Barcelona Day/Night 3 – The Grand Finale

2 weeks of travel had finally started to take a serious toll on me physically. I was sore pretty much everywhere and starting to have more AlkaSeltzer to recover from the previous night’s festivities. As I mentioned before, travel like this is a marathon not a sprint, and now I was about to cross the finish line, wrapped one of the foil blankets and then collapse to the ground in exhaustion. OK, maybe not but I was starting to look forward to a day in bed upon at home, which was on the not too distant horizon. Fortunately, another day of great weather was helping me kick into into final gear.

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I had been interested in trying the Catalan version of paella called fideuas, which uses noodles instead of rice. A couple of people had recommended a place, which actually had 3 branches, Arroseria Xavitva, one of which was just under 2 miles away, which in the great weather seemed doable, my aching body aside. The path took me through a more working class area of town called Sant Antoni, where there was a lot more graffiti and not the seemingly ubiquitous chain stores, which after being inundated with them elsewhere was a nice change of pace. The weather also allowed me to finally take advantage of dining al fresco.

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Since I had worked up a pretty good appetite from my long walk, I immediately ordered the Paella Valenciana fideuas given I also knew it would take awhile. About 20 minutes later, this thing of beauty arrived.

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The noodles were short and thin called garrofon, which looked like enoki mushrooms. It was at first a very strange experience scooping up noodles versus rice out of a paella dish but the flavors were still all very much a classic paella Valenciana (well except for no snails, which was a plus really. There was even a noodle version of the sorcarat (aka the crispy bits on the side) and overall, a very tasty paella. I would definitely have this again when available.

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I had walked by the Barcelona Beer Company on my way to Xavitiva and decided to check it out after my lunch. Spanish beer overall is pretty terrible – drink wine instead – but I had heard good things about this craft brewery. Plus, I could get 4 tasters for 6 Euros.

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I had the bartender recommend 4 to try and had a nice variety of tastes and styles, my favorite being, surprisingly, the ginger heavy Belgian style, which normally can be a bit much. Overall very solid, especially for the price.

As I made my way back to El Born for my next stop, I saw a lot why I’m conflicted about Barcelona. It has a lot big city problems, homelessness, crime, graffiti but with also a lot of splendor and grandeur that makes it fairly unique. It also has an undercurrent of danger and instability that can be unleashed at any time given the strong separatist movement and overall Catalan attitude. And finally, it has a ton of crass commercialism that caters to the huge tourism industry. So yeah, it’s…complicated.

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It was time to get my culture on at my favorite museum in the city – The Picasso Museum. While it doesn’t feature many of his masterworks, it is the best representation of his astonishing range of his career – from early neo-classist leanings to his destruction of art in his cubism period to his extensive use of mediums beyond painting, including his great pottery work. Per usual, I didn’t take any pics of the works themselves but I enjoyed some of the new additions since I had been there along with a new appreciation of perhaps the most important work there – his exhaustive recreation and interpretation of Velasquez’s masterwork Las Meninas, which is worth the price of admission alone.

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Since I had a 6AM alarm set for my flight home (ouch), I didn’t want to take my usual siesta, which allowed me to stroll around El Born during sunset. I also finally made a stop at the famous bakery Bubo to pick up Marzipan and gianduja flavored croissants for breakfast.

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I tried to have another wine tasting at the highly regarded Bar Brutal but alas they weren’t going to be open until 7PM. I also stopped off at another wine store looking for a specific wine but struck out yet again. Just not meant to be this time at least, oh well.

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For my final dinner, a few people had recommended a classic Catalan spot for tapas that was also very close to my hotel, a plus. La Puntual, from the street, looked like a small bar but that belied the large backroom that was the heart of the restaurant. My friend Damian had told me to be on the lookout for this Iberico ham brand called Joselito so when I saw there was a chorizo from them, I knew that had to be my starter.

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It was, quite simply, the best chorizo I had ever tasted – tender but firm with an explosion of favor – absolutely incredible. Unfortunately, my main course isn’t pictured because, quite frankly, it didn’t look visually appealing. A classic Catalan winter dish, the best way to describe it if steak tartare and Sheppard’s pie had a baby. It was a very hearty dish of chopped beef, potatoes and some spices that was very tasty. It paired very nicely with the Ribera del Duero I had along side it.

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Since I couldn’t let the last major dish I had on this trip not be pictured, I had to get a dessert and the chocolate truffles with cream sounded like a winner. The things I do for my readers. I wasn’t expecting such an artful presentation but man was it good. Four very generous chunks of delicious chocolate truffles rounded perfectly with the homemade cream. A great way to end my culinary adventures on this trip.

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For my final nightcap, I headed back to ElDiset for a nice glass of cava. My bartender Alejandro wasn’t there alas but I enjoyed sipping my cava at what definitely would be a local haunt if I ever lived in Barcelona. As I had the last vestiges of my cava, I reflected on what a fun trip overall this had been. My body had paid for it in multiple ways, but after long (too long) break from traveling – and of course, this blog, I felt invigorated.

A final recap by the numbers on the trip:

13397 miles in the air
10342 average steps per day
745 miles driving
100+ types of food consumed (I gave up trying to catalog the exact total but close enuff)
28 major meals
32 different Spanish wines sampled
12 different Euro beers
1 very happy, satisfied, stimulated, enlightened and yes, tired traveler.

