-Asador Etxebarri is located in the Atxondo valley at the foothills of Mt. Anboto, about an hour away from San Sebastian.
-Asador means roaster, and Etxebarri (pronounced Etch-e-barri) is a Basque word comprised of “etxe” meaning home, and “barri” meaning new.
-The restaurant has 1 Michelin star, is named the 34th best restaurant in the world, and is praised for self-taught Chef Victor Arguinzoniz’s passion for wood-fired cooking.
-Unlike most Michelin star establishments, Etxebarri is only open for lunch (with the exception of Saturday, which serves dinner instead). Lunch is definitely not my preference for large meals, but on the bright side, mid-day munching usually means less money spent on booze, and better photos in natural light- #bloggerwin.
-The restaurant is located in a quaint two-story country home made of large stones, bricks and wood. Apparently Chef Arguinzoniz used to be a timber worker and personally restored the old home himself.
-Inside, the space reminds me of an old dining hall at a country ranch- cozy, welcoming, and warm where the inherent rustic characteristics can shine.
-On the main floor is a bar with a few tables where locals seem to be gathering for a casual drink and a pintxos lunch.
-Upstairs is the gastronomic restaurant – a sun-lit room decorated very simply with a few handfuls of tables, some potted plates, white linens and simple wood chairs.
-We were the first table to arrive for our 1 PM reservation, so we were lucky enough to nab a table on the terrace outside. If the weather permits, do try to get one of these coveted spots because the view alone is reason to visit the restaurant. Imagine looking into the vast mountains, farmlands and greenery, all the while basking in the stunning late Summer weather.
-Unlike most Michelin star restaurants (though we must remember this has 1 and not 3 stars), Etxebarri’s service is casual, and more “home-style” than haute cuisine.
-With only a few women on staff and probably about 10-12 tables, I was told that a typical meal takes 3 hours time. Thankfully, because we were the first to arrive, we got a bit of a head start on our meal so we were in and out in about 2 hours.
-Despite the leisurely timing, and the fact that one of the three women who served us didn’t speak hardly any English, the meal ran incredibly smooth. Cutlery and plates were replaced between courses, dishes came at a fairly consistent pace (no super lengthy gaps) and they happily delivered fresh bread until we insisted no more por favor. We did have to refill our own water glasses, but I certainly don’t mind lifting a bottle.
-Extebarri boasts an extensive wine list, with a number of reasonably priced bottles around the 20-40 € range. We had a full day ahead of us (it was just 1 PM!), so we chose to order by the glass. For me, a deliciously fruity and local Txakoli Itsasmendi and for him, a slightly more crisp Taleia Sauvignon Blanc- both were perfect light options for a hot Summer’s day.
-As previously alluded, Etxebarri is famed for its bespoke wood grill that pervades the senses the moment you walk in the door. Nearly each and every ingredient arrives to the table after a good smooch-sesh with the blazing element lending a summery, smoky and earthy flavour and aroma.
-In contrast with so much of the avant garde modernism going on around him, Chef Arguinzoniz’s cuisine moves in a more rustic direction, yet it somehow feels just as innovative and new. Even the description on the menu denotes utter simplicity. Here you are spared the waning poetry of some lengthy menus in favour of just one or two words per dish. And that’s not just laziness, but rather, the food really is this simple. Why cover up a naturally delicious and perfect ingredient?
-With the Chef’s past experience as a timber worker, he apparently designed and built the custom-made grilling platforms, cooking tools, and charcoals for different ingredients. Talk about being hands-on!
-The 16-course tasting menu goes for 125€, and rotates between Earth, Ocean or Fire themes, depending on the seasonal products they find in the market. There is also the option to go a la carte, with items ranging from around 22-200 €. Having already tackled about a weeks –worth of back-to-back tasting menus, I knew I would be more inclined to simply order a la carte. I also read online that a) the tasting menu features so much food people have to be rolled out, and b) they wished they had ordered a la carte. After watching some table neighbours move through the numerous courses, I was quite happy with our decision. I was also grateful that (without asking), the kitchen graciously split the portions in two for us.
Deliciously crusty on the outside, and pillowy soft on the inside. This bread needed absolutely no butter or oil.
Gorgeously smoky, fatty and perfectly spiced.
Zucchini Tomato Water (Complimentary)
A delicately sweet and mildly verdant drink to cleanse the palate before digging into a hearty lunch.
Buffalo Mozzarella (15 €)
A creamy, dense, and moist ball of cheese with a gentle whisper of smoke. This was hands down the best mozzarella I’ve ever had.
Tomato Salad (15 €)
Likewise, the remarkably sweet sliced tomatoes offered just a hint of smoke that was balanced by their natural sweetness and acidity. Never before in my life have I tasted such a fantastic tomato.
King Bolete with Eggplant (24€)
Perfectly seasoned vegetables, the sweetness of the deeply caramelized eggplant was wonderfully counterbalanced by the umami-rich mushrooms. If you closed your eyes, the combination of meaty textures with the meaty smoke flavour would have you swearing you were eating – you guessed it – meat.
Scrambled Eggs of Mushrooms (24€)
This was certainly nothing like any scrambled eggs I’ve ever eaten before. The unctuous savoury eggs were creamy and velvety, with just enough textural contrast provided by the bits of woodsy mushrooms. A very rich dish that was delicious on its own, but even more satisfying sopped up by the wood-fired bread.
Beef Chop (65€)
This was undeniably the best damn steak I’ve ever had. The wickedly thick charcoaled crust was enhanced by a generous spatter of course salt that helped to contrast the buttery rare fat-strewn meat within. Oh boy. I think if I could request a main course for my last meal on earth, it would involve a whole Extebbari steak to myself.
Green Salad (Accompanied Steak)
Simple as simple gets but it couldn’t have been more welcome. The vinaigrette had a solid acidic bite to cut the richness of the beef, and I loved the crunchy shards of pungent onion.
Figs with Reduced Milk Ice Cream (9€)
Simple, yes, but one of the most delicious desserts I think I’ve ever had to date. The jammy figs were sticky, sweet, and sparkled in all their natural glory against the most luscious satiny ice cream I’ve ever had. If desserts were always this light and satisfying, there would be no need in the world for outrageous cronuts, crazy cupcakes or mile-high cakes.
-For the 6 dishes (the mini portions above x 2 – except for the steak which was to share), the bill came to 200 € ($275 CAD). While everything tasted fantastic, the food was so simple and the portions were so modest, my immediate reaction was to feel a bit underwhelmed for the price. I mean, 15 € for one tomato? It felt a bit outrageous.
-But when I looked back, I felt there was something somewhat magical about the overall experience that would make me want to go back again and again. I mean, as simple as that tomato was, it was the best damn tomato I’ve ever had. It was just a basic steak, but it was the best steak I’ve ever had. So many of the plates that graced our table were some of the best of their kind I have ever tasted so in retrospect I was thrilled with my meal. I am not sure I would feel the same if I were sitting indoors, as the breathtaking view really made the lunch shine.
-Would I recommend it? As long as you have the money to spend on a perfect, yet utterly simple meal, then absolutely I would. In the midst of all of the decadence of the Michelin world, Etxcebarri is real, natural, simple food done best, and it’s a meal I will remember for years to come.
Abbey Sharp is a Registered Dietitian, an avid food writer and blogger, a cookbook author and the founder of Abbey’s Kitchen Inc.