Semana Grande part: Food and fireworks

Before we get to the food you get to see a bit of the big heads parade.  I don’t really know too much about it, but basically there’s a parade of giant as well as larger than normal puppet costumes I guess you can call them.  The giant ones parade to the street and then there are ones with people in them running around beating people.  Yes, political correctness isn’t much of an issue out here.

As much as I want to spare you with talking about how good the food is, since that’s all I do, you’re going to have to read through another one.  By zurriola beach there was a square with food and music from all different types of cultures.  It was a tough fight, but the vendors won this night by getting my to try something from pretty much every booth.

Basically this was a sausage that tasted a lot like chorizo with a slice of bacon with a taloak flat bread.  Big winner here.  Taloak was good (was similar to a Mexican flour tortilla) sausage was spicy and the bacon was well.. bacon…. om nom nom!

Cell phone use is part of the kneading process apparently.

Among other things this guy was doing some whole smoked/roasted pulled hams that were irresistible.  Beautifully caramelized, smokey, moist and served with some good bread.  Simple, what more can you ask for?

That liquid that the ham is sitting in is actually all of my drool.

Pizza!  This was pretty good, some of the best ive had in Spain so far, but still no contest to pequods.We picked up some sausages and veal from this guy.  The veal was alright, but there sausages were bangin.

Some cool teas to take home or drink there.  Such great stuff.  Ive been to a lot of markets but havent really seen anything as diverse or as interesting of a tea vendor like they had here.

A bit choppy but heres a panoramic shot of the event!

Cant forget about that great spanish music!  The scene was really became a lot of fun.  Its not really the type of music I usually listen to, but with their being so much energy and great music it became such a blast.

Zurriola beach, love you.

So video is a bit crooked but who doesn’t love explosions!

As you may have been able to tell I have been having a blast out here.  We actually get 2 days off from the restaurant which is quite the nice weekend to have when you’re in Spain.  We work hard and get to enjoy ourselves with the time we have off, cant ask for much else.  Our next trip?  We go to a Rioja Vineyard, just another day on the grind.

Semana grande part: Pirates

Right now seems to be quite a lot going on no matter where you areon this big rock.  Back home lollapalooza wrapped up not too long ago and next up is North Coast.  Here in Spain we got to enjoy Semana grande (Big week) which is quite the festival in itself.  We were only able to check out everything that was going on for one day though none the less we had a blast.

The whole town really gets involved for this festival. theres people who travel from all over just to enjoy the festivities. The bars are crowded, the streets are full and today everyone is excited for the pirate races.

 What is this wild pirate race I speak of? Well basically people would sign up and make all different kinds of homemade boats and race from the starting pier to the beach.  Though this wasnt exactly what you might think of a typical race.  It was more of a lets start by making a boat that will hopefully float.  After that lets fill it up with as many people as we can, wine and smoke bombs too.  Once it started I sorta felt like I was in a cheap pirates of the Caribbean reenactment… take a look for yourself.

The pirates be drinking their ales, as their boats be at bay..

Why did the Pirate get a BUI (Boating While Intoxicated) ?
Because he was drunk leaving the baaarrrrrrr!!!

Smokebombs and flares?  Yeah thats cool.

pirate wenches a plenty, yargg!!

As you can see the boats are made out of pretty much anything cheap with lots of duct tape.

Oh and Jack sparrow stopped by too.  He told me to say hi, and if you had any spare change.

Check back soon for part: Food and fireworks.

comida

Back home its pretty common to have to know an area pretty well or at least ask around a little bit if you want to go out and get some good food.  In san sebastian its pretty easy to stumble into any tapas bar and get a drink and a great tasting tapa along with it.  The most common drink to order is either a caña (house draft beer) or a txakaoli which is a sparkling white wine grown in the area.  The wines are great although I gotta say I do really miss the craft brews from back home.  Another cool thing about the bars here is that you pretty much just throw your garbage on the floor.  Be it napkins, olive pits, mussel shells, it doesnt matter, just toss it.  It just brings out the inner slob in me, gotta love it.

