Thursday, August 30, 2012

San Sebastian, Spain - Day Two in the Basque Country

Day two started with breakfast at Oiartzun, a bakery and gelateria just one block up from the beach, near the City Hall. This bakery is absolutely out of this world, and your biggest problem will be deciding what to order. Solution: go back every hour on the hour and try something new, or look for the signs indicating which pastries are the speciality of the house. 

We took a long walk around the town again after breakfast. The Kursaal Convention Center and Auditorium is a particularly striking building designed by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo, and is home to the biggest film festival in Spain, The San Sebastian International Film Festival.

City Hall

Kursaal Music Hall

Lunch was a five minute drive out of town to one of the World's 50 Best Restaurants called Arzak led by a father - daughter team. The chef, Elena Arzak, who came out and greeted us at the table, was voted The World's Best Female Chef 2012. To fully experience this cuisine, you should order the tasting menu (€178).

Lunch started off with bread service (wheat and white served with Andalusian olive oil) and five small bites. 
Chorizo with tonic and corn, figs and black pudding
Kabraroka (scorpion fish) pudding in fried fideos (a type of vermicelli used in Spanish cuisine)
Ancho y Fresa 
Marinated sardines and strawberry
Gooseberry with coconut
Cromlech y Cebello con Te y Cafe
Cromlech stuffed with foie gras and carmelized onions dusted with coffee and green tea
Crab with anise waves
White tuna, prickly pear and figs
Chocolates in the shape of screws, bottle caps, keys, and bolts
The bolts were dark chocolate bits, and nuts were salted white chocolate blobs that were painted grey. Bottle caps were made of gelatin and topped with pop rocks, while the keys were silver dusted chocolate.

My overall sentiments on Arzak are the following: if you enjoy the Michelin dining experience of tiny little bites of interesting flavor juxtapositions and don't mind staff hovering over you every second and a final price tag that requires smelling salts, then go for it. 

As for me, I was infinitely happier ordering a plate of pinchos and local wine for €15 at the bars in town and kibitzing with the locals. Maybe, like me, you have heard so much about Arzak over the years that you just need to experience it for yourself. 

After lunch we hit the shops to take a look at the new fall fashions (whereby "take a look" means we did some serious credit card damage). I would highly recommend two stores, the first is the Noventa Grados Concept Store, for all your high-end, edgy, brands: Balenciaga, Rick Owens, Stella McCartney, Margiela, Marc Jacobs, etc. 

Our second favorite shop, was the very reasonably priced El Hangar, which carries trendy pieces with fun details, and all of the items are arranged by color. This shop is so popular that there are two locations within mere blocks of each other. I picked up a fabulous fur vest and a matching obi-style leather belt, as well as a fur collar that can be worn with absolutely any top.

All of that shopping worked up an appetite, or perhaps we just stretched our stomachs so much over the last few days that now we required more food ... either way we hit the pinchos bars again for dinner. 

Now listen carefully: no trip to San Sebastian is complete without a stop at La Vina for their world famous cheesecake (tarta de queso).  

I have talked to New Yorkers who are die-hard cheesecake fans and swear by their favorites in NYC and Queens, and even they conceded that this cheesecake tops them all! Its light and fluffy and melts in your mouth, almost like a soufflé with a caramelized top (not dense and filling like the kind we are used to at home). I think the person on Trip Advisor who wrote "ENJOY THE CHEESECAKE AND DIE!!!" said it best.

Don't tell anyone, but I took a huge slice to go and ate it for breakfast the next morning on our drive to France. I would have bought an entire cake to take home and share with friends if I thought it would have lasted more than an hour in my possession. 

Animated locals at La Vina

I will be dreaming about the food we had on this trip for the rest of my life. I hope to come back here someday soon to relive it all again. Until then, I will be on a vicious diet :-) 
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