Part 1: Following The Pintxos Trail
Part 2: San Sebastian Foodie Favorites & A Great, Big Steak
*plus see more tapas recommendations at the end of this post
Donostia – San Sebastian really grows on a person. Located in northern Spain’s Basque country, it’s blessed with a beauty and charm that grabs ahold of our hearts.
In the winter, the day dawns in shades of slate grey. The cool morning chill perks up appetite and while most places don’t open until 10am, we do find some truly wonderful places to have breakfast.
Bideluze is a bar-restaurant that looks like it shouldn’t be open for breakfast but it is. It’s here where my Bin and I order two glasses of orange juice and are reminded of how fresh freshly squeezed orange juice is; it’s like drinking sunshine. Incredible.
At Bideluze also, I’m introduced to bizcocho. Common all over Spain, it’s eaten for breakfast; an entire one rests on the counter, a devilish deterrent to healthier eating. I’m a big proponent of cake for breakfast so I order a slice even though the girl behind the counter describes it as a “pancake.” With a dense crumb and a whisper of sweetness, the bizcocho is similar to a pound cake.
At this point, My Bin and I are weary of cold tapas so we tumble gratefully into a hot sandwich, Iberico ham topped with scrambled eggs and cheese.
Bideluze is open 24 hours and in the evening, they’ve got a selection of small plates on the bar counter.
Not too far away from Bideluze is a bakery café with an unpronounceable name, at least to non-Spanish speakers. While Gogoko Goxuak’s moniker is exotic, their bakery items are familiar. All manner of pastries, breads, muffins, and more are displayed on baskets heaving with their heft.
Paralyzed with indecision – even the server appears truly stumped when we ask her for recommendations – we settle on a reasonable number of pastries and some coffee. Joy!
This place is worth a stop. Always buzzing with locals and situated in a great location at Gipuzkoa Plaza.
As an immense foodie destination, with more Michelin stars per capita than any other city in the world, San Sebastian is replete with stores and markets for travelers like us who want to bring home a little of this wonderful little city.
Here are some of my favorites.
Spanish markets are renowned and Mercado de la Bretxa is no exception. It’s here where the region’s top chefs source their ingredients.
Fancy a leg of Iberico ham? There are dozens to choose from! And we’re agog at all the Spanish delicacies: various grades of olive oil, saffron, smoked paprika, bottled peppers, etc.
The variety at the fish counter is staggering…
… and so is this stall filled with all sorts of Spanish sweets. I want to dive headlong into the doughy largesse.
We continue our gastronomic experience at Aitor Lasa Gaztategia, a store that got its start years ago at the La Bretxa market. At the entrance, huge heads of broccoli and mammoth squash.
A specialty here is the Latxa sheep cheese.
Tinned and bottled products of utmost quality boggle my mind. I need to put my eyes back into their sockets.
San Sebastian does not disappoint dessert lovers like me. I cried out upon seeing that La Viña was closed, so famous is it for its cheesecake. But there are other places to love.
The smells inside Pastelleria Izar are intoxicating. The bakery specializes in an array of puff pastry filled with cream, but my Bin and I especially enjoy the tocino del cielo. Tiny, quivering custards distilled from the egg yolk’s magical properties and bathed in an almost ethereal sugar syrup.
Other recommended pastellerias: Pastelleria Oiartzun, Aramendia pastry, Pastelleria Otaegui, and Barrenetxe. (Of course this is far from an exhaustive list).
My Bin and I hear so much about the legendary asadores, grill houses in nearby Tolosa, so we take an easy and quick train there, less than 30 kilometers away from San Sebastian.
The old quarters are composed of small streets parallel to one another and divided into many squares. We’re disappointed to find that the Gorrotxategi patisserie museum is closed on the day we’re there. The Gorrotxategi store is renowned for its confectionery. If you come here, try the Xaxus, a marzipan-egg-almond marvel.
Wending our way through the stores, I buy some chocolates and the famous Tolosa beans, their shiny black skins punctuated by a single white dot. When I cook them back home, their creaminess is beyond compare.
Tolosa’s urban side lies along the river Oria framed by mountains. The view makes for a marvelous tableau together with the pops of orange from the trees’ changing leaves.
