After a leisurely 2 hour drive from Elciego and passing by Pamplona (famous worldwide for the running of the bulls) we arrived in San Sebastián in the early afternoon.
|Hotel Maria Cristina |
This is a view of the back entrance of the hotel which spills onto Okendo Kalea. Our room is circled in red.
After checking in, we introduced ourselves to Sebastián by heading to the beach and taking a walk along el Paseo de la Concha, the promenade running beside the beach and lined with a white wrought-iron balustrade.
With one of the best urban beaches in Europe (Playa de La Concha), with Michelin stars apparently falling from the skies onto its restaurants ~ Akelaŕe, Martín Berasategui, Mugaritz, Alameda, Elkano, Kokotxa, Mirador de Ulía, Zuberoa ~ and an elegance that rivals that of any European capital, San Sebastián fully deserves its nickname of the Basque Country’s Jewel.
Conceiving of a better-looking shoreline is hard. A mile long promenade, which serves as the city's communal front porch, is lined with frilly balustrades, whitewashed cafes, and matronly bathhouses. Concha Beach, the most famous of the city's three beaches. Walk west toward Ondarreta Beach, with its tennis courts and old-money villas. Or walk east, past the tilting glass cube of the Kursaal Auditorium, until you see the rugged surfers on Zurriola Beach.
|Located in the quiet village of Errenteria.|
Mugaritz was about a 20-minute drive from our hotel. It is completely surrounded by
Daily, chefs will pick flowers, plants, and herbs to
enhance an ingredient, a plate, an experience.
|Mugaritz, a 2 Michelin star restaurant in an understated country|
house nestled in misty foothills 20 minutes outside of San Sebastián.
"When you go to culinary school," Chef Aduriz smiles, "you are taught food must be pleasing, but when you get to Mugaritz, you realize that sometimes you need to be disturbed, to be shocked." Interview in The Guardian May 2012
Stepping into the restaurant, we immediately noticed that the walls are dull and wooden and the only gesture to decoration, is a dinner plate on each table, broken in half then pieced back together. The room is almost austere with only 17 tables.
Mugaritz mantra: You don't have to like something to like it.
To get a glimpse of the team behind Mugaritz view the trailer for the documentary OFF-ROAD, through the eyes of La Fura dels Baus.
|Decoration on our table|
But there are no plates setup, no silverware, no glasses, and
no flowers, only a broken plate centerpiece adorns the table.
The waiters wear black and silently walk through the dining room without hardly being noticed. What we noticed was a quiet dining room, people were talking to each other regularly, but it seemed like murmurs and whispers. Here, dinner was to be an all-night event.
Joan and Gus are ready to be wowed.
|2011 Raventos i Blanc de La Finca Gran Reserva Brut|
Conca del Riu Anoia
At Mugaritz, every table begins with a sequence of several finger-food dishes – no forks or knives, where only a napkin is placed by your side, and you are handed wet towels at the end of the sequence. From the very beginning, it is unmistakable that the kitchen doesn’t want you to know what you’re eating; the idea is to keep you off guard where there may be nothing you immediately recognize as food.
|Salting of ashes: orchids and ferns.|
Unfortunately, this photo is after our dishes
were already eaten as we had not yet adopted
the "take a photo of every course" policy.
|Marine cold cuts.|
A very pungent trio of smoked seafood. From left
to right: mussel, anchovy, and squid with tapenade,
Sprouted chia seed with lobster ceviche.
Offering us the chicken skins.
Born and raised in Brooklyn and speaks 6 languages. She has
also worked at Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee Hotel
(Photo credit: insatiableeater)
Once back in the dining the room, our Mugaritz journey actually began. The tasting menu that remained this evening contained 20 courses.
After having the sparkling wine with the first 3 plus 1 courses Gus and Joan, with help from our talented sommelier, chose a delicious Tempranillo to accompany the savory courses of our dinner.
|Cold duck pastrami|
|Egg yolks tucked in with a sea urchin blanket.|
|Black summer truffle slices with a fresh dressing of garlic and parsley.|
A walnut tortilla and sliced fresh mushrooms
served on a piece of ultra-crisp "crystal" toast.
|Tiger nuts with caviar.|
Cold starch extracted from the ground tiger nut which is
mixed with water and shaped into a biscuit; it is finished
with a spoonful of Osetra caviar.
|Mousse of cream and spider crab.|
Spider crab set in a milk cream base served
with a spoonful of cayenne pepper.
|Oyster and young garlic warm omelet.|
|A thousand leaves...|
A mille-feuille made up from chard leaves blanched in
a beef reduction served with a piece of Idiazabal cheese.
