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Bilbao and Pamplona

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#1 DEB


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Posted 14 October 2010 - 12:02 AM

San Sebastian is pretty thoroughly covered over here. So it occurs to me that on the way in, out or around some of you fine folks may have found yourselves hungry in either Bilbao or Pamplona as well. I'm heading there in 3 weeks and would love suggestions. I'm not opposed to "don't even ask how much it costs, because we were featured on Bourdain" if it's good... but I'd also like suggestions for solid tasty local seafood and holes in the wall with good wine and good pintxos.


#2 Orik


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Posted 14 October 2010 - 12:29 AM

There's a good list of Pamplona pinchos places and their specialties here:

sandwiches that are large and filling and do not contain tuna or prawns

#3 Rail Paul

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Posted 14 October 2010 - 12:47 AM

NY Times just ran a piece on Bilbao.

Actually, there’s no need to wait. The dishes being turned out by Mr. Martínez and a handful of other local chefs are already so accomplished, and yes, artistic, that it’s fair to talk of a whole new Bilbao Effect, this one taking place in the city’s kitchens.

Restaurante Guggenheim

Mr. Martínez may well be the most radical chef in Spain. He trained at El Bulli and Mugaritz, but while the avant-garde cuisine of those restaurants tends to dazzle the eyes as much as the palate, Mr. Martínez’s dishes are stripped bare — shockingly bare. At his color-splotched restaurant inside Mr. Gehry’s museum, there are no artful swirls of sauce, no visually arresting combinations of ingredients, not even a garnish.

It’s not until you bite into what looks to be an unadorned endive heart or dab an apparently raw chunk of avocado in translucent broth that you understand how profoundly innovative Mr. Martínez’s cooking is. Those endives are first “cooked” in a solution of quicklime, so that their texture is transformed into something clamlike, then cooked again in a shellfish broth to reinforce the association. Served with a few raw endive leaves, they are minimalism embodied. Yet the interplay between texture and flavor is remarkably complex.

And remarkably delicious.

Dreams come in all sizes, shapes, and colors.

#4 DEB


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Posted 14 October 2010 - 04:01 PM

Wow! That is seriously a week's worth of pinchos in Pamplona, thanks!

#5 Steven Dilley

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Posted 14 October 2010 - 08:35 PM

Asador Ripa in Bilbao. Extremely good dry-aged beef. A nice chuleton for two. Some jamon, some peppers. Decent wine selection. Highly recommended.
Say what you will about the ten commandments, you must always come back to the pleasant fact that there are only ten of them.


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#6 Chambolle


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Posted 22 September 2014 - 05:44 PM

The curtain opens ... the performance begins ...the setting is Plaza Nueva ...










The Greek Chorus : Chambo, were you fine-dining again ?


Chambo, the actor : Nope, just building a base a la basque in Bilbao before going all a la brasa. 


The Greek Chorus : Oooooooooh ! Mysterious. But it sure looks like you were fine-dining again ?


Chambo, the actor : Nope.


The Greek Chorus : Oooooooooh ! Oooooooooh ! Mysterious ! If not fine-dining, then what ?


Chambo, the actor :  Walked into the joint. Whistled loudly to get everybody's attention. Then yelled "Let's take it from the top and I'll tell you when to stop ! " 




The Greek Chorus : And then it was Light( bite)s. Cameras. ACTION !  ???

Chambo, the actor : Yep. Until I said "Bottoms up ! "




The Greek Chorus : Thanks for sharing all the Gure-y details, but no time for tuna ?


Chambo, the actor : Of course I had time for tuna !








#7 Chambolle


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Posted 20 October 2015 - 06:30 PM

For the eternally curious and detailed-oriented, the above Bilbao pintxos place is Gure Toki ... located at Nueva Plaza 12 ... in the old town.


It's probably the best option in Nueva Plaza but there's plenty of places in the old town and you need to be guided by YOUR eyes.


