Cuisine Personalities Photologues Spain Travel — 17 September 2013

My second night in San Sebastián Donostia was Thursday at Chef Pedro Subijana’s Akelaŕe, one of only seven restaurants in Spain currently receiving the top rating of 3 stars in the Michelin Guide. Amazingly, three of the seven are in the immediate San Sebastián vicinity.

While you may not agree with the Michelin Guide’s ratings or its focus on elaborate service and decor for the top ratings—or even enjoy super fancy restaurants—it’s very clear that receiving such a highly coveted honor is a mark of excellence. And whether you enjoy the meal or not is also a matter of taste; subject to many factors, like the specific dishes you order, the company, your mood, the service, the cost, value and so on.

But if you crave highly creative, beautifully and elaborately prepared food, that is immaculately served in an elegant setting (with a panoramic view of the sea), then you will probably love Akelaŕe. Chef Subijana is one of the original chefs, along with Juan Mari Arzak, that helped create today’s modern Basque cuisine back in the late 60s and 70s. He continues the creative and pioneering spirit of those days—still wedded to Basque tradition—at Akelaŕe today.

The menu offered three different tasting menus, Aranori (Basque for spider), Bekarki (Basque for rocket), and Akelaŕe’s Classics (a sort of greatest hits menu) as well as à la carte choices. I almost always go for a tasting menu at such a temple to grand cuisine. Here I chose the Aranori, featuring sucking pig as the meat dish. Highlights follow.

The sleek entranceway to AKELAŔE on the outskirts of San Sebastian Donostia, in Igeldo. © 2013 Justin Berlin

The sleek entranceway to Akelaŕe, which is located on the outskirts of San Sebastián Donostia, in Igeldo. © 2013 Justin Berlin

The Sea Garden amuse-bouche, sets the table for the sort of invention to follow. Set in a bed of dried shrimp "sand," left to right: Oyster Leaf (highly aromatic with a drop of oyster reduction), Mussel with Shell (filled with mussel liquid), Sea Urchin Sponge, Beach Pebbles (made of shallot and corn), and Codium Seaweed Coral (gooseneck barnacle flavored tempura). © 2013 Justin Berlin

The Sea Garden amuse-bouche, sets the table for the sort of invention to follow. Set in a bed of dried shrimp “sand,” left to right: Oyster Leaf (highly aromatic with a drops of oyster reduction), Mussel with Shell (filled with intensely flavored mussel liquid), Sea Urchin Sponge, Beach Pebbles (made of shallot and corn), and Codium Seaweed Coral (gooseneck barnacle flavored tempura). © 2013 Justin Berlin

2011 Contino Blanco, the third vintage of this rich, yet elegant barrel fermented Rioja white. The best vintage yet of this wine, showing more finesse than ever. It paired very well with the varied range of seafood dishes. © 2013 Justin Berlin

Contino Blanco 2011, the third vintage of this rich, yet elegant barrel fermented Rioja white. The best vintage yet of this wine, showing more finesse than ever. It paired very well with the varied mix of seafood dishes and even the foie gras. © 2013 Justin Berlin

Prawns and French Beans cooked in "Orujo" Fireplace. After firing up three beautiful raw shrimp in Orujo, they were placed on the dish on the foreground with green beans and bread crisps. The menu suggested sucking the heads of the shrimp and I very happily obliged. © 2013 Justin Berlin

Prawns and French Beans cooked in “Orujo” Fireplace. After firing up three beautiful raw shrimp in Orujo, they were placed on the dish on the foreground with green beans and bread crisps. The menu suggested sucking the heads of the shrimp and I very happily obliged. © 2013 Justin Berlin

Pasta Carpaccio, an ingenious bed of Iberico cured ham and piquillo sweet red pepper flavored pasta covered in a mix of fresh mushrooms and black truffle. Utterly savory, earthy and delicious the way the flavors melded together. © 2013 Justin Berlin

Pasta Carpaccio, an ingenious bed of Iberico cured ham and piquillo sweet red pepper flavored pasta covered in a mix of fresh mushrooms, Parmesan and black truffle. Utterly savory, earthy and delicious in the way the flavors melded together. © 2013 Justin Berlin

