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Tom Feb 29th, 2000 06:11 AM

Oye Maribel - Please help with Spain meals
Maribel - I have seen your helpful posts concerning travel in Spain, and hope you can answer some questions for me. I will be in Madrid and San Sebastian in April. I know that in Spain the big meal of the day is in the afternoon and dinner is late in the evening. In restaurants, are the menus usually the same for both meals? I would like to eat at some nice restaurants in both cities. Should I plan on lunch at these restaurants in order to get the best gastronomical experience? Or will dinner be just as good? <BR>Also, I have read your previous posts recommending tapas bars in San Sebastian. Do you have any recomendations for restaurants there as well? <BR>Thanks for any suggestions from you or anyone else.

Maribel Feb 29th, 2000 06:57 AM

Hola, Tomas, <BR>My original reply just vanished, so I'll try again. <BR>Yes the menus are the same, with one exception: the "menu del dia" (fixed price, 2-3 courses plus coffee/beer/wine) is sometimes, actually often, only available at mid-day. We prefer certain restaurants at mid-day, such as "Taberna Carmencita" (which has an excellent value "menu del dia" only available for lunch), and in Spanish style, we tend to do a tapas crawl either in the Barrio Salamanca (I'll post later on that one) or below the Plaza Mayor at night. <BR>There are an amazing number of Michelin starred restaurants in the Bilbao-San Sebastian area. In San Sebastian the "greats" are Arzak, Urepel, Zuberoa, Bodegon Alejandro (in the "Parte Vieja"), Pedro Subijanas' Aquelare (on Monte Igueldo), but please don't forget the young superstar chef, Martin Berasategui, whose eponymous restaurant is located a few minutes outside the city in a townhouse in suburban Lasarte. The owner of the Bar Osarte in S.S. (great tapas) sent us there on a beautiful Sunday afternoon (must reserve!), the place was filled with Spanish families, we had the "menu de degustacion" and were delighted-in fact, we consider it our best "gastronomic adventure" to date in the Pais Vasco. Martin Berasategui, along with Ferran Adria of "Hacienda El Bulli" in Roses, Girona, are widely considered the top chefs in Spain today. <BR>I'll email you more dining suggestions in S.S. later from home. <BR>Buen provecho!

Maribel Feb 29th, 2000 12:13 PM

Me again, Tom, <BR>Didn't mean to give short shrift to Arzak (3 Michelin stars to Berasategui's 2), but I haven't dined there since Arzak's daughter Elena took over the helm in the kitchen. Perhaps another Fodorite can give you a report. <BR> <BR>A few more notes: Berasategui trained under Alain Ducasse in Montecarlo, and if you can't get to his place in Lasarte, he also supervizes the bar/restaurant of Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum, which serves such elegant, sophisticated, beautiful tapas, it's a reason in itself to visit the museum! Also, the proper spelling of P. Subijana's restaurant is "Akelare" (in Basque), also a 2 star, and "Zuberoa" is located in the suburb of Oyarzun. If you access the NY Times Archives, the Sunday Travel section did a 7/24/94 report on "Nueva Basque Cuisine of S.S.", which even though 6 yrs. old is still valid. <BR>Many of these chefs honed their skills in the male-only gastronomic societies that you may see while tapa hopping in the "Parte Vieja" in San Sebastian. (There are several hundred of these "sociedades gastronomicas" in the Basque Country). While doing your tapas stroll down 31 de agosto, Fermin Calbeton and Pescaderia streets (and they call tapa hopping "doing the chiquiteo",tapas are "pintxos" or "banderillas" and a glass of wine a "chiquito"), make sure to try the local young, slightly tart white wine, "txacoli" which goes particularly well with fish dishes. <BR>For more suggestions, head straight to the Bar Ostarte (misspelled on first post!) on Calle San Martin where you'll have great tortilla tapas, and the very knowledgable owners, Felix and Joni, can fill you in on the current dining scene as they did for us. <BR>Besides the tapas bars in the "Parte Vieja", there is a fabulous one in the Nuevo Gros section of S.S.-"Alona Berri" at 24 Berminghan, whose tapas are truly bite size haute cuisine-they've won lots of awards in the frequent tapas competitions which are taken extremely seriously in S.S. <BR>The Basques love to eat, therefore it's impossible to have a bad meal in the Basque Country, regardless of how humble, modest the establishment. <BR>Que lo pases muy bien, <BR>Maribel <BR>

Tom Feb 29th, 2000 12:50 PM

Maribel - Thanks so much for all of this great information. I was really looking forward to this trip, and after reading your suggestions, can't wait. My mouth is watering already. I hope you will indulge one last question. Regarding the top restaurants in Spain, what is appropriate dress? I was not planning to bring a jacket or tie. Are a pair of nice trousers and a nice button down shirt enough? Thanks again.

Tom Feb 29th, 2000 01:04 PM

Whoops, sorry Maribel. I forgot to proofread before posting. My question about appropriate dress was meant for the restaurants you mention in San Sebastian, not all of Spain!

Maribel Feb 29th, 2000 03:41 PM

Hi again, <BR>As for appropriate dress, for example, the Sunday we were at M. Berasategui my husband (who was traveling sans jacket/tie) wore a short-sleeve button down dress shirt (of the Polo variety) and dress khakis (his uniform) as did almost all the male diners; however, we went in July-we're always in the Basque country in the summer. You might very well have rainy, cool weather in April (after all, it's called "Green Spain" for a reason...), so you should probably pack a sweater at least. <BR>At the very, very expensive "shrines" of haute cuisine in Madrid (such as Jockey/Zalacain/Horcher/El Amparo which I haven't talked about-can't afford) in April you're likely to see more business men on expense accounts wearing jackets than not, but San Sebastian, although a very elegant city, has more relaxed/informal dining habits. <BR> <BR>Your post just reminded me to look through one of my favorite cookbooks, "The Basque Kitchen" by Gerald Hirigoyen (chef/owner of San Francisco's Fringale and Pastis), and he also recommends "Casa Nicolasa"in Old Quarter next to the La Brecha market (a fabulous destination in and of itself)-there try the fish ("rape con salsa de cangrejos" or "rodaballo con cama de col y caviar") or the filet mignon with foie gras ("solomillo de buey") and end with a dessert orgy ("orgia de postres") for two! Hope these are still on the menu. He also likes "Rekondo" on the Paseo de Igueldo, a classic "asador" (place specializing in roasts/grilled meats) with one of the best wine cellars in Spain. Tom, would a selection of 150,000 bottles be enough?! <BR>Well, basta ya! I'm very hungry, so I'll save the great food in the picturesque little fishing village of Hondarribia for another post! <BR>Have a fabulous time! <BR>Maribel (who loves to eat)

Tom Mar 1st, 2000 06:45 AM

Maribel <BR>Thanks again for all of your great input. I am now looking forward to this trip so much! My only lament is that I will not be in the Pais Vasco long enough to try all of these wonderful restaurants. I can't wait to hear what you have to say about Hondarribia, since I will be spending two nights in the Parador there. <BR>Maribel, my travel companions and I can't thank you enough for your help. If only every forum on this board were like this!

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