You can read all these reports / reviews / expert advice and then you go to the places and they may be empty or their trays of tapas are clearly mediocre, etc.


Hence, pop into the places and use YOUR eyes.


If it doesn't look good, it probably isn't !


That said, many of the best little tidbits are often cooked and not necessarily on display :-)


And all that said, it's not like these pintxos are super amazing anyway ... they're fine ... maybe even good ... but it's more about a fun time and being social and being out and about and all that kinda stuff. 


So go for it, but do it with appropriate expectations and your eyes wide open as opposed to doggedly following some insider's list (ie place A has the best bacon turnips, place B has the best cherry / pepper / foie gras on a toothpick, place C is "known" for their blah-buh-dee-blah, etc.) cuz between you and me, such lists are for the most part a giant bunch of baloney.


Note that there are quite a few good pintxos places throughout Bilbao ... but it is fun to hit the places in the old town which has a nice vibe to it ...and do stroll the north-south pedestrian streets between the cathedral and the mercado cuz there's a few good places there ... I don't know them by name ... I know them by sight.


And when the last place closes and all the eating's done and you're saying "Hey Guys ! We were just getting started. Why ya closin' so early ? I'm still starving ! " and they're ignoring you, then consider doing a stroll around the old cathedral before heading home ... it's very romantic.


FYI Tapas in San Sebast are as good or better ... if you are at the "right" places. Same rules apply, of course.


Hope this helps.

#8 Chambolle


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Posted 05 April 2016 - 01:46 AM

Since there's pretty minimal info on Bilbao here ... other than my play on pintxos in the plaza ... and since Bilbao is actually a very nice city to spend some quality time in, I'll rapidly fire off a travel guide that could be of use to some ...


TL;DR - There's way more to Bilbao than just Gehry's Goog !


I really enjoy spending at least a few days every year in Bilbao and it's often how I start my northern Spain summer vacay because it's a perfect place to fly into from Paris. Yeah, there's other options ... you can debark in Barca, Ibiza's a pleaser, but I save that stuff for later. My super-fave Spanish airline is Vueling. Not only does Vueling have super priced non-stop flights from Paris to Milan, Rome, Sicily (Palermo and Catania), Barca, Ibiza and on and on, but they also have that Paris - Bilbao non-stop that costs close to nothing if you are slightly flexible and book a bit ahead. There's even London - Bilbao non-stops on Vueling. And I will ONLY fly non-stop ... assuming that a non-stop routing exists between the cities of interest ... that's a rule that I follow diligently ... and so should you. And no, I'm not a Vueling shareholder.


When I fly into Bilbao and I am staying in Bilbao, I'll always just cab it straight to the hotel and then rent my car in the city when I'm ready for it. Even if one is leaving the next day, they might want to consider that.


Avis is in town on calle Doctor Areilza and their rates can been excellent if once again you make your (no-credit-card-required) reservation a bit in advance. One way rentals ? No worries in general, you just pay a not-too-bad, one-way fee on top of the rental cost.


There is only one hotel that I consider staying at in Bilbao and that's the Gran Hotel Domine. And you must get a room facing the museum (a Deluxe is fine) on a higher floor (ie the 4th is very fine and the placement on that floor affects the view so don't be shy and REFUSE your room if you are not happen with your view and ask to see another :-) I'm not really a breakfast person (coffee and a yogurt, thank you) but breakfast is served on the rooftop and the views there are quite delightful. You can also get drinks up there and there's a small gym on that level too and cranking away on the stationary bike while staring down on the museum ain't too shabby (and if you need to slightly move / tweak the orientation of the bike, do so ! I sure do ! Then again, my stat bike time is actually my iPhone reading time but that museum view is still there and still nice between articles. As of a few years ago, there is now a Martin B. resto on that top floor of the hotel but why in the world would I eat there when the real Martin B. resto is 15-minutes outside of SanSebast in Lasarte and I'm always going to be spending time in SanSebast too (... all this is assuming of course you want the Martin B. experience which would be the expected call for the OakFridrozians out there who want that true, fairly formal, (even white-gloved !), Michelin service and ceremony. Even Chambo has gone a few times and enjoyed it... it just depends what type of meal and what type of environment you are looking for that evening.