Tolosa has a long tradition of grilled steaks cooked on massive spits and/or grills. The two most famous asadores are Casa Julian and Casa Nicolas. In a weird coincidence, the former is closed on the day we’re here and there has been a death in the family in the latter. My Bin and I already see our dreams of a steak lunch evaporating but thanks to some quick searching, we find an underrated but equally exceptional restaurant called Asador Burruntzi.
Small and charmingly rustic with room for maybe 30 pax max. We love it already.
Run by Juan and Rosa Jose, he’s the chef and she’s the super efficient front of the house. They’re equally accommodating to a fault and gracious when dealing with our faltering Spanish; it’s one of the most memorable meals we’ve ever had.
Chef Juan deftly slices slabs of steak behind the counter fronting the grill. It is an astounding sight. Amazingly, there is no smoke wafting around the dining room nor are there any sizzling noises to be heard once cold meat kisses hot grill.
You can have fish but what you really want here is steak. The only cut served is called chuleton, a giant bone-in rib steak, sliced off the rib. It is priced by the kilo and that much suffices for the two of us.
It takes about 15 minutes for the steak to be grilled to sublimity so we whet our appetites with a plate of jumbo white asparagus accompanied by a type of aioli plus a bold Rioja.
Our 2½ inch-thick serving of beef is cooked to just slightly above rare, which is how it’s done here at Asador Burruntzi. Despite my fears, the meat isn’t unappetizingly chewy like most rare meats are; instead it’s a slab of succulent pleasure, riding on succeeding waves of exquisitely charred crust, perfect seasoning, and a tag team of bite and chew.
My Bin will never forget the platter of peppers that have him so completely in thrall. Red piquillo peppers are slow-roasted to a ravishing hue, evaporating much of the water and concentrating their natural flavors. Then the peppers are flattened, causing their divine juices to flood red on the white plate, and then they’re doused with a quality olive oil. On tongue, the peppers are soft-smoky sliding into tangy-sweet. Believe me when I say that these peppers are enough reason to come to Asador Burruntzi; they are truly that unforgettable.
For our last meal in San Sebastian, my Bin wants paella. We find Txoko, a delightful old place full of wood and benches. The bar is on the first floor so we climb to the dining room on the second. The staff are very friendly and genuinely seem to want us to enjoy our meal.
One of the things Txoko has going for it is the marvelous view of the bay from its windows. Unfortunately, the strong rains today offer up nothing but wetness and grays. But the moody weather doesn’t diminish our gladness to be here.
Craving warmth, my Bin begins the meal with crema de marisco. Searingly hot and delicious, the broth brings with it the brininess of the sea bound to a richly flavored lobster stock. Though it’s a bit salty, it’s deeply satisfying. For me, baked red peppers stuffed with txangurro, a local spider crab. I’m expecting something like the peppers we have at Asador Burruntzi but this is a pleasing change. The sauce is thick and cheesy, a pleasure to mop up with the crusty bread. For drinks, my Bin is loving his new discovery, calimocho, wine + Coke. I like my txakoli, sparkling Basque white wine.
Calamares, because we just couldn’t resist. Baby squid impeccably crisp-fried, the oily cloy cut by a squeeze of lemon.
The main event: lobster paella. It arrives at the table a ceremony of heat and steam, wafting aromas capable of inebriating anybody. My Bin and I inhale the culinary perfume and suddenly we’re ravenous all over again.
Though the paella seems soupy at first, the exemplary bomba, Spanish short grain rice, does quick work of drinking up the liquid. As we eat and revel, the broth thickens, the rice grains swell, the lobster pieces “float” to the top, edible exclamation marks of ecstasy. The broth is very similar to the soup my Bin has previously and towards the end of the meal, the paella seems too salty already but we are giddy with joy, adrift on a dish to which we abandon ourselves completely.
Next week: Barcelona.
Paseo de San Frantzisko, 3, 20400 Tolosa, Guipúzcoa, Spain
Guipuzkoa Plaza, 14, 20004 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Andia Kalea, 11, 20004 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Mercado de la Bretxa
Alameda del Boulevard 3
Aitor Lasa Gaztategia
Calle Mayor, 2, 20003 San Sebastián, Guipúzcoa, Spain
Mari Kalea, 12, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Other tapas places to try as recommended by an article whose origin I can’t place now.
Traditional: La Vina, La Cepa
Too cool: Zeruko, A Fuego Negro
Calm enough to enjoy: Casa Urola, Atari Gastroteka
Seafood specialists: Goiz Argi, La Mejillonera, Borda Berri