Sautéed Fresh Foie Gras with "Salt Flakes and Grain Pepper".  From the Bekarki menu, this was massively eye-opening when the server poured massive amounts of "salt" and "pepper" on the beautifully seared foie gras. In actuality the salt was crystalized sugar and the pepper, puffed black rice which added crunch to was was a magnificent foie gras dish—which I learned thanks to a taste my dining companion shared. © 2013 Justin Berlin

Sautéed Fresh Foie Gras with “Salt Flakes and Grain Pepper”. From the Bekarki menu, this was massively eye-opening when the server poured massive amounts of “salt” and “pepper” on the beautifully seared foie gras. In actuality the salt was crystalized sugar and the pepper, puffed black rice which added crunch to was was a magnificent foie gras dish—which I learned thanks to a taste my dining companion shared. © 2013 Justin Berlin

CVNE Viña Real Rioja Gran Reserva 1975. Carlos, the top notch sommelier, opened the bottle via port tongs, heated by the flame at left; then brished with cold water to effect a clean break below the cork. Purchased directly from the winery a few years back—hence the perfect label and foil.  See Contino photo above to see the removed part. © 2013 Justin Berlin

CVNE Viña Real Rioja Gran Reserva 1975. Carlos, the top notch sommelier, opened the bottle via port tongs, heated by the flame at left; then brished with cold water to effect a clean break below the cork. Purchased directly from the winery a few years back—hence the perfect label and foil. See Contino photo above to see the removed part. © 2013 Justin Berlin

From the sea the Grouper..., which came with cous cous, cockles and "sea foam." This was rich, succulent and packed with briney sea flavors. © 2013 Justin Berlin

From the sea the Grouper…, which came with cous cous, cockles and “sea foam.” This was rich, succulent and packed with briney sea flavors. © 2013 Justin Berlin

Roasted Suckling Pig with Tomato Bolao and Iberian Emulsion. Super moist and spectacularly crisp, this was a great dish. And the crispy little pig shaped balloon was really tasty too. © 2013 Justin Berlin

Roasted Suckling Pig with Tomato Bolao and Iberian Emulsion. Super moist and spectacularly crisp, this was a great dish. And the crispy little pig shaped balloon was really tasty too. © 2013 Justin Berlin

Peeling off Peaches. "Shells" of peach slices, filled with peach compote. I cracked the front slice open, to reveal the silky center inside the dough-like shell. Full of smooth peach flavors and textures. © 2013 Justin Berlin

Peeling off Peaches. “Shells” of peach slices, filled with peach compote. I cracked the front slice open, to reveal the silky center inside the dough-like shell. Full of smooth peach flavors and textures. © 2013 Justin Berlin

Chilled Patxaran, the traditional after dinner liqueur of northern Spain and the Basque country. Made from anise and sloe berries (a small cherry like berry grown in the mountains).  Served in a brandy snifter, but here, uniquely placed on a metal bowl of crushed ice to prevent the usual ice cubes from diluting the Patxaran as they melt. This was the perfect way to cap off our grand meal. @ 2013 Justin Berlin

Chilled Patxaran, the traditional after dinner liqueur of northern Spain and the Basque country. Made from anise and sloe berries (a small cherry like berry grown in the mountains). Served in a brandy snifter, but here, uniquely placed on a metal bowl of crushed ice to prevent the usual ice cubes from diluting the Patxaran as they melt. This was the perfect way to cap off our grand meal. © 2013 Justin Berlin

Akelaŕe
Paseo Padre Orcolaga, 56 (in Igledo)
20008 San Sebastián Donostia (Gipuzkoa) Spain
www.akelarre.net

About Author

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Justin is a Co-Founder of Vino247 and has been a wine professional for more than 12 years. He has a background in filmmaking, print and web publishing. But his passion for wine led him to move professionally to the wine world. First at one of the top retailers in the US, where he cut his teeth learning the wine business, honing his palate and writing about wine. Later he co-founded importer Spanish-Wine-Exclusives. He is also a regular taster on Wine & Spirits Magazine’s industry tasting panel.

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