By god, Turkish desserts.
On the way back to New York, we had a day in Istanbul, so we stopped by Sultanahmet Koftecisi to grab some Turkish meatballs – kofteh. Pretty delicious, with a delicious harissa sauce to add a kick of spice. Plus a cool drink of Ayran, a savory yogurt drink, to balance out the spice.Sultanahmet Koftecisi Selim Usta
Meshur Sultanahmet Koftecisi, Divan Yolu Cd No:12
34400 Fatih, Turkey
There’s not much to be said about Gandarias except that it represents a sublime amalgamation of the best things we found throughout the old town in San Sebastian: a lively crowd shuffling for standing room, immersed in good wine and conversation, endless platters of delectable bites on display at the bar (with more stuff from the hot kitchen on order), fat legs of jamon strewn up from the ceiling, good wine flowing from the bar, boisterous and funny bartenders serving that good wine, some indeterminate music in the background but drowned out by laughter and shouts and wine-fueled lines from men and women romancing each other and friends reveling in being in San Sebastian and old-timers watching these rambunctious visitors over a glass of red or white.
Here, we sampled the goods:
This is by far the most beautiful thing we ate at Gandarias, and one of the culinary highlights of the entire trip, to be honest. We’d seen the txuletas being passed back and forth in the bustle and din of Bar Nestor and were definitely craving one, and with a little bit more space at the standing bar in Gandarias, we ordered one. Good god, look at this. The char, the perfectly juicy red meat, the roughshod crackling of sea salt. And the drifting smell of that highway of fat rendering in the kitchen. Continue reading
Right across the street from Bar Nestor is another lively tapas bar, Zeruko. Due to some freak accident, definitely not by choice, we chose a few healthier dishes, accompanied (of course) by a glass of txakoli. This simple sliced tomato salad with onions, olive oil, salt, and olives. This stuffed pepper (tuna salad), with crouton and chopped onions and balsamico. This happened to be one of Myra’s favorite dishes of the trip, if only because it was surprisingly delicious, or just what we needed at the moment – a common theme throughout our San Sebastian experience, finding a favorite where least expected. Bar Zeruko
Calle Pescaderia, 10
We only had time for a quick bite at Bar Nestor, which is one of the smaller spaces in Parte Vieja, famous for its tortilla espanola and its txuleta, a beautifully fat-wrapped bone-in ribeye. So we got something we could enjoy just as much, a plate of jamon iberico, and another plate of roasted pimientos with sea salt (the Spanish version of one of my favorite Japanese dishes, simple shishito peppers done basically the same way). Bar Nestor
Pescaderia Kalea, 11
20003 Donostia-San Sebastián, Guipúzcoa
Ganbara is a tapas bar upstairs, and downstairs a cozy but bare-bones sitdown dining room serving some of San Sebastian’s most unassumingly delicious seafood.
Each dish is rarely more than a plate of whatever we ordered, minimally prepared, but showcased how unadulterated and fresh the local catch was. First, this batch of fritters, the gelatinous goodness of some indeterminate fish – this was a teaser courtesy of the restaurant. Maybe some piece of the belly, or somewhere near a fin or collar.
Charcoal-grilled wild turbot. Don’t mind the mess of flattened fish and crinkled brown skin, the staff takes care of deboning the fish, but the skin is a creamy sheet of umami (to the extent that you can handle the fat).
It’s hard to believe how La Parte Vieja houses so many superb tapas bars within its narrow confines. La Cuchara de San Telmo is a tucked away in the last back-street of San Sebastian’s old town, next to the Museo de San Telmo. The restaurant is essentially an extended bar, with a tiny open hot kitchen next to it – the whole affair is cramped and economical, with busy but kind-faced and jovial bartenders managing the rush on busy nights, stopping to chat a bit in slower moments. Lively and vivacious and filled with the din of convivial chatter and the unmistakable smoke of delicious things searing on the plancha. Like foie gras. Which is naturally one of the first things we ordered. Beautifully crisped with a scattering of crunchy sea salt and a few streaks of buttery apple sauce.
La Cuchara’s dishes were not as deliberately quirky as A Fuego Negro’s, but there was a demonstrably clear command of its repertoire. We ordered only hot dishes, and the most decadent ones at that.
Duck confit, with a wonderfully crisped layer of duck skin atop a layer of fat and tender slow-roasted meat. I can’t think of many things I like more than duck confit, although that love started in Paris. This version was more condensed, with intensified flavors, especially with the punch of the wine reduction and the expertly crisped skin that was almost like a thin layer of bacon (duck fat brittle?), and much better crafted to snack alongside a glass of wine than a main course.And so we plowed ahead: grilled octopus with quinoa. The oblong shape of the tentacle made for an easy balance between briny, meaty flesh and crispy char, and the earthiness of the lightly crunchy quinoa was a new combination I hadn’t ever seen before.Sepia risotto with cuttlefish and goat cheese, although the grain was more like orzo. The cuttlefish ink was superb, complex, with a slightly acidic, earthy roundness that carries the salinity of the goat cheese and slippery crunch of the cuttlefish to completeness. Richly satisfying. Continue reading
After Paris, we headed to San Sebastian in Spain’s Basque region, locally known as Donostia. This seaside town is a summertime haven, and in 2011 I visited just after the high season, and immediately fell in love with the surroundings. That was a very hurried stay, with barely two days in the area, but I managed to visit both Mugaritz and Arzak. The stupendous arc of the boardwalk around La Concha, the main beach that circles shell-like west to east towards La Parte Vieja (Old Town). Where last time I barely spent any time in this mysteriously vibrant and cozy corner of the city, which houses some of the world’s best tapas bars. This visit, I spent my time exclusively here.
The first place we stopped in was the boldly inventive A Fuego Negro, a visually rambunctious bar serving irreverent dishes, whose names are scrawled across a menu board behind the bar in their Basque spellings – lots of x’s and k’s.
A café con leche. Makcobe burger with “txips” – a mini wagyu burger with ketchup-infused sesame bun, fried banana chips. Intensely beefy, lightly ketchup-y. Kit de pikoteo: tuna, piparras (Basque peppers), and thinly-sliced onions. This was Myra’s favorite here (we ordered it twice) – everything was immensely bright in their freshness, the tuna flaky and meaty, the peppers and onions adding unique undertones of acidity and heat.
We spent Christmas eve at the newly-opened Restaurant David Toutain, the inventive chef who had previously put l’Agapé Substance on the map. Prior to arriving in Paris, I’d originally made reservations for the latter, somewhere I’d been meaning to go since some of the chefs at Mugaritz recommended it ages ago (2011). But Chef Toutain had moved on, and Chef Christophe Hache, who I had met when he came to De Gustibus Cooking School, mentioned that Chef Toutain had just opened an eponymous restaurant in the vicinity of the Eiffel Tower.
The culinary world is so small sometimes.There was just one tasting menu, a combination of the several selections of tasting menus typically offered (including the truffle menu). One of the things that the chef gained a reputation was an adroitness with and love of vegetables. We started appropriately with a bowl of roasted carrots in a parsnip and white chocolate purée, with a sprinkling of crushed sesame powder. It was an opening note to an extended étude to the possibilities of vegetables.This worked as well, a purée of smoked potatoes, and instead of chips, we got upgraded to perfectly crisp chicharrones. This adaptation of croque monsieur: a finger sandwich of onion compote, smoked eel, parmesan, and beurre noisette emulsion. Continue reading