Note that the Gran Domine Deluxe rooms are not very expensive and given the location and quality of the hotel, just do it.


If not the Gran Domine, maybe the Melia on an upper floor (ie 8 or 9 with view of park). That would be acceptable, I guess, but I like the location less ie a bit too far west IMHO.


And I am NOT really loving the Hotel Miro ... and although there are plenty of other hotels in the city, I am trying to save you a ton of time and worry. Stop considering other options and just book the darn Gran Domine, will ya. By the way, the Stark wood-floor bathroom setup is slightly weird and the wood is a bit slippery, so be careful ... I can't believe lots of old people haven't died or fractured lots of hips.



Yes, the Guggenheim Museum is a delight to see and the ground floor permanent collection is fun to check out for first time visitors but I have seen a number of excellent exhibitions there over the years, including a simply excellent David Hockney in 2012, the George Braque retrospective (which I had already seen in Paris at the Grand Palais but it was a joy to re-see and fine tune my eyes on certain aspects that you don't do in the first go-around) and last year's Koons and a separate Basquiat, BOTH of which were VERY interesting (@ jtf - my review is coming right up ... please be patient ... you do know that Rome wasn't built in a day) And be sure to walk around the outside of the museum, especially down by the river ... once during the day ... and once during the night ... delightful. 



But Bilbao's cultural endowment is not limited to the Goog.


The Museum of Fine Arts is an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours as they have a nice permanent collection.


The Azkuna Zentroa cultural center is a very good excuse to stroll over to that part of town and check out the interesting columns within and how they are decorated. Don't forget to look up and see the transparent bottom of exposed 4th story swimming pool and the swimmers doing their thing. There is another art exhibition space here that is often for Basque artists ... in the basement (?)... but it can be hit or miss ... but then that's half the fun. And there is a rooftop bar called something like la Terraza de Yandiola (Yandiola is a resto below).


There are large parks and open expanses of green to enjoy and stroll through too.


The top resto in the Bilbao area is Azurmendi. As noted here, it is a very very good resto. (... but this OA nonsense of it being the #1 resto in Europe is total garbage ... ... but whatever ... and who really cares ... but it needed to be said by someone who actuially knows and returns (and returns) to these places :-)  ... and no, there will be no Chambo rankings forthcoming because I consider such pursuits to be pretty darn useless. With that said, I do make it my business to eat at Azurmendi when in Bilbao. And an important logistical sidenote for drivers - there are 2 restos named Azurmendi in the area ... make sure you have your GPS pointed at the CORRECT ONE !



If traveling from Bilbao to San Sebastian, a highly-approved and highly-worthy plan is to lunch it at Etxebarri. I do strongly feel that the right answer is to order the tasting menu unless you have eaten here numerous times ... and even then I'm not sure that a la carte ordering will necessary improve the well-conceived progression of the meal. They will also happily allow you to tweak / make substitutions on the tasting menu so don't be shy and do ask ... but first timers should probably just go with the flow ... with one exception. It needs to be mentioned that, outside of Galicia, Etxebarri can be one of the BEST places in Spain (ie the world) to get percebes and they are usually NOT part of the standard tasting. But ask to see them first ! (Then again, you do kind of need to know what to be looking for ...) And a per person portion size of 100 grams (@ ~200e / kilo) is acceptable as part of an overall tasting menu offering.



But there are other very nice restaurants within Bilbao proper that should not be ignored even if they do not aim for such (multi-)Michelin heights.


Mina is a very nice place of more modest ambition that reaches a 1* Mich level on its good days.  The chef is young, talented and creative and he's doing the Spanish thang with a degustation menu of something like 7 courses in the 50s or 10 for 70e. Something like that. I went a few times, haven't returned the last 2 years because they were on vacay and I also know what they are doing now and wanted to try other stuff. But I would indeed recommend it.


