shallot and Corn) (4.5/5)
      • Nice corn flavor
    • Codium Seaweed Coral (goose barnacles tasting tempura) (4.5/5)
      • Supposedly tasting like percebes.
      • Good

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  • Lobster salad with Cider vinegar (4.25/5)
    • The lobster was well-prepared, savory and appropriate on the lobster claw, tail and other assorted parts. The whole emphasis on the luxury-ingredient, lobster, made it seem like hotel cuisine.
    • Upon inspection however, I found oxidised salad leaves. Not just one, but multiple oxidised leaves, the red ends of which were not trimmed. That this found its way to my plate in a 3* restaurant is very questionable. Presumably, Chef Subijana does not intend to send out days-old frisee salad leaves (after all, they are one of the cheapest ingredients, a fraction above the price of air). Who then prepares the salad leaves? His sous chef? And how can Mr Subijana allow this dish, using clearly old salad leaves to leave the kitchen? I am forced to conclude that either the Quality Control of the kitchen has dropped, or Akelarre is economising on even the cheapest ingredients (then how can a diner trust that the kitchen is providing the best?)
    • Neither possibility reflects well on the kitchen. This is not a failure of technique (which would be understandable), but of ingredient-quality, the foundation of haute-cuisine. That the days-old leaves made it to my plate, would be questionable at any Michelin-starred restaurant. Even more so at 3* Akelarre.
    • Very disappointing.

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Reddened stems

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  • Pasta, Piquillo and Ibérico Carpaccio, Mushrooms and Parmesan (4.25/5)
    • A carpaccio of pasta, not entirely successful, for the dough-sheet had a starchy texture in the middle, probably a bit undercooked.
    • The truffle had little taste (understandably, given they were not Australian truffles and we were in June), but was redeemed by the earthier dark mushrooms.

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  • Rice with Snails and Periwinkles in Tomato and Basil Film (3.5/5)
    • Carnaroli rice.
    • A lukewarm risotto rice, a bit crunchy, seemingly undercooked, with some sausage-like meat (periwinkles and snails).

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  • Whole-Grain Red Mullet with Sauce “Fusilli” (3.75/5)
    • Red mullet fillet, head and bone praline, liver and onion. Fusilli stuffed with parsley, soy, ajo blanco sauce
    • Whole-grain = use the whole red mullet, head, bones liver
    • The red mullet was good, though a residual shiny sheen of oil on its skin was a bit thick for my taste. The conceit of using fusilli for the different sauces was creative, though the jelly tasted like tasteless water, and it was hard to get into the sauce.

2014-06-14 13.19.55 2014-06-14 13.38.23 2014-06-14 13.38.32 2014-06-14 13.38.372014-06-14 13.39.08 2014-06-14 13.39.18

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  • Carved Beef, Tail Cake, “Potatoes and Peppers” (3.75/5)
    • Tail Cake with Foie
    • Coppered Potato and Piquillo peppers
    • A tiramisu of foie and oxtail, bitter. And some beef with jus, and pepper and potato crisps. Okay. Very classic flavor profile. I guess I can’t say I wasn’t warned. I guess I assumed classics meant signature dishes. Given Akelarre’s reputation for creativity, I was hoping for their signature creative dishes, but what I got was classic dishes with a little twist.

2014-06-14 13.51.02 2014-06-14 13.59.57 2014-06-14 14.00.02

  • Gin-Tonic on a Plate (3.75/5)
    • Jelly of gin and tonic, juniper sauce (the gin parfum). Mix as desired
    • Bitter jelly, with lemon ice cream. It was okay.

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  • Warm Red Fruit Cake, with Candied Fennel (4/5)
    • A nice fruit/spice cake, flavor profile like British mince pies, except with a bit more raspberry. Good fruit spice.

