Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The Arzak Experience

If you make the effort to visit San Sebastian, one of the culinary meccas in the world, you have to make the effort to eat in at least one of their Michelin rated restaurants (San Sebastian holds 14 Michelin stars with a population of just 183,000).  And if you're passionate about food, you have to try to score reservations at the world's top restaurants.

And that is exactly how I formed this trip.  Every city we visited had a food destination.  Spain has specialty foods originating from certain cities or towns.  This country birthed some of the greatest chefs in the world.

Enter, Juan Mari Arzak.  What better way to start our trip than with a dining experience from the godfather of all contemporary Spanish chefs, and, perhaps, of most western chefs today.  And what better way to celebrate my mom's birthday.  Seriously, there is no better way.

Arzak is located just outside of the central parts of San Sebastian.  You enter welcomed by a formal wait staff in traditional garments.  The restaurant is classic, simple, modern, and refined.  The staff and service have that unique Spanish hospitality that graciously makes you feel at home.

We ordered the tasting menu instead of a la carte selections because we assumed this may be our only chance eating here, our once in a lifetime experience.  After eating course after course with some "whoa - that's amazing!" bites, I have a feeling this wasn't our last time.  I could go back and eat the cromlech course and lamb course all over again.  Plus, the a la carte menu had offerings now offered in the tasting menu.  And of course, the menu constantly changes according to season and availability.

The icing to the meal and the whole dining experience was meeting Elena Arzak, Juan Mari's daughter.  She walks around the restaurant unassuming and readily welcomes guests who are eager to meet her, like at our table.  What an amazing night.

Our Tasting Menu
Printed out at the end of our meal.  Complete with our course selections, special requests, and wines for the evening.

A picture with Elena Arzak!
She graciously approached our table when she saw us gawking in adoration of her.  She also generously gave us her time chatting with us before and after our meal.  I love when chefs that you watch on TV are even cooler in person.

Table setting and cutlery
Simple, classic, modern, refined - fitting in perfectly with the theme of the restaurant.

Scorpion Fish Pudding with Kataifi
A crunchy light bite to start off the evening.

Red Cod Fish
More bites of fish to get our palates and stomachs ready for the the main event.

White Tuna with Marinated Strawberries
This tuna was definitely fresh from the morning market.  Light and brightened with the sweet strawberry.

Bitter Raspberry
Gazpacho-like with a jamón and melon cork.  So smart, so fun, so good.

Chorizo with Tonic
Time for the mind blowing to start.  Eaten in one bite to let the chorizo sphere explode in your mouth.  And what a great presentation - made with tonic, so it's presented on a crushed tonic can.

Cromlech, Manioc and Huitlacoche
Crispy manioc (yuca root) hydrated with huitlacoche (corn smut, or fungus that grows on corn) stuffed with a preparation of onion, green tea, and foie gras.

It's suggested to invert the fried root and eat it with your hands.  This was a great way to start the courses.  The crunch and slight sweetness played together so well.

Fluid "Talo"
Different interpretations of corn

In the form of a soup.  And wow, this was the best corn soup I've tasted.  Each bite was incredibly filled with fresh distinct sweet corn notes.  It was like corn extract in a light creamy form.

Egg with semi crunchy shell and baobab accompanied by "lactic leaves" and curds

Even shot of a runny orange yolk will always be food porn.

Fish Steak with Potatoes
Fillet of seabass lightly marinated with gin and served with several flavors of potatoes

Served over a tablet with a looping show of ocean waves, as though your actually eating the meal in the fresh ocean water.

White Tuna with Garlic Petals
White tuna with garlic petals of different colors.  When I saw those massive tunas at the market, I knew I had to ordered it.  So fresh, like we bit it off the fish itself.

Longan and Lamb
Lamb with different flavors and textures accompanied with fried grapes and longan.  I'm an old school eater, in that I like my lamb, duck, etc medium well/well done.  If cooked low and slow, the juices and flavors really shine through while still retaining it's tenderness.  The maitre'd insisted on medium for us, and wow this is cooked unlike any other medium cooked lamb I've ever encountered.  It's pink without bleeding, and so full of juicy tenderness while still showcasing the taste of the lamb.  Brilliant.

Mom's Birthday Cake
The restaurant generously accommodated my request for a little something special to celebrate my mom's day.

Super Truffle
Cocoa and sugar with chocolate and carob core

After the pour.  The heat of the chocolate sauce melted down the truffle.  So deliciously bittersweet chocolate - my favorite kind of chocolate.

Sticks of chocolate.  I love this because I can have bites of chocolate for days.

Black Apple
Sauteed apple finalized with the aspect of truffle and apricot.  Lightening up our filled stomachs with sweet fruit courses.

A picture of flowers.  Curious and ready for what's next.

Golden Footprint and Ladybird
Caramelized fruits served with black sesame bread, pepper, and licorice ladybird filled with yogurt and olive oil cristal.  It's like a foot print in the garden of flowers and fruits.

Ferretería Arzak
Arzaks Hardware Store.  Chocolates, truffles, and sweets in the shapes of nuts, bolts, keys, etc.  Such fun little bites to bring the meal to its conclusion.  Well done and well played, Chefs Arzak!

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