I also really like Bascook. Cool place and vibe, even if you are downstairs ie in a semi-basement. They do lunch (which is a crazy steal for a lot of good and interesting food) and they do dinners, but only Thurs-Sat, I believe. Verify all that opening and closing stuff. And if you are near Bascook, girls (and guys) might want to take a peek at Arropame which is a sort of clothing / design / concept store. My recollection is that it was more aimed at gals than guys but it has a tiny bit of that Paris Colette concept store thang going on. Take a peek for a couple of minutes ... and then stick your head in Persuade and do the same. Not my sort of stuff but the space is interesting to see and good browsing for a tourist methinks.



In the Melia (yes, a hotel resto, and it does indeed feel like one and it's often VERY calm ie not too many guests) is the Aizian. I go cuz for 50-60-something euros, it's kinda crazy good food. The chef isn't trying to do tricks or be real, super creative. He is simply serving up very nice Spanish product, in intelligent combination (ie with a puree here, saucing there, which is not necessarily the case in Spain), cooked with skill. Clean, tasty cooking ... too bad the resto couldn't be in a different space with a different feel. Oh well, they still hooked me a couple of times but it's not an "exciting" or "cool" or "happening" environment, hence Orik wouldn't like it (but then again Orik thinks that Bones is a good resto just cuz the vibe is cool ... so it's a big wide world out there for all to enjoy :-)


Nerua had Chambo in attendance almost 4 years ago. They aim to be a very serious resto and they are. For my taste, it is was bit too sterile and squeaky clean from a service and room perspective ... especially so if the food isn't spot on. The resto is located in the Goog museum complex with its own direct entrance. Prices here increase just a bit from the prior 3 restos, with menus that were 70e and 80-something four years ago. (Still, a crazy bargain vis-a-vis NYC / London numbers, most especially when wine is factored in. This is true throughout all of Spain and it can't be happily repeated enough ! ). There is a big team in the kitchen and they're cooking for not very many people. In fact, when I went, the small place with tables faaaaaaaaaar apart was a semi-ghost town with only 2 or 3 other tables occupied. Didn't love it. It was kinda weird. The astute diner quickly realizes that a lot of work and back flips were undertaken to deliver plates that look quite simple visually ... and it looks like normal food ... but at the end of the day they just didn't taste all that great and, in such a temple-like environment, you are going to notice a tiny fault here and another one there. They just weren't nailing it. Furthermore you got to be in the mood for that type of more serious / formal ambience. All that said, I have attempted to fit them into my schedule the last 2 years because I'm an equal-opportunity guy and was willing to give them one more chance ... but it hasn't come to pass as of yet ... who knows, maybe this year ...


Went to Zortziko. It's good enough food, but it's a too boring too formal resto in a formal room etc. It's an  OakFridrozian joint and they'd probably all like it. I don't have any desire to go back. Skip it, Orik.


There's a bunch of other real restos but let's move on...


I'm running out of steam here so ...


I'm just going to list some random stuff that the wise traveler will mark as SAVED places in Google Maps and hence have a whole bunch of gold stars scattered about Bilbao'a streets to tempt you while strolling by and maybe lead you to pop your head in and sniff around and see what the story is. That's how Chambo travels ! You should too. I usually have dozens if not hundreds of SAVED Google places for big cities / areas that I might like to eyeball. You always know which ones are close. G Maps has truly revolutionized travel for the masses over the last handful of years.



The main concentration of pintxos places is in the Old City and that should ideally be destination #1 for a first timer tapas eater in Bilbao ... but note that good pintxos options are found all over the city.

For example, these two places are pretty good and are in a different area ... along with others nearby ...


El Globo

La Vina del Ensanche


The area by these two places is worth strolling around too. In fact, the whole city is delightful.


