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Yeah, that's what I heard. I'll probably spend two to three hours max inside the museum. If it takes less, no problem. Any other sites worth seeing in Bilbao while there that don't require a big time investment.

you could crawl around it backwards in three hours.

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I am spending a few days at the beginning of September in "Michelinville" or San Sebastian. So we have to go eat at Martin Berasategui, Arzak, Akelarre, and Mugaritz...But are there any good tapas or

you could crawl around it backwards in three hours.

Thomas Keller visits the markets in San Sebastian. Lots of vegetable and fish porn       Keller

Try to make it to Asador Ripa. Excellent beef. I preferred it (slightly) to the beef at Etxebarri.


As for the drive to the latter... I can't recall specifically, but I believe we were an hour and a half late (possibly later) for our reservation. I was just about to give up when the final turn materialized.

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Lunch at Branka. A San Sebastian seafood restaurant. La Simplicité Suprême.


It’s an overcast, drizzly day. Even with an umbrella, I’m a bit wet upon arrival. When the rain comes at you horizontally, it’s kind of tough to defend against. I seek refuge and relaxation and repose inside of Branka. I’ve had minimal sleep. I’m hungry.


Go up one flight of stairs. Otherwise you’re eating in a dumpy café. Ah yes, it’s much better up here.


Square room. Relaxed, casually elegant, contemporary feel. Floor to ceiling windows on two sides that form a right angle. The windows extend horitzontally for the entire length of the room. Superb view of either a) the entire arcing, semi-circular bay of San Sebastian or b) the wide, endless Atlantic Ocean with a rocky island in the foreground. Both views work for me and I have an excellent view of both. I like my table.


Virtually no English is spoken here during my lunch. And I unfortunately don’t do Spanish. French as a potential common ground isn’t working either. I’m surely not going to ask for a full menu translation. A couple of words will help though. Okay, parilla is grilled. Many of the fish I can figure out. But what’s good here? I let my waitress decide for me after explaining that I want crustaceans followed by grilled fish. And some white wine.


A tiny little amuse arrives of two 1-inch sardines and a handful of little olives. Perfectly fine.


Langostinos Frescos Cocidos. On an attractive, large, white, rectangular plate there is nothing but 6 nicely-sized king prawns. Pleasantly plump. Their color strikes me. They’re pretty. A pinkish, orangey, vital red. Shell on. Head on. Nice eyes, too. Those eyes were probably in action not all that long ago. There’s also a big bowl of mayo sauce and a wet napkin. A bit of knife and fork action to start the de-shelling and then my hands are in action. First the head. Suck out those juices. Oooh, delicious. That salty, goopy, fresh taste of the sea and crustacean juice. That’s good. The shells don’t come off super-easily. These guys were very, very delicately cooked. The prawn meat. Oooh, pristine. Multiple mouthfuls. Pristine, pristine, pristine. One down. Five to go. A little wine. Oooh, nice acidity. That wine should have been sipped after sucking the head juices, I realize too late. It would have beautifully cut through that wet, rich head gunk. I make a mental note not to make that mistake again. I’m sad to have to eat all my pretty little friends and have such a nice looking presentation transition towards an ugly pile of shells. It takes backbone and fortitude to continue. I’m man enough for the task. Four to go. Three. Two. I’ve been sucking the head, sipping wine, eating the flesh, sipping more wine. I consider switching the order – maybe flesh first, then head. But that would then mean eating two meaty, prawn bodies back-to-back with any head juice whatsoever in between. Way, way too risky, I decide. Onwards I go with my rhythm intact, until there is nothing but a gruesome, liveless pile of shells before me. Lifeless. Void. Empty. I can’t take it anymore. I request that plate be removed. I sip some more wine. My mind is beginning to wander. I’m staring out those wide windows, deep in thought. And deeply satisfied.