2014-06-14 14.09.40 2014-06-14 14.10.26 2014-06-14 14.18.42 2014-06-14 14.21.37 2014-06-14 14.21.54 2014-06-14 14.43.05 2014-06-14 14.43.51 2014-06-14 15.36.03 2014-06-14 15.36.12 2014-06-14 15.36.28

Bar Zeruko | San Sebastián | Jun ’14

26 Jul

Fifteen quick minutes
To Spain’s World Cup opener
versus the Oranje

I was in SS
Recuperating after
Lunch at Arzak

I went downstairs and
Googled for “mejor pintxos
I found Zeruko

2014-06-13 20.57.59I had ten minutes
Rushed over and found it packed
Time only for one

2014-06-13 19.59.48 2014-06-13 19.59.56 2014-06-13 20.00.48 2014-06-13 20.02.12 2014-06-13 20.02.27Football fan I am
I choose you, hoguera
Highly rated one

2014-06-13 20.03.37 2014-06-13 20.03.53

 

(4.25/5)

You smoke bacalao
On a grill, then eat it with
bread and herb puree

Down it with lime juice.
Think of a Patisserie
For modern pintxos

That is Zeruko:
Bewildering assortment
Of colourful things.

2014-06-13 20.07.16Went back to my room
The streets ready to party
One-nil Spain ! Xabi!

Oh dang van Persie
Equalises with header.
One-all. It gets worse.

Daley Blind plays a
“blinder”. One-five. It’s full-time.
I expect sadness.

But Donostia is
Still buzzing after the match
The party goes on.

A loss won’t deter
The determinedly festive
Who’ve made it to Spain

2014-06-13 22.51.57

 


  • Address: Calle Pescaderia, 10, Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain

Arzak | San Sebastián | Jun ’14 | “un-Basqued”

26 Jul
  • Rating: 16.5/20
  • Address: Avenida del Alcalde José Elosegi, 273, 20015 San Sebastián, Guipúzcoa, Spain
  • Phone:+34 943 27 84 65
  • Price per pax: €217 ($291 at 1 EUR = 1.35 USD)
  • Value: 1/5
  • Dining time: 130 minutes
  • Chef: Elena Arzak
  • Style: Modernist
  • Michelin Stars: 3

Notable links:


 

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Arzak has had mixed reviews in the last few years. Michelin continues to rate it highly. But reviews by some food bloggers (Andy Hayler, Elizabeth Auerbach) are less complementary. I was determined to enter Arzak with no expectations, and approach Elena Arzak’s cuisine with an open mind. (and I do not think comparisons to the Arzak of Juan Mari are relevant at all.) Where would this Banco de Sabores take me?

It turns out, I was transported in an Asian direction, unintentionally or intentionally. More specifically, Chinese cooking. A soy-sauce-inflected seabass, nut & seed sauces for pigeon, a scorpionfish dumpling and a sardine sphere that hinted at dim sum, sesame seeds infused with soy and wasabi. Regardless of whether my guess of Chinese experimentation on the part of Chef Elena is correct, I also noticed a lack of an identifiably Basque style to the cooking. And this is perhaps what disappointed me a little about Arzak. The oriental features of the meal were not particularly strong (the nut & seed sauces for the pigeon aside), and I ended the meal thinking that Arzak would have had a stronger meal had they chosen to put their own spin on some dish rooted in Basque country.

2014-06-13 12.40.03Indeed, a 2004 report by the lady “lxt” mentions how Arzak builds on traditional Basque ground:

Under no condition does Arzak fall under the category of those fickle travelers who bounce from corner to corner in their attempt to fit the “current trend.” Perhaps someone dining at Arzak for years may feel nostalgia toward the times when its cuisine was more in accord with the restaurant’s rustic décor, but it hasn’t lost its “personality,” and its development represents nothing but a steady, undeviating, long evolution of contrasted flavors, precisely articulated structures and decisive details, as a result of a highly developed aesthetic intuition while standing sturdily on the raw ground of tradition, letting each dish convey a unique rhythmic movement of a beautifully harmonious ballad. Elena managed to break “the traditional box by sliding out from beneath the roof and extending into the landscape” (Philip Johnson) rather than breaking the foundation of the old “house” completely to rebuild the new cuisine. – lxt

Dining at Arzak 10 years later, it feels as if the pressures to remain innovative has created a restaurant abdicating its Basque roots, experimenting with both oriental gestures and the trappings of modernism. It’s a new ship, this ship of Theseus, and one that’s not recognisably Basque.


*(A special mention for the service, which was excellent)

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2014-06-13 12.52.032014-06-13 12.52.332014-06-13 12.52.39

  • Scorpionfish mousse with katafi (4.25/5)
    • Scorpionfish in a wispy noodled croquette. Not bad.

2014-06-13 12.52.44

  • Bitter raspberry (3.75/5)
    • Melon-ham cork, raspberry mixed with a bit of apple. Visually interesting, tastewise though ingredients were fairly normal.

