San Sebastián is no stranger to Michelin stars and fine dining. It’s home to some of the top restaurants in the world. One might find it easier to pace themselves financially by living off pintxos for the majority of their travels in order to save their wallet for the big ticket items. It’s so important to experience these sought after restaurants as the highlight of a well rounded trip to San Sebastián. Unless of course you are a baller, than ball away! One could have Michelin dining for breakfast lunch and dinner! (Sadly, their insides may begin to hurt.)
Akelare (which I’ve seen spelled two ways) was awarded three stars for a reason. The minimalist and drab interior décor is clearly not one of them. The sign might have been the best thing about the branding, yet such bold font would have warranted a bolder interior (I’d think). In its defense, I only experienced the restaurant after sundown. I imagine the bay would have a huge affect on the interior with a glorious panoramic view. Drab décor may have its own purpose anyhow…It could help one really concentrate on the task at hand (EATING).
As it turned out, this would be one of the many times that my friend Robin would be celebrating the 9th anniversary of her 21st year. I was happy to celebrate her as many times as it would take, if it meant consuming free alcohol and food. This particular observation of her birth would be preceded by a trifold menu offering three different combinations of set menus to choose from. It was a challenge because much like anything else in life, going with one meant having dish-envy for giving up the other. I decided on the “Bekarki”.
Granted, this adventure is coming up on its one year anniversary now, I am going to tell you about my stories anyway. It all started out with amazing bread.
Then truffle-like savory bits arrived on creatively shaped plates. One of the amuse bouche “experiences” was a bite that closely resembled an olive. It was actually a savory anchovy cream encased in olive jelly. This was the second “olive” I’d been duped by in Spain. The first time was in Barcelona Albert Adria’s restaurant Bodega 1900.
Let’s Get Down To Business:
It was nearly impossible to capture every single wine we had properly. I felt a bit shy taking a lot of photos in this serious environment. Soverribas was one of the first wines paired by our sommelier. This white wine from Galicia, is one of seven low production Albariños. They are produced with grapes from 35 year old vines which are fermented with their own yeast in French Oak vats. The wine has been described as “Atlantic sea influenced” which is way too fancy for me. I will get on board with the aniseed notes and salty finish. I felt pretty special to be enjoying one of the 1,294 bottles produced.
(Pictured Above: Prawns and Green Beans cooked in “Orujo” Flame)
Akelare did a really nice job at incorporating loads of Spanish ingredients that made this meal delicious and educational. This course was prepared using a local pomace brandy made from the distillation of grape residue left after the initial press. While it was incredibly exotic to me, it did not travel very far to make it on to our plate that evening. These shrimps were lit on fire in the middle of the dining room. A little bit of hibachi action added to the atmosphere and produced translucent prawns that were succulent with hints of smokiness from the flame.
(Pictured Above: White Beans and Roasted Pipparas, not Conventional at all)
I love that the menu mentions this plate is “not conventional at all”. The piparras are traditional peppers of the Basque region that tend to be a yellowish-green color with an elongated shape. The flavor is on the mildly-spicy side with a hint of sweetness and is often found on the famous “Gilda” pintxo. Here it was, in all its glory, roasted and served with white beans to add to the loooooooooooooong-list of vegetation consumed in San Sebastián. (sarcasm)
(Pictured Above: Soufleed Kokotxa, White Garlic Pil-Pil)
Holy rice crackers! Finally a little more excitement made its way to the table. Stacked and piled high, was a plate full of souffléed kokotxa and white garlic Pil-Pil. I could barely see Robin! After the flattened pepper it was nice to see a plate with dimension across the board!
(Pictured Above: Hake in seaweed steam. Plancton and oyster leaf)
I could tell before I took a bite of this hake that it was special. The flesh had a dewy glow and the seaweed steam only enhanced the flavor. The plankton pearls brought me right back to the fourth grade when I’d buy Dippin’ Dots at Great Adventure theme park. On a serious note, our wine was thoughtfully paired with this course in particular. Sometimes there is an appropriate collision on the tongue and it’s true magic.
In the midst of all this culinary-bliss, I couldn’t help but glance out the window. I was caught off guard by two itty-bitty flickering lights reflecting off the water’s surface. It turned out, that the very fish on my plate had been caught on that boat. Talk about “sea to table” cuisine!
(Pictured Above: Squid as a Risotto)
Naturally one would assume this was actually risotto. It takes some serious skills to take squid and cut it down to the exact shape of a grain with the same exact consistency. The fact that it was black probably made it more believable, as if it had absorbed the color of the sauce. It possessed a slight chewiness and got stuck in your molars the same way rice would. I was thoroughly impressed by the texture!
(Pictured Above: Butter Flower to accompany the Squid Risotto)
The rose-shaped butter was presented as an accompaniment to our “risotto”. It arrived on a side plate and we were instructed to mix it into the squid. I found the detailing of this butter-flower most intriguing because it looked like it was hand painted up close. The petals were very dainty and the flower made for a presentation that was playful and twee!
(Pictured Above: Schiste)
For this next course, our wine brought us to France from the Domaine des Ardoisieres on the Swiss border. The Schiste 2014 is an organic white wine with delicate fruity and floral notes with a subtle minerality to the finish. I always find that organic white wines seem to have a slight effervescence to them.
(Pictured Above: Grilled Iberic “Presa” with pepper seeds and garlic in three different versions)
The plate was dressed with red pepper juice and roasted pork slices were elegantly fanned over a leaf. This would be another meal lacking in any vegetation but packed full of intense flavors. Soon we’d be calling for a toothbrush with neighboring garlic bits prepared different ways. The most unique piece was coated with charcoal dust and had the concentrated flavor of an entire clove in one bite. (I tried to get a little taste of everything in each forkful and washed it down with the perfect sip of wine in efforts to savor this very special moment.)
Finally it was time for our dessert wine! It was nice to see a red wine arrive with a hypnotizing cherry color. For saying it is not aged in any wooden barrels, it possessed a lot of body with hints of figs and ripe fruits.
(Pictured Above: The Melting Cupcake)
The cake was made with yogurt foam, filled with coffee and chestnut as well as some grapefruit. I was underwhelmed. I think I hoped it would resemble an actual cupcake.
Last but not least, the dessert you will see all over the interwebs…The Akelare-branded wrapper over the Napoleon-like mass. It was all edible (of course) and in spite of it looking like plastic it tasted very much like apple! The pastry was tucked away underneath this shiny blanket and filled with an apple flavored custard. Do do do do do…
(Pictured Above: We got to serenade Robin at Akelare too.) This wasn’t about to get old. All of San Sebastian was going to know that Robin was now 30 years old if we could help it.
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R.I.P. Chris Cornell