Merluza de Anzuelo. Hake. Oil olive. Salt. Pepper. Grilled on a fire. How pedestrian, Chambo? Is that what you are thinking? That’s the wrong question cuz there’s nothing pedestrian from the ocean in San Sebastian. Freshness rules. Simplicity increases pleasure by not hiding superb quality. Other than the fish, the plate had some thinly-sliced (and peeled) boiled potatoes, seasoned with olive oil and not enough salt and pepper. Those were pedestrian potatoes. I had two slices and that was that. Ahhh, but the fish! And a generous slab of fish it was. Delicately cooked again. Freshness in my mouth. Delightful and flavorful, with the right amount of fleshy chew and texture. Deeply flavorful. Chewing yields more fine, fresh flavor and juiciness. Some wine. Fish, wine, fish, wine, fish. While chewing on this thick, well-oiled, perfectly-seasoned flesh from the ocean, while staring aimlessly out towards the cloudy, infinite horizon, while imagining these fine fish swimming out there somewhere and thinking about their lives, I was quite happy to be seated at this table, to be human and to be positioned at the top of the food chain. I sipped some more wine. I brought another fish forkful to my mouth. I chewed more of the meaty white flesh and tasted. Tasted deeply. I saw the hook rip into his mouth. Ouch. Poor fish. Brutal, the world. Brutal, the food chain. And look at just how civilized we are! White table cloths. Nice stemware. Red cut flowers floating in that glass container as we eat the freshest fish from the sea. The top of the food chain is different in other parts of the world. The lions of Africa eat the freshest of products too, but their table manners are quite different. Simpler. I’m still staring out to the sea. Whitecaps a plenty. I wonder if Venus was born and blown to our shores on an equally cloudy and windy day. Or was it a sunny day? I’m not sure. I’m just not sure. It’s time to go. It’s definitely time to go. I go. I go happily.

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Logistics, first.


San Sebastian to Bilbao. Estimated time (per hotel staff): 1hr. Actual: 1hr 15minutes, and I didn't miss a turn. There is no way you can do that route in an hour, unless you are speeding. Further, there are about 10 different Bilbao exits. Good thing I did my Google Maps homework in advance.


Bilbao to Etxebarri. Estimate time (per the one English speaking chef who they dragged onto the phone when I kept saying hablas ingles after they kept saying "call tomorrow"): 1hr or so. Actual: 45 minutes. I didn't leave the Guggenheim til almost 2pm. I was a tad worried since lunch service ends at 3pm. I was well-armed with various Google Maps printouts. Turned out that they were of minimal use. In fact, the restaurant website directions are pretty darn good. That said, you do kind of shout out loud in the car "YES !!! " everytime a sign appears that is supposed to appear. Further, there were 2 or 3 times when the road split and I made a random guess and said "Uh oh :unsure: " but all turned out well. Full disclosure: I did have to bang one illegal U-turn.


Will report later. Too nice outside. Going to walk around a bit. Not really in need of food, though.

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Bilbao. Etxebarri. A day for the pupils et pour les papilles. Eyes. Taste buds.


It’s early morning. It’s cloudy. I’m optimistic. A man with a plan. A man with a car. A car heading west. Go West, young man. I’m driving. I’m thinking.


There are those who prefer The Road Not Taken, The Road Less Travelled. Frost, Peck.


When I think of Spain, when I think of the road not taken, the road less travelled, I think of Cortez, the country’s great conquistador and colonizer. A man of the Old World looking for the New. A man making his mark on his world.


Time has passed. Times have changed. That necessitates a new strategy …


The Road More Travelled. Where many have gone before. Where there is little new to conquer. It’s just a day of presumed pleasure for this man of the New World looking at the New in the Old World.


It’s an easy, pleasant drive from San Sebastian to Bilbao. One takes the major expressway all the way there, passing by high hills, verdant valleys, even mini-mountains. Cloudy, then some rain drops, then cloudy, a smidgen of sun, back to clouds. You get the picture. A pretty drive, all in all, for an expressway.


I was a bit dismissive of Gehry’s Bilbao building before being in its presence. A tad overhyped, non? The Bilbao Effect! Form over function, I had thought.


