Saturday, June 01, 2013

Pintxos Hopping in San Sebastian

Seriously what’s not to love about this gorgeous, seaside town of San Sebastian in the Spanish Basque Country? It’s easy-going, fun-loving, and there’s no shortage of beautiful beaches, dramatic coastline, and the food, glorious food here in San Sebastian. In fact, it has the highest concentration of Michelin-rated restaurants. We weren't so lucky to get reservations but we did what locals do best -- sampling pintxos!

We kicked off our sunny beach/foodie weekend getaway in Bilbao, home of the iconic Guggenheim Museum designed by California-based architect Frank Gehry, turning this once declining industrial port town into a major cultural centre in Europe. We spent hours marvelling at this modern piece of architecture before heading into the Old Town for our first taste of ‘pintxos’ (Basque-style tapa) and the first of many (far too many) Txakoli , a lightly fizz crisp white wine poured from a distance. Our time in Bilbao was short as we were eager to head to San Sebastian later that evening. 

Unfortunately what we envisaged to be a beach trip turned into a major gluttony fest thank to the unpredictable weather but we were able to do a few short walks around this picturesque town and visited both stretches of beach (the surfer beach of Zurriola and people-watching beach of Concha). 

Keenan and I went pintxos-hopping, visiting over 20 pintxos bar over the span of three days in the Old Town (Parte Veija). I know it sounds like a lot but it’s quite easy to do when you sample two pintxos per bar (at €1 to €4 each) with a refreshing glass of beer or Rioja (€2-4 per glass). It’s amazing how fast time flies when you’re having fun. Bear in mind that these pintxos places are mostly standing room only unless you make reservations in advance.  


I had a list of recommended bars, but I would say any place that’s crowded with local people is fair game, and order off the chalk-board rather than the pintxos on display. My favourite three pintxos bars:

A Fuego Nero, Calle 31 de Agosto – The first pintxos bar we tried in San Sebastian recommended by my college roommate and it was a home run. The Wagyu beef burger was divine. Love at first bite. We liked it so much we returned again on our last evening in town. A Fuego Nero focusses on inventive, modern pintxos – all very good and prices are slightly more expensive. It’s crowded with a nice buzzy atmosphere. 

Atari Gastroteka, Calle Mayor, 18 – How gorgeous is this place with Bench-clad staff and lovely jazz playing in the background? I could linger here all evening. Again, another inventive, modern place. We had the seared beef with a splash of teriyaki and Carrillera de ternera al vino tinto (braised beef in red wine) was the best we tried. All their pintxos on display looked soooo yummy. 

Bar Zeruko - Calle Pescaderia, 10 – A light and airy restaurant filled with delectable bite-sized pieces of heaven. Very daring and bold take on traditional pintxos. Hamburguesa de chipiron – interesting dish of minced squid, crouton and a meringue of squid ink with a dash of wasabi. We also tried a number of different bacalao (salted fish).

Other places we checked out that I can recall from memory:

Borda Berri - Calle de Fermin Calbeton, 12 – Their signature dish is the risotto
Txepetxa - Calle Pescaderia, 5 – for anchovy-lovers only -- specialises in all things with anchovies
La Cepa - Calle 31 de Agosto, 7 – best known for jamon, jamon, and more jamon. In my opinion, Spanish hams are the best. Sorry for all you prosciutto-lovers.
La Cuchara de San Telmo - Trasera, 28  - this is hard to find as it is off Calle de Agosto on a dead end street. Highly recommended and super-crowded (seriously, elbow to elbow). Keenan enjoyed the Carrillera de ternera al vino tinto – it’s his Basque favourite dish – braised beef cheek in red wine sauce. We also ordered their signature dish Foie con jalea de manzana – seared foie gras which was delicious but slightly too rich for me. 

Bar Goiz Argi - Calle Fermin Calbeton, 4 – signature dish is the brocheta de gambas - prawn bruschetta smothered in their house sauce. Simply grilled but so tasty.
Tamboril - Calle Pescaderia 2 – old-school pintxos bar with cheap pintxos.

Happy eating!

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