Note that tapas in Bilbao (and San Seb) are NOT a real late night thing. I advise arriving before 9.30pm. If you arrive after 10pm in Basque country, as I often do because I'm as busy as a bee during the daylight hours, you may very well be very disappointed with the end-of-eve selections. If you can arrive at 9pm then you'll be even happier. Also, many folks reiterate that some of the best pintxos eating is during lunch, in both Bilbao and San Seb, so keep that in mind too.


Trimmer ... for my cappuccino ... actually after chatting with them, I was redirected towards a cortado


Next to Trimmer, you'll find Oka ... a good canned products place, some wines, and yeah they got international stuff too ie foie gras etc but don't let that dismay you. I don't luv their jamon here, but think ventresca, pimentos, olives etc. There is a second location Oka not too far from the Avis office.


Productos Ibericos. c/ Henao 44. nice little shop w gourmet products. hams, cheeses, some canned and bottled products etc ... short stroll from the Gran Domine. 


Vinoteca Manu Martin is a quality Bilbao wine store ... not a super extensive selection but it's reasonably well-curated if you are looking for a decent bottle or two and not focused on trophy wines. It is literally directly across the street from the Gran Domine.


Bistrot. c/ Juan de Ajuriaguerra 13. good enough for my morning coffee and some simple pintxos to get my day started if I'm not doing breakfast on the roof. A few minute walk from Gran Domine.


Casa del Cafe & Te is my other go-to coffee place for a reasonable cafe con leche in an old-fashioned sort of place. The reason why it's my go-to place is because it's 2 blocks north of the Avis office and I like to "recharge" myself before picking up my vehicle and heading out into the wilds of the Basque ...

#9 Chambolle


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Posted 16 August 2018 - 11:35 AM

Lemme know if anything new in San Sebsatian or Bilbao and environs that you like.


Joe, there's tons of things that I like ... and there's only so many hours in a day ... and I'm busy doing very important posts about radishes ... so let's see if we can accelerate this ... tell me what you already know and where you've already been in Bilbao ... and what you did and didn't like.


I presume you've covered the list above ?


And as you know, it's not necessarily all about "the new" joe ... unless it comes to joe, joe ... cuz I really only like next-gen coffee now (Brulerie Maubert? Yikes !!!) and while on the subject, please note that that good coffee place Trimmer is now closed.


So give me all your personal data and Chambo will run it through his proprietary machine learning algos and we'll see what matches up for ya, okay ?


And if I were you, I'd hurry there ! The Bilbao Gugg has some very good expos right now. 


The Joana Vasconcelos “I’m your mirror” expo is superb, fun, creative, thought-provoking, uplifting and more. And she did a massive custom installation piece that fills most of the nooks and crannies of the Gugg's volume. Highly highly reco'ed by Chambo. Further, although I'm not really the biggest Chagall fan, the current Chagall : The Breakthrough Years 1911-1919 expo is very, very good. I understand and appreciate the artist much more now ... and that's what a well-conceived expo should do. Bravo to the curators on that one ! That said, the Art and China after 1989 expo was pretty much a yawn to me. Granted, a smaller expo than the others, but it was borderline an afterthought of almost random stuff ... hence not essential unless the topic is already of personal interest

#10 joethefoodie


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Posted 16 August 2018 - 01:23 PM

Gracias, and perhaps I wasn't totally clear - this will be our 2nd trip to San Sebastian, with perhaps a day and night or two in Bilboa. But not until Thanksgiving. I will peruse the list above for recos.


You know, the Guggenheim in NYC currently has a pretty awesome exhibition right now?

#11 Chambolle


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Posted 16 August 2018 - 01:40 PM

joe, Im at dBerto right now, deflowering percebes while exchanging porn (of the food varietal) with Parisian Mich *ed chefs who are at G M in A right now, so its getting really messy. Can we talk later ...

#12 joethefoodie


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Posted 16 August 2018 - 01:58 PM

No problem - enjoy your percebes.