Roasted loin of hake with crumbly fresh cottage cheese.
|Bovis máxima: vive la France!|
Inside a beautifully made cardboard cover was a crisp
sandwich with a creamy bone marrow filling, elegantly
seasoned with tarragon. A small bowl of demi-glace sauce
was served on the side.
Beautifully roasted, halved bulb of garlic,
glazed with a lamb jus reduction, which
we were instructed to squeeze over a piece
of grilled brioche toast.
|Grilled and bathed stingray.|
|"Pâte de Fruits."|
|Eucalyptus smoked loin of lamb with its cultivated wool.|
The wool was created from lamb jus fermented with tempeh.
After this, we moved towards the final stage of dinner, served in five sweet and savory courses.
|Toffee and parsnip cake.|
The little bit of spice from the parsnip was great with
the toffee and included, as an ingredient, cod liver.
|Strawberries and Port.|
|Jasmine and hay.|
Jasmine ice cream wrapped in mochi skin.
|Glass. Sugar and cocoa as a cookie.|
The tower consisted of seven levels of chocolate representing the seven deadly sins. Gold dusted chocolate for pride; one chocolate for envy; broken pieces of chili flavor chocolate for wrath; small crunch balls for gluttony; an empty level for greed; rose flavor chocolate for lust; large chocolate slabs for sloth. So clever...
|Black toilet paper|
(Photo credit: lb.noel)
... yet upon visiting the restroom, Gus felt as if he was in a Dr. Seuss book, experiencing something discordantly novel. He was mesmerized and disturbed at the same time.
Okay, what did we think about our dinner at Mugaritz? Well, for us, it may have been like listening to Thelonious Monk. We knew that many sophisticated diners and restaurant critics love Chef Aduriz and his "jazz band," however, it just was not for us. Sure enough, the cooking and execution were faultless, the conception incredible, there was plenty of intrigue present, the techniques seriously impressive, and the ideas boundless. However, with neurotic attention to detail, it seemed that every dish was forced in its need to explore a new technique or texture or flavor; the experience just didn't excite us. It had many hallmarks of an excellent meal, but we didn't go away with that sense of joy that a superb dining experience generally engenders in us. I can only put it down to a question of taste and maybe we prefer classical to modernist (although, Christopher Kostow at the storied Restaurant at Meadowood has wowed us and where inventiveness does not come at the expense of flavor). Gus knew that Mugaritz polarizes people, and he was almost intrigued to see on which side we'd fall. Well, now we know. Gus still is very glad we went, in spite of the stunning cost of the dinner, while Joan not so much. Mugaritz just like Thelonious is certainly unique and innovative, but for us, was a bit of a letdown given its reputation.
We were back at the hotel in 20 minutes. Our evening was one that we would not soon if ever, forget.
Located on the eastern end of the bay above the Old Town. At the
top, you’ll find a city park, (closed to traffic) crowned by the semi-ruined
12th century Mota castle and a huge Franco era sculpture of Christ, the
Sacred Heart statue which overlooks the city.
|Port Area and Sea Palace Aquarium|
Situated in the western corner of Mount Urgull is a nice place for
sitting down and relaxing for a bit. At the far end of the port, you
can see the .
|Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus|
We caught the first glimpse of the basilica from a narrow street (Agosto Kalea)
in front and it is quite inviting. The impressive Churrigueresque style façade has
been recently restored. It was built in flamboyant Baroque style, begun in 1743,
on top of an older Romanesque church. It has three naves and Gothic ribbed
vaults and houses the image of the city’s patron saint, Nuestra Señora del Coro.
|Victoria Eugenia Theater|
Located next door to Hotel Maria Cristina on Plaza Oquendo.