Upon first seeing the actual structure, it’s hard not to have a smile appear on your face. I give the man his due (as if he needs my approval). A bravado of technological prowess and daring. “Look Ma! No hands!” Why, Frank? Because I can! Architecture as sculpture. A sculpture thoughtfully integrated into its environment. And it works and flows extremely well as a museum.


Here’s my perspective on the Bilbao. The first half of 15th century was all about perspective in art and man’s mastery of it. The second half of 20th century (and still continuing strongly) was all about new materials and man’s mastery of them. For me, Gehry’s Guggenheim is directly situated in a straight, upward sloping line of technological and materials advancement. From The Graduate’s famous 1960’s quote of “There’s a great future in plastics!” continuing unabated right thru to today’s Boeing Dreamliner made out of carbon-fiber composites. Gehry's architectural dreams and vision reach their apex at that exact moment in time when they become technologically feasible.


A contemporary building for contemporary art. Koons, Klein, Bourgeois, Serra, Hirst, etc. They are all present and accounted for, along with many rotating unknowns.


Well worth the trip. I needed all three hours that I had allotted for the visit, but I’m a lingerer. I walked around the building more than once.


But time was pressing. Head back East, young man. Etxebarri awaits. And it's now a beautful, sunny day.

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Getting to know Getaria: San Sebastian to restaurant Elkano to winemaker Bodegas Ameztoi (in multi-part fashion)


Some people don't explore tiny little villages in foreign countries because they are afraid of making one wrong turn, getting lost, being captured by savage revolutionaries, getting thrown live into a giant steaming hot pot of water and then being eaten parboiled by cannibals. These are common fears. They are only natural. They are completely human. It's okay to admit it. We've all been there.


Chambo is here to help. Chambo is here to help you overcome those exact fears. Please hop in and join me for the ride.


It goes without saying that you really shouldn’t begin to drive or write on such topics without having at least a bottle or two of Ameztoi Rubentis Rosé flowing through your veins.


I’m happy to inform you that I’m well prepared to be your guide.


First, the wine.


Here is a picture of a glass of said wine, sitting on the outdoor balcony of the Ameztoi winery that overhangs the steep vineyards below that descend down to the town of Getaria and that stares out to the mesmerizing Bay of Biscay:




It’s an extremely light pink color. Upon sipping, some red fruit but then you are hit by a fizzy, limey kick (hold on … I’m refilling my glass … … okay, let’s proceed). Yep, a fizzy, limey kick. Is this champagne gone bad? Is this a wine spritzer? No no no, those sound terrible. This is a delightful rosé. A different kind of rosé. (hold on … gotta refill again …) Hence, alas, a slightly cultish rosé. Superb on any day with the temperature over 75 degrees. How’s the rapport qualité-prix, you ask. Without any question whatsoever, for me, the quality to price ratio is infinite. What vintage, Chambo! That sounds absolutely amazing! What vintage are you drinking that offers such incredible bang for the buck? Well, that’s a difficult question. Naturally, one would assume that it’s a 2010. And it’s probably a 2010. But the reason that I cannot confirm that is because the bottles that I have are naked. Completed naked. Glass. Plastic cork. A light pink liquid inside. That’s it. No label. No nuttin. And I transported these across national borders. That’s illegal. That’s why I had to drink them so quickly. Let’s continue and all will become clear.


I had a fun day in Getaria, a mere 10 miles or so west of San Sebsatian.




You take the A8 super highway towards Bilbao, exit at Zarautz - Getaria, make a couple wrong turns, ask some nice old Spanish man for directions, have a massive failure to communicate, hand him a piece of paper, he scrawls you a very useful map and you’re back on N-634 heading in the right direction in less than 5 minutes. It’s actually pretty simple and I’m still confused how I got lost. I remember going around that roundabout 3 times and not seeing any arrows that seemed correct. Whatever.


Note to self: Maps are helpful. Studying them beforehand ain’t a bad idea, either.


So now I’m on N-634, hugging the coastline, chugging towards Getaria.




Fabulous. Gorgeous. Basque coasts don’t suck! Rocky and rugged, as usual. With a seriously steep hillside above the town.