This is a shot of the streets in the old town of San Sebastian.  Kind of more of a touristy area but its usually got a lot of fun stuff going on and plenty of great bars.

Fried shrimp.  If you fry it, they will buy it!

Calamari a la plancha with romesco, classic.

Octopus a la plancha in a light vinaigrette with cabbage.

and when it comes to paellea, they dont mess around.

Changes

With our being a little over a month that I’ve been in this kitchen there are bound to be things that change. When I first started I was fighting to simply look busy as I usually didn’t really understand the flow of this kitchen. Its different from one kitchen to the next, though it’s a whole new dance when you’re in a three star restaurant in a foreign country.

As I’ve gotten more comfortable I’ve slowly been gaining more and more responsibility every week.  It various per person and per station but the general idea is that during plate up everyone has one job… don’t screw it up.  Since arriving I have been working in the fish station with the sous chef Xabier.  Hes a younger chef who reminds me very much of the banquets Sous chef I worked with when I was at the peninsula.  Strict, straightforward, doesn’t mind yelling when he needs to and very organized.  It’s through those traits that makes me believe hes got the best run station in the restaurant.

Something that is very different about this restaurant compared to anything ive been in before is how the staff cycles.  There are only a few people who are paid at the restaurant.  The rest is the army of stages that makes up the restaurant.  Most of the stages come for a 3 month internship coming from all different parts of the world.  So far ive seen people from Australia, Mexico, Italy, Ukraine, Spain and the good ol USA.  Every week im seeing people come and go, its very interesting.

Just when you start to get a good group of friends together everyones term eventually ends and heads off back home, bittersweet.

Another more tangible change is to the menu.  We have recently made some changes to one of the dishes on the fish station.

Old- red mullet, pig tail, gribiche, white chocolate foam

New- Red mullet, pig tail, wakame, raw almond, juiced seaweed salad.

We pretty much have as much as we possibly can done to order. Fish are taken off the bone at the start of service and then portioned/trimmed in waves through service.  Sauces made new every service, micros trimmed from little dirt beds to order, pretty much every garnish or veg. is cut fresh per service.

The lifestyle out has been quite the change as well, in many ways.  The stories are true, siesta exists and what a pleasure it is…usually.  We pretty much put in a 16 hour day with an hour long siesta around 5.  So far the weather has been great so its been a real treat to get out of the kitchen and actually be able to see the sun during the week.  Nothing like back home where I would go for days with out seeing much day light.  Though it can be quite annoying when half the town shuts down when you need to go out shopping.  As much as I love ‘Merica I gotta embrace the lifestyle.

Something that im not really used to is the small town setting.  Where we live and where the restaurant is located is in a very small city called Lasarte Oria.  Ive got a 10 minute walk to work, a grocery store down the block, a cafe across the street and I could pretty much throw a rock to the train station.  Very similar yet very different compared to the setting back in Chicago.  Closest thing to it is the big city which is a short train ride away, San Sebastian. Oh how I love it.  This has been quite the exciting town.  This week has been a big festival called semana grande (big week).  We got to enjoy a bit of it, but you’ll have to wait untill my next post to hear about it.

Turbot

Today was a pretty busy service for lunch.  Were supposed to max out at 50 covers and we had 52 today.  Though we got a little bit of a treat as well as a surprise when we had a special order for a turbot.  Who came to the fish station to cook it?  None other than Martin himself.  Ive had whole turbot once, when I rcently was at restaurante Elkano (a clue to the next post by the way).  Its really a delicious fish that is a bit under appreciated in the US.   None the less, take a look at these shots of the master at work..

 

 

 

 

The secret to cooking the fish is finishing it with a sort of vinaigrette.  You take the oil that the fish was cooked in then pour it off in a heated pan, add some vinegar, mix and baste.  Do this a couple times and you have a beautifully cooked and basted turbot.

