Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Best Restaurant in The World....For Reals

Akelaré (the accent is really supposed to be over the ''r''). Captions for the pictures: Calgon Bathbeads, Atlantic City View,The Men's Room,Waiting for the 17 Bus....NOT drunk!.

This really super obnoxious website that I battle with ( would have all of us believe that Akelaré is past its prime, just like Arzak…..The chef, Pedro Subijana is nice guy…..a humanist….but no longer tracking with the best of the best.


We went to Akelaré on a Sunday for brunch.

The background for us: Brendan went there on his day off from Mugaritz, on the bus. There was an ETA riot en route, and he almost got his ass beat by Madrid Guardia Civil imported for the occasion (the locals would not arrest ETA demonstrators)….but was saved by the gnarly Basque grannies. He sat away from the window by himself. It was OK, but he did steal a smoked tomato/tuna coulis recipe that we ran with for a while. Also, the best chef in California (Thomas Keller notwithstanding) is David Kinch from Manresa. David is an Akelaré graduate. We know him from The Masters, and worship at his restaurant in Los Gatos whenever we have a spare $500.

For us, this particular Sunday was the morning after San Sabby Day. We had been to Arzak the day before for brunch, and spent 36 hours listening to the Pas de Charge outside our hotel room. After Arzak and the Pas de Charge, Amanda was crispy and faded while I charged around the city trying to fit in. Forget it…..It was like being a Baptist at Mardi Gras. The place was packed with chain-smoking lunatic Basque alcoholics-for-a-day. Not just the bars…..the STREETS! Fourteen year old girls, old scary working class dudes, psycho grannies, drunken yuppies…….Go home, white boy……..take a nap

Sunday morning was a paen to the Chris Kristofferson song, Sunday Morning Coming Down. “I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt……” Picture an entire TOWN like this. The bands had stopped about three hours before. The place was fucked up. I had my coffee and gorgeous sweet rolls at the bakery and walked to the harbor to check out the fishing fleet. I roused Amanda and we drove up to Igueldo to Akelaré for our second Three Star meal in 24 hours.

If you don’t get the star rating thing…..there are six three-star restaurants in all of Spain. Spain is a country about three or four times the size of California, not some cute little old-school tourist spot like Disney World Columbus. (California has one three star….and the award is probably generous. Manresa has two....and the award is probably accurate).

Spain has the best food in the world, and the most technical, artistic chefs in the world. Spain has better industry, better housing, better health care and better day by day food and booze than us snotty Americans could even dream of behind six hits of Ecstasy and a winning lottery ticket.

And..... Amanda and I had decided to double up our three-stars, and go back to back meals with Arzak and Akelaré. As they say in Pennsylvania Amish country: “Vee grow too soon old…..und too late SCHMART!!”

San Sebastian is pinched between three mountains: Ulia on the east (the name of my favorite pintxo at Alona Berri), Igueldo on the west and Urgull in the middle. Akelaré is on Igueldo.

We fired up our trusty 1000km per tank Peugeot and set out. It turns out Akelaré is way the hell and gone outside the city, maybe 10 km east on the Igueldo mountain on the coast. We passed beautiful farms and agroturismos….and an albergo. We were early, so I stopped at the albergo. It was packed…. at noon on a Sunday. There were hot, leather-clad city chicks with tiny little dogs and homoerotic boyfriends chain-smoking on the terrace, local farmers, Donostia families with babies and grannies, Bilbao tourists en famille. The place was nuts. Everyone was having pintxos and Txacoli… namesake wine that is served by pouring it into the glass from a legally imposed two feet above the glass. Really. Two thirds of a meter, or else. The Basques may not give a shit about ETA, but DO not screw around with Txacoli.

Basques have the Cachagua version of hangover relief…..full speed ahead. If it worked last night, it might work this morning. Jesus. Sunday morning going UP…..

We pulled into Akelaré a discreet fifteen minutes of Txacoli late, nervous as cats. They were waiting for us. They google their guests, and knew about David Kinch, about Brendan’s visit, about the blog…..the whole deal. And they still like us. We got an unbelievably gorgeous table by the window, overlooking……well, Atlantic City, New Jersey. The chef himself came out…..a large, smiling fat man….and crushed us in abrazos. They poured us cava from the get-go, because Lord we had not had enough at the albergo……

The waitress was from Chile…..think Anouk Aimée, if you are old enough to remember "A Man and A Waitress...." An economic and political refugee unafraid to actually talk to her tables….Well, our table….about Spanish and Chilean and American politics. The wine guy was cute and brought us something that I had never had before, and will never have again…..accompanied by an operatic lecture about its ancestry, eneology, and perfection. He was right.

The place filled up. It became clear that we had one of the best tables in the house. Spaniards came in with mistresses and were relegated to the tables one removed from the Atlantic City view. The girls steamed and gave us death looks. Poor bastards: Five hundred euros for lunch, and no lovin’…..And the fucking Americans had the good table. The waitress was unmoved by their angst… befits someone who last saw her father being dragged into the soccer stadium in Valparaiso. Ars longa, vita brevis, baby.

Meanwhile, the fucking Americans could have cared less about the view. I was in love with the waitress, Amanda was in love with the wine guy…..and then the food started. They knew we were restaurant geeks, so we each got a separate menu: (I can’t make this site do side by side columns.)


Basilic Holes
Bread and Black Pudding
Pepper and black olive checkers
Cuttlefish Dropping the Ink
Fried Egg and “Piparros”

Menu “Aranori” (Michael)

Prawns and Shrimps in its Shell powder
Tomato Meringue and Roquette

Steamed Molluscis with Borage

Wild Mushrooms in the Forest

Turbot with Mussels Lentils

Roasted Baby Pig with Tomato “Bolao” and Iberian Emulsion

Curled Coconut, lightly Lime perfumed

Swiss roll with “Leche Merengada” and Mulberries

Menu “Bekarki” (Amanda)

Same apps…thank you, Jesus

Oyseters eaten with Shell

Scallop in Coloured “Sand”

Lamb’s boneless Tail,
Cauliflower, Leekds, Beetroot and Carrot “Macaroons”

Monkfish with Artichokes and Fava Beans

Roast Wood-Pigeon with Cider, Kuzu and Walnut

Rhubarb sorbet and frosted Herbs

Tangerine with Pineapple and White Chocolate

Basilic Holes were packing peanuts made of basil, and somehow extruded. The sand was made of pulverized lobster shells. The oyster was dipped in white chocolate and made to look like an oyster again (oysters and white chocolate share the same original biochemistry….go figure). The baby pig was the best thing I have ever eaten. One of the garnishes was what Amanda called “Calgon Bath Beads”….a jewel of olive oil, baby herbs, and who knows.

We were not just blown away…we were devastated. We could not find words to describe the food; we could not find neural pathways to anchor our memories of the food; we wept the way people do at Aida or La Boheme, with a decent coloratura. The food was technically perfect, and by turnss wildly futuristic, classic, humorous, ironic, soothing….the full palette of emotions….. forget the tastes, aromas and visions.

On the way out, we got EIGHT abrazos from the hostess, along with a personal message to take to David Kinch.

And….it turns out that you can get to Akelaré on the Number 17 bus from Guipuzkoa Plaza in downtown. One euro. The Chilean waitress’ dad would be proud.

The Best Restaurant in The World………\


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