Tuesday 31 May 2011

Pintxos, San Sebastian

Gluttony. I can't think of any other work to adequately describe the reasonable and civilised pintxos crawl that started early in the afternoon and ended as an all-out binge finishing late into the evening.

I had arrived in San Sebasitan early in the morning after taking the overnight train from Paris. San Sebastian is known as the culinary capital of Spain, and considered by many to be the premiere food-city in the world. San Sebastian is in Basque country with is known for its new Spanish cuisine and innovative chefs. It has the highest concentrate of Michelin stars in the world (in relation to population) and as result, the standard of food in the entire town rises to meet the high bar set by these elite chefs.

When not dining at Michelin star restaurants, another culinary drawcard are the pintxos which are the traditional bar food in the Basque country. Similar to tapas in the sense that they are served in bars with drinks, but different as they are served individually and are commonly much larger than tapas.

I started touring the old quarter of San Sebastian with Dania, another Aussie girl staying in the same room with me at the Pension.

We commenced our journey at Hori Da and ordered a selection to Pintxos to share together with a few glasses of Txakoli (the traditional drink with pintxos, a sparkling dry white wine, poured from a height to create a fizz like cider).

Pictured on the plate above is (clockwise from top):
  • Tuna and anchovy on baguette
  • Jamon, goats cheese and balsamic reduction on baguette
  • Braised beef and carrot on baguette
  • Bacon, goats cheese, onion confit and sundried tomato on baguette
  • Chicken vol-au-vent

The interior of the bar

We then headed to Bar Martinez for round two, consisting of cheese croquettes, smoked salmon canapes and the below item that we believe was fish egg sack based on the taste, texture and our inability to grasp Spanish and/or Basque.

Although the taste was fine (like cooked tuna), the texture was grainy and off-putting and the physically appearance did not help

We didn't get the name of our next stop but it had jamon hanging from the rafters and we stopped for a couple of glasses of sangria (the best I have ever tasted).

The interior of the [name unknown] 3rd stop on our tour

The next stop was at Bar Txalupa Jatetxea for a variety of pintxos including goats cheese with tomato confit, jalapenos, more smoked salmon and angulas (baby eels with seafood salad) (pictured below)

The interior of the bar

We then returned to our pension to freshen up before heading out again. Back at the pension we met another roommate, Darias, and the three of us heading out for more eating. The first place we stopped at, I managed to show some self control and didn't eat anymore stating that "I'm full. I'm not going to eat for the sake of eating. Maybe if I see something spectacular, I'll try it but otherwise I'll pass".

It was, however, when we arrived at our final destination for the evening, Astelena, that the level of quality of the pintxos improved (from an already high standard) exponentially and the gluttony began.

As with most bars, the food is laid out on the bar and patrons choose what they wish. Some bars may also have a small menu that you can also order from. However, at Astelena, the additional hot foods listed on the menu were far more extensive than the already wide selection on the bar.

We selected three or four dishes to share but that list quickly blew out as we saw what other patrons were eating and felt the need to try everything and of course, combined our order with a bottle of txakoli.

We ordered:
  • Grilled octopus (we meant to order squid but it got lost in translation)
  • A petit steak (served rare and very tender)
  • Grilled chorizo (pictured below)
  • Cheese Buñuelos
  • Foie Gras ravioli (pictured below)
  • Grilled baby quail

Grilled chorizo

The foie gras ravioli was the surefire winner for me. It was creamy, smooth, melt in the mouth and more calories than I dare to consider.

The bottle of Txakoli

The interior of Astelena

After Astelena, I headed back to the Pension vowing to skip breakfast knowing the 12 course feast that was awaiting me the next day at Asador Etxebarri.

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