To most, the cover photo of the FoodTy blog is simply just a prawn, but to me (C), it is a constant reminder of the best meal I have ever had. The prawn combined with salt and some quality time on the grill at the hands of Chef Victor Arguinzoniz produced such great depth of flavour, I constantly refer to it as perfection.
Etxebarri is located in a tiny village about 45 minutes from San Sebastian (assuming you don’t get lost). This is the same village Chef and owner Victor Arguinzoniz grew up in and amazingly did not have any electricity until recently. During his childhood, families cooked their meals over a hearth/fire and Chef continues this tradition in his restaurant using only a flame, charcoal and his own made grill.
The restaurant itself reminds me of a communal house (“etxe” in Basque means new and “barri” means house). Although the main dining area occupies the second floor, the first floor serves as a gathering space for the village residents to play cards, eat and drink. In spite of its international recognition and stature, I really love the fact that Etxebarri still caters to its roots. Not only through the gathering space but also through its local seasonal ingredients and most importantly its cooking technique.
Below is a video of the parking lot, plaza, entrance and dining room of Etxebarri. A little glimpse into the beauty of its surroundings.
We came here with our guide and friend, Gabriella Ranelli (check her out at Tenedor Tours if you are heading over to the Basque Country). She got us a table right by the window which gave us a wonderful view of the hills that surround the village. With a stone exterior, wooden interior and a single flower as the centrepiece of our table, I was really digging this minimalist feel they had going on. As for the service, what service? Not that it was bad, its just that…I didn’t even notice any of it because here at Etxebarri, they just let the food do the talking…
And the food spoke volumes….
Most if not all the dishes had a subtle smokey flavour to it, starting with the bread all the way to the smoked ice cream dessert. What I loved most about Etxebarri is that each dishes’ main ingredient was not overpowered in any way. Instead, each was grilled and seasoned in such a way that brought out its absolute maximum natural flavour.
One course that brings me fond memories consisted of bread, a thick slab of butter about 1/4 of an inch thick, salt and mushrooms. I am generally a health conscious person and would usually be extremely averse to the amount of butter on there, but the butter was so rich and creamy, I could not deny the greatness of it all. I now know that this is the only place I will ever eat a slab of butter and actually enjoy it.
The staple and highlight of this meal was the steak. This place does steak justice. As Gabriella told us “this is not the place to have your steak well done”. They only cook their steak one way in Etxebarri, and that’s rare baby! It was served family style so among the three of us, there was one slab of steak, cut up but still attached to the bone. After everyone ate, we couldn’t let the remaining bone meat go to waste and someone had to devour the meat on the bone, caveman style. We left that to S being the only male on the table. Although looking back, I should have done it. That’s how much I loved it.
We were a little disappointed we did not get to try one of their specialties, grilled baby eel, which is only in season from November to March. Since we can’t get this anywhere I know of this side of the Atlantic, I was really hoping we would luck out at Etxebarri, but unfortunately it didn’t work out. S was also very much looking forward to trying their smoked caviar, but Gabriella told us that at the time, Chef was having some issues with his supplier. Today, I’m not sure Chef serves it as his restaurant anymore.
In spite of the very minor disappointments the dishes that were served were more than worth the visit. Every dish had the warmth and comfort of my mother’s cooking but also the care and refinement of the best in the world. Chef is extremely impressive for someone who is self taught and his talents and hard work do not go unnoticed in the culinary world. He has a Michelin star and is the only asador (Basque word for grill) on Restaurant Magazine’s 50 best list. For a lowly eater like me, I feel so privileged to have eaten here, to have had a mere taste of the magic of Etxebarri. A year and a half later, I cannot get over it.
To view pictures of our meal in its entirety, click through the photo set below. If you are using a mobile device, please click here for compatibility.
Thanks for reading,
C & S