Inaugurated in 1912, it is one of the most charming buildings in
the city. Its recent renovation has transformed it into an innovative
performing arts venue, with the most modern equipment and
services while maintaining its charm and original characteristics.
As the day was turning to dusk we returned to the hotel and freshened up (which included Gus having a gin and tonic and Joan defaulting to her go-to vodka and tonic) and changed into our dinner clothes.
We had dinner reservations at 8:30 and we were the very first diners; by 9:15 the restaurant was full and alive. We were graciously welcomed and seated by Beatriz Bengoetxea, co-owner, head waiter, sommelier, and wife of the chef.
Small, casual and contemporary restaurant which
is a short taxi ride from central Donostia. Amid the
new office buildings of the Igara district, Agoreggi
is not on the tourist map.
We started with a wonderful amuse-bouche of ...
(Photo courtesy of Diane64190 on TripAdvisor)
|Gus chose roasted mushrooms with an egg at 65º.|
|Joan had tuna tartare with a quenelle of mustard|
|Joan's lightly grilled prawns in, what she recalls as, a |
delicate sea urchin sauce.
|Gus' perfectly roasted pigeon with onion petals|
|For Gus a single glass of a young Tempranillo from|
Bodegas Landaluce and for Joan a single bottle
of a full bodied San Miguel, Selecta beer washed
down the delicious dinner.
Crisp, lacy almond cookies flavored with orange.
Congratulations to Gorka and Beatriz on their well-deserved Bibendum.
We returned to Hotel Maria Cristina, comfortable and pleased. The next morning we set out without breakfast and soon found ourselves in front of ...
|Pastelería Oyarzun (aka Pastelería Oiartzun)|
Close to the Almeda del Boulevard, an enchanting bakery which
will have your mouth watering in no time. Next, to intricately crafted
sweets, this place offers cakes, pastries, and fresh bread. There is hardly
a better way to start the morning than taking a seat outside of this lovely
café with a selection of cakes and watching the people pass you by.
We selected pastries, ordered coffees, and went outside and sat down at a table on the cafe's terrace. The cool morning air, the peacefulness of the moment, freshly brewed coffees making their acquaintances with "just-out-of-the-oven" pastries, all contributed to a general feeling of salubriousness. The perfect way to start a day in San Sebastián.
Next, we found ourselves strolling ...
|Fresh crustaceans and bivalve mollusks|
|Crab tank below the floor of the fish purveyor|
We wondered past La Bretxa Market and glanced at the stalls of the local farmers that sell their produce every day on the side of the building.
Besides seeing vegetables and cheeses, we particularly enjoyed the beauty of ...
|Fresh, organic produce beautifully displayed|
|Colorful flower stall|
One of the bar's specialties was a mouth-puckering , a toothpick stacked with Ibarra guindilla pickled peppers, garlic-stuffed Manzanilla olives, and an oil-packed Cantabrian anchovy that must always be taken in one bite, as dictated by local tradition.
We spent the rest of the day wandering around one of the "shopping districts" of San Sebastián Boulevard Zumardia, which we just chose by chance, was populated with impressive historical buildings and shops selling Spanish as well as international brands. We picked up a few things, a scarf for Joan's sister, a fishing cap for Joan's brother-in-law, and a poster depicting San Sebastián for Gus and Joan.
|Grand Establishment Baths|
The Pearl of the Ocean
San Sebastian Spain
One of the Best of Europe
Along the way, we enjoyed ice cream cones from ...
They offer, maybe as many as, 30 flavors. The staff is friendly
and honest with their recommendations and will allow what
seemed like unlimited tasting samples of delicious scoops of
smooth, creamy goodness.
(Photo courtesy of SaaKu on TripAdvisor)
...which we ate on our walk to La playa de Zurriola and finished while sitting on a bench and watching the afternoon surf break on the white sandy beach. Our walk back to our hotel was disturbed when noticing that Gus had left our poster on our bench on the beach; Gus quickly returned to the bench, fortunately, he recovered the poster. Whew!
Tonight we prepared for our departure the next morning to Barcelona. To keep things simple we ate at CAFE SAIGON, one of two restaurants in our hotel.
|Gus having a bowl of Phở bò|