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There are only two places in the world that make me mourn inappropriately and twitch theatrically over their foods. First: Piedmont with her purist foodies who strive to conserve the most authentic expressions of her regional cuisine. Second: San Sebastián and her prideful nonchalance in everyday fine-food affair. As the title suggests, we are on the topic of San Sebastián’s pintxo today and the only description I can offer in reference to it is a series of salacious grunts and moans. So let’s cut to the chase and go straight to the guide. Special thanks to my dear Basque friends Ana Echeveste and Luis Cortés for the recommendations. During my one-week stay in San Sebastián, I managed to stuff 90% of their recommendations into my gut and here are my top 10 delights-for-the-senses.
Why San Sebastian?
Home to fewer than 190,000 people, San Sebastian is a coastal city in the Basque Country of Spain. The city has the highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants per capita in the world. But the charm of San Sebastian doesn’t stop at the tyre branded reputation; said food critic Nina Caplan, “Many cities can provide you with a fantastic Michelin-starred meal, but to be able to walk into almost any eaterie, order three dishes and be confident they’ll all be fantastic, is very rare.” Culturally, eating is viewed as a social sport. As my friend Luis said, “I don’t go to a restaurant to eat, I go there to have a good time with my friends over food and drinks.”
What is Pintxo?
A pintxo–the Basque style of tapas–is an unassuming small bite served at bars in the hours between lunch and dinner. It is customary to order just one pintxo and one drink at each bar and then move on to the next joint. The grazing is appropriate also because each bar is typically known to have two or three signature dishes and you might be disappointed venturing beyond that perimeter. The point is to make a night out of pintxo-hopping and a participant of the pintxo-hopping sport should feel satiated and decently tipsy by the end of the night.
Charine’s Recommendations: San Sebastian Pintxo Trail
All the dishes below are served pintxo style and priced between €2 to €4. In terms of portion, you should be full by the fourth to sixth order. So go with a friend, or in a group, to try all of the recommendations.
Borda Berri – Calle Fermin Calbeton, 12
Note: English menu is available upon request.
(1) Puntalette risotto with Basque sheep cheese
(2) Ravioli with leeks, sweetbread and lemongrass
(3) Veal cheek with red wine sauce
* For the adventurous foodies: Crispy pig’s ear with tximitxurri (Basque sauce)
La Cuchara de San Telmo – Calle 31 de Agosto, 28
Note: English menu is available upon request. Menu changes to accommodate new season.
(4) Cod ravioli with tomato confit and Aragon black olive oil
(5) Foie gras monfort sauteed with honey, mustard and orange peel
(6) Veal cheeks stewed in red wine with chickpea hummus
*If you can stomach more: I didn’t get to try this but it came highly recommended–roasted sea scallop with Guijuelo bacon, cauliflower puree and curry of roots and herbs.
A Fuego Negro – 31 de Agosto, 31
Note: Menu changes to accommodate new season. This bar was highly recommended by Bruce Palling, Wall Street Journal’s travel & food writer. A Fuego Negro specializes in contemporary-style pintxos so feel free to be adventurous with your order. The menu–in English, Spanish and Basque–is displayed on a large blackboard behind the bar.
(7) Crab salad with crab ice cream
Bar Txepetxa – Calle Pescaderia 5
(8) Well loved by Sir Ian Mckellen/Gandalf, Txepetxa is a temple for anchovies. Just order any dish with anchovy in it.. I mean.. plump, juicy anchovies from the Cantabrian Sea! Specifically the “anchoa a la jardinera” is a popular fave.
Bar Zeruko Donostia – Calle Pescaderia 10
Note: Another great place for a different gastronomic pintxo experience. Like A Fuego Negro, Bar Zeruko serves modern, creative pintxos that you can’t find at other bars.
(9) Pistachio crusted blood sausage
Bar Nestor – Calle Pescaderia, 11
(10) Bar Nestor is most known for its steak and tomato salad, but it also serves one of the best tortillas in Spain.
Last one: For variety and a fun ambiance, check our Bar Txalupa (Fermin Calbeton Kalea, 3) . I didn’t appreciate any specific pintxo there but the spread of over 70 dishes across the bar was intriguing.
Gelateria Boulevard – Alameda Boulevard 20
- One of the best ice cream places in the world, and by that I mean it’s better than many of the gelato places I’ve visited in Italy.
Pasteleria Oiartzun – Igentea, 2
- A pastry and cake paradise. The trufa, spanish word for truffle, here is amazing.
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