Fresh Fish

Well its no surprise that living in the basque country which is so close to the ocean and being at Martin Berasategui would lead to having some of the best freshest products around.  Some of the fish that are on the menu are red mullet, cod, sole and squid.  We usually get in pretty large squid that we use for the squid consomme and ravioli course.  Though recently we got some that were a little bit more similar to what I see back in the US.  My jaw pretty much hit the floor when I saw these things.  I was told that they were no more than 2-3 hours out of water and it showed.  How?  The purple spotting on the squid was moving and fading in and out right in front of our eyes.  I was told that it will continue to do that until it fully dies.

Heres a video that I took at the restaurant.  Truthfully this really doesnt do it any justice.  The colors on them were so clear and vibrant.  The way the squid were spotting was just unreal.  To give you a better idea of what it looked like ive got this video I found online as well…unreal.

tapaventure

San Sebastian isnt exactly a big city compared to Chicago, though a lot of the streets do seem pretty similar making it easy to get lost.  Though no worries when theres plenty of good tapas bars around every corner.  I feel that one could be here for months on ending discovering new bars…lucky for me.  This particular night we go to some new bars and revisit some because well their food is really good and the drinks are cold.

So me and my buddy Carlos went out and ended up here as our first stop.  He had been here before and mentioned them having some kind of false cigar tapa…gotta have it.

As we waited we admired the great Jamon hanging in the bar which is really cool and pretty common.  Though these I liked in particular.

So heres the Cigar!  Turns out it was actually filled with Morcilla which is a spanish blood sausage.  In this version it was actually a little bit sweet which was nice especially with the sweet sherry vinegar sauce.  and if youre wondering its poppy seeds that the used as the “ash”.

Fuego Negro is up next.  I have actually been here once before, and I like the place.  Its a well known really popular bar with some cool plates, but a bit pricey.  Though the environment is really cool.  I cant help but think how successful they would be back home.

A shot at the bar with grandpa having a Cana. (a beer)

Kitchen essentials.

“Coaled” cod.  I was really hoping that this would be similar to some of the flavors at Etxebarri…not even close. no surprise there.  The flavor didnt have that strong smokey coal flavor that I got from etxebarri, though it looks very nice!  Neither of us could figure out what the grain was below it.  help?

This is what they sent out to us for one of our tapas, any guesses?

Surprise!  Foie gras in a can, but not from a can.  Tasted great and they carmellized the top of it which was pretty cool.  It came with a slightly sweet crunchy bread and something that tasted a lot like a pumpkin puree.

So this is a place that has some great food and is really well known for its mushrooms as you will soon see.

Here is their mushroom picking gnome with the some of the best mushrooms in SS.

Control yourselves mushroom lovers.

So far one of my favorite tapas bars in San Sebastian.  Its just so good!  Its a style similar to etxbarri, simple food that cant help but keep you coming back for how good it is.

Our old friend beef cheek just as tasty as ever.

Another pig ear, even better this time.  Sorry Chef Browning, I love your pig ear dish, but this one takes the cake.

Foie gras obsession continues.  This time with a plum puree below it.

Dont forget about dessert!

With as far as away that I am from the states its nice to see that the USA still has its influence. Especially one like Mr.T.

After stuffing our faces we finally started heading back home.  Its still so bizarre to think that I am living in spain.  Not on vacation, but living here.  Its been officially one month now and ive gone around and seen so much d is really just the beginning.

Summer in the city

Many more posts to come, but here is a few shots from around Lasarte and San Sebastian.

Aizkora Proba, basically a wood chopping sport of the basque region.

Kebab sammich-Its sliced meat cut off of a spit, sort of like a gyro.   Pretty popular out here, great late night food.

Thrill!

Went to a restaurant in Lasarte and picked up this menu.  At first I thought I was getting really bad at Spanish.  Though I quickly found out that this menu was in basque…good luck reading it.

Breakfast of Champions!

Looks like the graffiti nerds out here know English.

Croquetas…very, very very, OMNOMNOM!  If you didn’t know its basically deep fried bechamel with ham or whatever you like…id eat these every day if I could.

Unfortunately it does rain here a lot, sometimes coming from out of nowhere.  So Alberto here has this very fashionable trash bag rain coat.

Obey is plenty popular out here!

Fair amount of street performers, just like anywhere else.  Today we happen to see a team of breakdancers/gymnasts.

