Published with permission from LuxuryWeb Magazine
Nestled in the heart of Europe, San Sebastián stands as a beacon of exceptional culinary culture. Renowned for its innovative chefs who have earned global acclaim, this city, along with its surroundings, has captured the attention of the Michelin Guide for its remarkable gastronomic standards.
My annual pilgrimage to the Gastronomika Conference in San Sebastián is driven by an eagerness to indulge in the exquisite creations of these celebrated kitchens. In this city, mediocrity in cuisine seems nonexistent. From quaint tascas and unassuming bars to elegant hotel restaurants and prestigious Michelin-starred establishments, every meal here is a thrilling exploration of flavors.
Among my favored dining destinations is the historic Arzak Restaurant, a culinary landmark since 1897. Originated by Juan Mari Arzak’s grandparents, the restaurant is now a testament to the culinary prowess of Elena Arzak. Elena, inheriting her father’s legacy, has reimagined traditional Basque dishes with a modern twist, maintaining a deep respect for Spanish culinary heritage while innovatively integrating new flavors.
Arzak’s culinary library, boasting over 1500 herbs and spices, enriches each dish with distinctive tastes. The restaurant offers both an à la carte menu and a seven-course tasting menu, with the latter providing an unparalleled dining experience.
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Another gem is the establishment led by Martín Berasategui, a celebrated Spanish chef adorned with multiple culinary accolades, including an impressive 12 Michelin stars across his venues.
Known for its unique assortment of breads, from bacon brioche to fenugreek bread, the restaurant’s menu features extraordinary dishes like a mille-feuille of smoked eel and foie-gras, and a Balfegó tuna tartar with intriguing accompaniments. The highlight, however, is Berasategui’s tasting menu, an intricate symphony of 11 small plates, followed by a quartet of desserts.
Mugaritz, a 30-minute journey from San Sebastián’s heart, has also left an indelible mark on my palate. Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz, a globally recognized culinary force, has led Mugaritz to earn two Michelin stars since its inception in 1998. The restaurant’s philosophy is embodied in its dynamic menu of over 23 small plates, reflecting the season’s best offerings. Despite the steep price, the dining experience at Mugaritz, where chef Aduriz’s vision comes to life, is truly priceless.
Eneko Atxa, another maestro of Basque cuisine, blends traditional influences with inventive flair at Azurmendi and ENEKO. Both restaurants, adorned with Michelin stars, promise a journey through extraordinary culinary landscapes. The experience begins in Azurmendi’s expansive indoor garden and unfolds into a menu that is a testament to creativity, sustainability, and exceptional regional ingredients.
A notable mention is Elkano, a prestigious fish grill establishment run by Aitor Arregui and his family. Situated near the Atlantic shore, about 25 minutes from San Sebastian, Elkano specializes in fresh, ocean-caught fish, prepared with traditional grilling techniques. The restaurant’s history, beginning as a humble grocery store transformed into a culinary landmark, speaks to its commitment to quality and innovation.
These are but a few of the culinary treasures San Sebastián offers. For anyone fortunate enough to visit, these restaurants are not just meals; they are memorable experiences that celebrate the art of fine dining.
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