San Sebastian (Donostia) was our last stop on our Green Spain Tour (this area travels the north coast of the Iberian Peninsula through four autonomous regions: Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country).
My previous trip to San Sebastian (with surroundings) in November (2011) focused on “fine dining” and we were at that time eating at MAMA (Mugaritz, Arzak, Akellare and Martin Berasategui) plus Asador Etxebarri. They say that San Sebastian has the most Guide Michelin stars per person in the world. This time however the focus was on pintxos (pinchos) but we only had one evening and one “lunch” to spend in the old town of San Sebastian so we had to do some prioritizing though the city most probably also has the most tapas/pinchos bars per capita in the world…
On the Saturday evening (during high season as well) it was extremely crowdie in the old town and popular bars was seemingly unapproachable. But those crowds are common here and people made space for new guests that wanted to order but that said; it was very very crowdie and completely impossible to eat other than outside the bars on the streets.
The area containing most pintxos bars (but not all) is not big (see the area surrounded by the torques line in the picture below to get an overview/rough estimate of its size).
Our first stop was the Goiz-Argi bar, famous for their tasty prawn skewers. We ordered the Prawns brochette pintxo consisting of one brochette of grilled prawns, vinaigrette and bacon served on a slice of bed. A simple and yummy pintxos!
Next stop was the closes by bar Borda Berri were we had a pintxo on Braised veal cheeks on red wine (Carrillera de ternera al vino tinto). This is one of their more popular pinxtos and that’s for a reason!
We then moved on to Zeruko which is a more “modern” and creative pinxtos bar in comparison to most other establishments in Donostia. I ordered the famous pintxos La hoguera (The Bonfire) which is served on a small casserole containing some small parts of hot coals and rosemary and on top of that is a metallic grid holding the eatable parts of the pintxos. A small piece of half-smoked cod is the main ingredient that the customer smokes as he likes on the grid. After that, he will put it on a toast of bread that comes with a flavorsome cream amid onion and parsley. A very tasty and good combination! To finish, we will find the last part of the pinxto that is a small tube with a blend of vegetables. A different and fun pintxo that is among the best I have had!
After Zeruko we headed for the famous Gandarias bar. Unfortunately I did not order the Sirlion pintxos (Azpizuna) which according to a lot of other people is not just the best pintxos of Gandarias but also the best one in San Sebastian. Instead I ordered the Pincho de rape en salsa and suddenly remembered that this was one of the few pinchos I ate on my previous trip and unfortunately didn’t like that much. Definitively not bad but it just didn’t appeal my taste buds as much as some of the other pintxos I have had.
Next we went to Bar Martínez were one my friends ordered something for me that I am not really sure what is was. Anyway it was very delicious!
To pintxos you drink something called txakoli or chacolí that is a somewhat sparkling, very dry white wine with high acidity and low alcohol content produced in the Basque region.
We were now pretty satisfied from a food perspective so we changed our focus to the bars serving primarily alcohol (which of course all pintxos bars do as well, but some of them closes around 1:00AM) and at 7:30AM we finally went to bed…
At 11:30 we needed to check out from the hotel and after that we went for some brunch in the old town and this time we headed for La Cuchara de San Telmo. Now much less crowdie in comparison to the evening/night before, so we actually managed to get some space inside the bar to eat. First pincho ordered was the Foie with apple compote and this was definitely one my top favorite pintxos I have eaten!
Next pintxo was Veal Cheek slow-cooked in Rioja red Vine with Hummus which was good and reminded a lot of the pintxo I had on Borda Berri the night before.
Then I took an Iberico Pig´s Ear pressed and roasted with dried apricots pintxos. Good!
Finally I ended the brunch at La Cuchara de San Telmo with a dessert pintxos which was a Creamy Ganache of bitter chocolate with candied Orange Bernard Loisseau. Here I thought I could get a coffee together with the dessert but this was not possible. On the other hand, this is txakolí land…
San Sebastian is one of those places that is a must go if you are interested in food and I will personally unquestionably return for both more pintxos and more “fine dining” but also for the good atmosphere and surroundings that this area offer.