My first destination: Elkano. How do I know about this restaurant? For one, and only one, reason. I read this thread.


And as you come into town on N-634, voila! There’s Elkano:




Here’s the view from the road:




It’s pretty tough to miss. Just bear off left. (But also notice that the restaurant doesn’t have much of a view. And all those windows are mostly covered over by curtains.)


Oh yeah, here are their outdoor grills, just to the left of the entry door:




Zoom in, if you want a closer look. When I arrived, they actually had a little film crew from some TV station interviewing the owner and his forty-something-ish son right in front of these grills.


The restaurant doesn’t have any parking. In case you are wondering where to park, let me help you. Park in this lot on the lower left portion of the screen.




How are you going to spot the turn from the road? You are going to see this Ugari supermarket out your left window:




See that white van there towards the right that backed into his spot? I parked about 3 cars down from him and I parked nose first. You may not notice it from this angle, but there is a bit of an incline there. Not a Chez Mattin-like incline, but an incline nonetheless. When leaving that parking spot after lunch, my attempt to reverse out of that spot and back up that incline didn’t turn out as desired. The wimpy rental car stalled (it’s never driver error!) and gravity did its trick before I realized what was up. I kind of sort of trashed the bottom edge of the nose of my rental. I kind of sort of trashed it three times in a row. You know, the rental that they emphasized had only 150km on it so make sure that you return it spotless. That rental ! You’ve been warned. There’s hills in Getaria.

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Having parked, I approach restaurant Elkano on foot at about 2pm, I see that small TV crew by those outside grills with their camera and mike in full operation. Father speaks some. Son speaks and speaks some more. Don’t know what they are saying but I like the son and decide that I’d like him to attend to me, assuming he speaks something other than Spanish.


The décor speaks elegant maritime. Lots of polished wood and some brass. Wood on the ceiling, elegant wood wainscoting, wood doors and outstretched wood folding screens with anchor cutouts that hide the kitchen doors a bit. Upon entry, you see a big wooden ship’s wheel that is hung on a column, along with a three-foot long wood model of a boat, probably a fishing boat. All those windows have light fabric curtains shielding your from the outside. Otherwise, you would see a stream of traffic because you are situated on a relatively busy, trafficked intersection. (Getaria, busy. Not NYC, busy.) It’s a perfectly fine setting. A bit busy for my tastes, but I often prefer cleaner lines. The women waitresses are all wearing simple, solid navy blue dresses, buttoned from the back with four big blue buttons. Clean, simple, elegant, appropriate. I like.


Hence, you are comfortably cocooned into a casually, elegant, coastal ship ready for culinary sail. Anchors up!


Waitress arrives. My Spanish has been improving. I smile and say confidently “ooh - LAAA ! ”. She says a bunch of stuff, with my smile disappearing into confusion. “Habla ingles? Habla frances?”, I answer. She smiles and disappears. Next waitress, same story. The son arrives. Much better. Communication established. A bunch of discussion, questioning and a simple plan of action is put into place. I chose the food with his guidance and blessing. He’ll choose the wines. “Would you like to start with a Txakoli di Getaria?” “Sure, why not, I am in Getaria, am I not?” “You are. And they’d throw me out of this village if I didn’t first suggest that wine!” Txakoli is the ever-present white wine that is made from all those vines that cover the upper hillside of Getaria. As far as I’m aware, there is one and only one Getaria producer who makes a rosé wine. Bodegas Ametzoi. Their rosé is called Rubentis. No red wine is made in Getaria.


Amuse. Two svelte anchovies of two or three inches in length on a rectangular white porcelain plate. On one end, a bit of essence of tomato jus. On the other, some light oil olive, well seasoned with salt and pepper. Nice, fresh, briny.