2014-06-13 12.52.15

  • “Gilda” of carrots and ssam-jang (3.5/5)
    • Carrot and black olive

2014-06-13 12.52.18

  • Sweet chilli pepper and sardine sphere (4.25/5)

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  • Chorizo with tonic (3.75/5)
    • Ginger ale with ham taste. Ham taste a bit muddled under the ginger ale.

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  • Cromlech, manioc and huitlacoche: Crispy manioc hydrated with huitlacoche stuffed with a preparation of onion, green tea and foie gras (4/5)
    • A bit unwieldly to eat, since the foie gras et al. was underneath a manioc/yuca pastry creation. The fin made a it impossible to flip it over. I settled for flipping it onto its side, and eating it with an undersized spoon.
    • foie’s richness was cut by caramelized onions.

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  • Lobster “Sea and Garden”: Grilled lobster with a crispy star shaped crepe and fresh greens (4.75/5)
    • The best dish of the meal, lobster with tomato water. A star-shaped crepe. A side dish of zucchini (?) roasted with paprika. Spinach leaves with juniper. And various sesame seeds, infused with soy and wasabi, to get a rainbow of different colours.
    • The main axis was the lobster-and sesame seeds combo, enhanced with tomato water. The visual effect was quite stunning.

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  • Ovo-lacto: Egg with semi-crunchy shell and baobab accompanied by “lactic leaves” and curds (3.25/5)
    • A poached egg with crispy milk, and a circular dab of gorgonzola-idiazabal. The idea presumably was to showcase the intersection of milk and egg, two common proteins. But it tasted undistinguished, remaining just a poached egg, a bit of cheese, and milk.
    • The kitchen might also consider not putting so much powder on the crisp itself. While raising it to my mouth, I happened to inhale at the same time, breathing in a lot of powder, and coughing.

2014-06-13 13.29.55

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  • Fish steak with potatoes: Fillet of seabass lightly marinated with gin and served with several flavors of potatoes (4/5)
    • Seabass in a light soy sauce. With dehydrated potato films (green potato, blue potato) and candied pistachios.
    • A dish reminiscent in presentation to The Fat Duck’s Sound of the Sea, only this one outdoes it with a visual movie of waves!
    • The seabass was a bit fishy – which I didn’t like, and actually very similar to a Chinese steaming of whole seabass in soy sauce. It was in fact, disregarding the potato films and the candied walnuts, a very Asian-influenced preparation. What did the additional ingredients add? Little – the potato films were mostly tasteless, there for eye-candy and texture, while the candied pistachio bits had crusted sugar on them – good bar snacks, but very little reason to be on the same plate with seabass.
    • I found Fat Duck’s Sound of the Sea to be successful because of the entire marine theme of the plate, but with only one marine item on Arzak’s plate (seabass), the rushing of waves did not enhance the dish. I think these extrasensory items, really only work if all the ingredients transport you to a certain remembered place. Arzak’s avant-garde dishes are at best rooted only in Arzak, and so the visual movie transported me nowhere, and was actually a bit of a distraction.
    • To the extent I was transported, I was transported by the taste of soy, to a crowded outdoor Chinese restaurant, eating a steamed fish in soy. Not really the seaside!

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  • Pigeon and seeds: Pigeon breast over a selection of dried fruits accompanied by an elaboration of seeds like pumpkin, grape or sunflower (4.25/5)
    • Pumpkin seed sauce: delicious. Grapeseed sauce (green dabs): delicious. Sunflower towers: nice. Pigeon leg, with papaya-black-olive-almond, sprinkled with chives: Not bad. Pigeon: with orange sauce. Good.
    • Reminded me of the nut candies I used to gorge on as a kid during Chinese New Year, mixed with pigeon.

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  • The big truffle: Large cocoa and sugar truffle with a creamy chocolate and carob filling (4.5/5)
    • Cotton candy surrounding a creamy filling, with chocolate poured on it. With orange flavor. Comforting.

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  • Black lemon: Crispy black lemon image with a sweet citrus cream interior sprinkled with the same fruit (3.75/5)

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  • Ice-cream assortment (4/5)
    • Carrot ice cream and carob ice cream

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  • Ferreteria
    • A nice selection of visually stunning odds and ends for mignardises. Though the tastes did not wow.
    • Coca-cola gelatin and pop rocks, Bolts, keys, screws. Other stuff.

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