Ended up going to the beach this weekend for a couple reasons.  Had my first experience with surfing which went…well.  Only had a few good runs and a whole lot of falling off the board.  Though Ive got plenty more time to learn and couldn’t be in a better place to do it.  After that ended up meeting with a bunch of the guys from Martin Berasatagui restaurant at the beach as well.  After some soccer, food and drinks we were all beached out.  Great weekend if you ask me.

etxebarri

To be totally honest I didn’t really know anything about Etxebarri until some friends starting raving about it.  When I then found out that they were going to go eat there, I had to join in.  For those that don’t know the concept for this restaurant is that pretty much everything is cooked on a grill.  As we found out, the chef (Victor Arguinzoniz) does all the grilling for service.  Its very refreshing to find a chef who is truly behind the stove, err… grill.  The restaurant has one Michelin star, and is #50 on the San Pellegrino Worlds 50 Best Restaurants.  The food as you will see is very simple, in the absolute best way possible.  It isn’t fussed with.  This is a chef who truly sources and practices getting the best product possible, not just talking about it.  Someone was telling me the chef went to Italy and tasted some cheese that he fell in love with.  He had to have it.  So what does he do?  He goes to the farm and gets a couple cows that makes that cheese.  He is in the pursuit of quality home made, he doesn’t mess around!

For those who are interested in ever going, keep in mind that this restaurant really is in the middle of no where.  Its in a small town by some mountains with no signs to really help you along the way.  Though the view is well worth it.

Across the street from the restaurant is a small farm which had some sheep and chickens which im sure go to the restaurant.  Cant get more local that that.

So finally for some food! We all ordered the tasting menu along with a few dishes that really caught our eye.  The a la carte items we got were the anchovies, foie Gras and chorizo.  Though I forgot to take a picture of the Chorizo, but it was really good, and looked delicious and was everything you could ever dream of, promise.

In an area known for some of the best anchovies in the world, how could we resist?  The verdict?  They were damn good.  A mellow saltiness to them with an interesting texture that was a bit dense almost seemed rubbery.  Not bad, just something I haven’t tasted before.  They were really good, but still a close second to what we recently ate at Itsas Mendi.

Ever since Ive arrived in Spain I have pretty much been eating Foie gras at least once a week.  Ive fallen in love, the Foie is just so good out here. This dish has really topped everything that Ive tasted so far.  It reminded me a lot of the Foie dish at wd-50, the experience of eating it was very much the same.  It only took one bite of tasting everything together before I started smiling and giggling with joy because of how good the dish was.  There was a bright tang from the sauce which seemed to be a sweet orange puree with the zest.  Then there was the arugula salad, crunchy raisin bread and the slightly smokey omg its so good foie which the make in house…yes.  This dish really set the meal for all of us.  We were absolutely stunned and we haven’t even started the tasting menu!   We got a really good taste of what was to come.

Here she comes, the first course in all her simplistically hidden beauty.  If you ask me this was the best course of the meal.  Call me bold, but im confidently saying this was the best thing ive ever eaten.  After I stopped from my second round of laughing smiling giggles we were all quite in awe of this dish, just absolutely incredible.  No  youre not crazy, youre right.  Its bread and butter.  house Smoked sheeps milk butter with ash on a very light, crunchy airy, not too hard, crumble beautifully on the first bite delicate piece of bread from the heavens basted with olive oil.  That butter with the ash was so damn simple, but made so incredibly well.  The thing that did it for me as well as one of the other diners was that it instantly got us emotionally.  After taking one bite I was taken back home in the backyard with the grill  full of red hot coals.  It was as if the smoke and ash from the grill back home was infused into that butter.  I was taking a buttery crunchy bite into the grill and it was so damn good.

So I took a bathroom break and you get to join me in my discovery…A urinal with a lid!  Class act if you ask me.

“Chipirones”  Not as earth shattering as the last two, though this dish, like much of the rest, was executed perfectly and tasted incredible.  That seems to be the big thing here.  Simple food with incredible flavor.  It went along with a squid ink sauce, and caramelized onions which were hidden below.  Squid was smokey and had some acidity from a vinaigrette it was tossed in.