Salpicon de bogavante. Lobster salad, he called it. A square, white porcelain platter arrives. A foot-long per side. The platter has ridges going north-south and east-west, Hollywood Squares-style, creating four smaller, square sub-sections. Centered in each of these shallow valleys, there’s a big hunk of cold lobster meat sitting in a minor, pale-colored, olive oil slick. Resting upon the lobster is some finely chopped tomato, onions and pepper. Four big bites. Four big mouthfuls. Open wide ! Ehhh? Reasonably good. The lobster was lacking in depth of crustacean flavor. I’ve had much better elsewhere. Was it slightly too cold? Possibly. By the fourth bite, I was appreciating a bit more. The chopped topping was appropriately delicate, added some texture contrast and made me forget all about butter. I saw lots of that lobster going out from the kitchen over the course of this lunch. It was quite popular.


Cocochas de Meluza, multiple ways. Hake cheeks. I had seen these all over the place in San Sebastian. Every fish stall in the downstairs Bretxa fish market has a big pile of them on display. Hence, when in Rome … I ordered them two ways - lightly fried and grilled. Nice to try. At first, I was like “Ehhh?” when eating the 2 fried ones, but the three grilled ones grew on me a bit. The grilled version worked better because these thin-ish slivers become more gelatinously gooey, almost jellied, and they nicely take on some of that wood-smokiness. Glad to have tried them. Not dreaming about them. Not rushing back. And then, unexpectedly, a third plate of cocochas en salsa appears. Three more of these slivers, sautéed this time, in a thick sauce. The sauce is just that light olive oil, parsley with a whole lot of gelatinous fish stuff to thicken it up, I believe. I’m still not a cocochas convert.


Mero. Grilled halibut grouper*. With small mushrooms, onions, red peppers, young spring garlic and lightly-breaded cardo, all grilled. A very simple dish. The fish was pretty good, but again I was not overly impressed. I actually would have preferred is the fish was taken off the grill 45 seconds sooner. The veggies were pretty average. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the dish and happily left a clean plate.


I saw a green salad come out. My advice would be to stick to fish. In addition to a stream of lobster salads, I saw plenty of cocochas swiftly sailing by. Then, a nice grilled lobster passes me. Ooooh, that might have been good! The salad-eating, four-top table next to me had a large turbot presented to them. It quickly disappeared to be grilled and much later re-arrived fully plated.


Although I didn’t love my meal, I did appreciate that this is a very fine restaurant. I very much enjoyed the service here. I had a number of fun and interesting chats with Aitor, the son / owner, above and beyond that which was mentioned in the Etxebarri thread. They may be of interest.


When I get a chance, I will attempt toresume.


The key message will be: Don’t just drive to Getaria, eat at Elkano and split. Explore a bit. Walk around a bit. Appreciate where you are.






* See the posts surrounding this one for the backstory:



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  • 2 years later...

At the end of April, some friends and I are going to be spending 5 nights in San Sebastian. There will be 6 of us and we're planning to rent a house. Does anyone have any suggestions of places to stay? Any recent updates regarding food in the area?

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Ohhhhh, so that's why it was nightmarishly difficult to book that hotel room even at a serious premium to last year's prices ...

Ohhhhh so that's why I'm still struggling to weasel my way into Ibai ...

So you guys are having your film festival that week ... (I mean does every single city in the world now have a film festival ? )


So I'm booked at Martin B. I actually had a pretty decent meal there last year.

Booked again at Elkano. By the way, I'm not into women's fashion but the Balenciego museum was interesting for a quick visit last year. Lots of dresses.

Will be in Bilbao prior so I'll do a pitstop at Etxebarri to refuel on the way over.

No desire to return to Akelare. I got Branka on the back burner for lunch if I have no better ideas.

Given that ...


Should I try Zuberoa ? GastroM went a couple times in 2013 and said yum birdie yum ... but woodcock season isn't until November.

Rekondo ? I'm not the biggest lover of steaks when dining out ...

Is Mugaritz or Arzak a waste nowadays or still worth a go (assuming I could weasel my way in ... which might be a pretty big assumption) ?






Try to make it to Asador Ripa. Excellent beef. I preferred it (slightly) to the beef at Etxebarri.


By the way, Ripa has been R.I.P. for well over a year now.


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