“Gamba de palomas”  Good course, cant get any simpler than a giant delicious shrimp on a plate.  Head was partially popped off and they brought out a warm moist hand towel since we were supposed to eat it with our hands. love that.

“ostra”  Great tasting oyster with a salt water foam and some type of sea weed.  This dish tasted good and made me feel that this would touch someone who lived out on the sea the way the bread and butter dish did to me.  It came out in the closed shell and you opened it to reveal an oyster with the flavors of its habitat.  An interesting note was that we found out that they don’t really use any chemicals or anything.  We didn’t catch what it was, but they told us they sourced some type of seaweed/algae/ plant or something that was naturally occurring and used that to create the foam rather than a powder.

“Cocoches de merluza”  Not sure what to call it in English, but basically Cocoches are like cod jowl and are a very popular dish here.  Basically you take the cocoches cook them in oil and then use fish stock to make a sauce with that flavored oil.  Ive only had cocochas a couple times here, but these were the best so far!

“Bacalao” means salt cod in the US but means fresh as well as salted cod out here.  Beautifully cooked fish, some type of roasted pepper, a lemon sauce and some type of greens… Goes to show how well Im learning the language here.  This seemed to be the most complex dish of the meal.If youve been paying attention, youll notice that there really hasnt been more than about three ingredients per course.  Though they all shine.

“chuleta” (chop) Big ol rib eye chop that was shared amongst the table.  Really really good meat.  I was pretty sure I was going to need more salt since it was a thick cut.  Though it was seasoned beautifully, something that has been right on target though out the meal.  This came along wit a light salad and was a great way to start getting into desserts.

“Helado de leche reducida” (Reduced milk ice cream)  So this dessert had us all in love as well as boggled.  There was some type of a berry sauce which was very nice, though what we all loved was the ice cream.  It had a very subtle smoke flavor which brought about some vanilla like flavors.  The texture is what we were trying to figure out.  It was very light soft and almost watery to the touch.  Though once you tasted it, it had a very rich and creamy mouth feel.  It was unlike any ice cream ive had.  We were all talking about all kinds of crazy ways of how they got the texture and flavor and how genius it is.  After talking to the cooks we found out how they did it…with milk.  Thats it.  No eggs, no stabilizers, no cream nada.  Just reduced milk and our good friend Paco Jet.  Excellence through simplicity, unreal.

“flan de queso”  So think of a flan, and how tasty it is.  Triple that and youre getting close to this dessert.  It came out with the ring mold still on because of how fragile it is.  This is basically like a cheesecake flan with the texture just firmer than room temp. butter.  It was a little bit rich for me but thats just because I usually like to end a meal on something like a sorbet.  Though this was a great substitute.  The smokiness was there and complimented great with the sweetness.

Some type of little sweet soft egg white mini muffin. Clean. good, yummy.  It was finally the conclusion of our 4 hour meal.  I was exhausted with joy at the end of it.  I just wanted to take a nap starring into the mountains.  Though alas, it was time to check out the kitchen.

Toys for finishing.  xvo/vinegar sprayer combo is my favorite.

The famous grill that does it all.  Different racks which are also adjustable by height.  If you look under the grill youll see the handles to all their custom made grill pans.

To get to the kitchen we had to walk outside and around the back to see the great smelling woods.

Wood burning oven.

Wine cellar of sorts.

So im about to blow your mind.  They have this giant double fish tank which they use to keep all of their seafood alive and fresh.  Lobsters, clams, eels, you name it, they’re becoming friends in the pool.

I spy with my little eye a restaurant using a giant sammic mixer!  It is now no surprise why their bread is so good.

My friend Ashley always stressed to me the idea of wanting her good to be simple.  Just making a really really good chocolate truffle, or a really really good macaroon.  Basic things, done perfectly.  I thought she was a bit crazy, coming from the mentality of avant garde being the best garde.  Though with this meal and her ideas finally sinking in, I think I may be changing how O and many other think about food in the coming years.

So finally for some food!