Hasta vez proxima.


Barcelona Day/Night 2 – Strolling Along

I woke up to a truly beautiful day, sunny and in the mid 60s – perfect weather to go for a nice long walk to a beachfront paella restaurant I went to over 25 years ago – Escriba. I was curious to see if it was still as good as I remembered. The path to get there took me out of El Born to the Olympic Park and then eventually to the beach.

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About 30 minutes later, I arrived at the restaurant, which faced directly toward the beach. Known for over 30 different versions of paella, I decided to go with the one called Of Mountains and Seas. My server took my order and then came back with an hourglass, explaining that’s how much time I had until my paella would arrive.

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Sure enough, just as the sands shifted completely in the hourglass, my paella arrived. As the name implied, it was a mixture of both meats and seafood – pork ribs, chicken, wild mushrooms, green beans, Norway lobster, mussels and cuttlefish. This being a Catalan paella, there was no saffron. And yes, this was for 1 person.

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The various meats and seafood all blended together in the rice, giving it a tremendous depth of flavor with the mushrooms and green beans adding some different textural elements. The rice on the side, called the socarat aka the crispy bits, was particularly delicious. A damn fine paella, and I was pleased to see the restaurant still held up.

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Needing to walk off all of that food, I headed back to El Born, taking a slightly different route for variety’s sake.

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The Catalan and Castellano clashes were all over the city.

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After stopping by a very cool wine shop, I ended up at a tasting room for a small winery based in Priorat. It was just me and the proprietor who was very friendly and knowledgeable about wine. I asked her about the “fresh” term I kept hearing with the Priorat wines, and she explained that it was due to a combination of things but mostly due to climate change. The hotter, drier growing seasons are causing wine makers to adjust how they producing the wines. Plus, the hotter weather is making Spaniards want to drink less and less the traditional bold, heavy Priorats in favor of something lighter.

The wines were quite good and she gave me a couple of other pours for wines that were sold out but wanted me to try them. We started chatting about Spanish politics and the Catalan separation movement. She said that in schools now in Barcelona, some are teaching kids in just Catalan. Her kids were older so they didn’t have to do that. We both agreed how crazy that is given the limited scope of Catalan out in the world. She sighed and said even though she’s a proud Catalana, it was foolish to believe that any sort of separation from the rest of Spain would work. She added though that she agreed the region was being taken advantage of, and she supported the desire for more of a voice in the Parliament.

I also remarked that I wasn’t hearing as much Catalan being spoken in the streets this time versus last. She said that despite the separatist movement, there was more of an understanding these days that Spanish language was important too. I had also noticed more people now were willing to engage me in Spanish versus insisting I speak English. That was one of the things that had made me avoid Barcelona for so long because people, quite frankly, assholes about it.

After a bit of a rest at the hotel, I set out again but this time to a different part of the city to a wine bar that the hostess at Ferrer Bobet had suggested given it was co-owned by the owner of that winery. Along the way I passed by one of my favorite buildings in Barcelona, the Palau de Musica.

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After a, thankfully, brief trip through the tourist wasteland of La Rambla, I arrive at Monvinic, a very slick and sleek wine bar with over 40 wines by the glass. All of the servers are sommeliers and I was presented with an iPad to review the wines by the glass. I wanted to stay in the Priorat area so I selected a half glass of what sounded like a good one. It was 100% Granacha and had the now familiar “fresh” taste to it.

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After trying a not so great rose also from Priorat, I saw that there was another one that was from Scala Dei, but a 2013 reserve versus the regular one I had enjoyed. Of course, with that, came a pretty hefty price – 18 Euros for just the half glass. Given I’d probably never have a chance to try it again, I had to try it and wow was it good. None of the “fresh” taste, just deep, flavorful dark cherry notes and super smooth tannins. One of the best Spanish wines I had ever had.

I had asked for the bottle so I could take a picture of it and they said it had been tossed. The sommelier though asked if I wanted to tour one of their 3 cellars while he got another bottle. They had over 200K total bottles – very impressive.

I decided that was enough of the expensive stuff so paid my bill and headed back towards El Born for some cheap eats. I had been told this place Mosquito was a local favorite and about 30 minute walk back to my hood, I arrived at the ramshackle Asian tapas and beer bar joint.

The wine and my heavy lunch had left me with not a huge appetite so I ordered a couple of tapas and a local beer which I thought would be more than enough. I sat at the bar and once again, like seemingly everywhere in Barcelona, heard more English than Spanish (or Catalan for that matter)

The Spanish pork ribs with Xaoshing wine sauce and the smoked duck dumplings were both delicious and a nice change of pace from the usual Spanish fare I had been having. As I suspected, this was plenty enough food so I paid my bill – a mere 12 Euros – and walked back toward my hotel. Knowing though this was my last major night out, I sought out a spot for a night cap and soon arrived at a very nice looking wine bar called Eldesit.

It turned out they also made their own wine, which my bartender Alejandro, allowed me to try before I settled on a Priorat that he said I would like. He was correct and this one was also in the older style, more full bodied and deeper flavors. I chatted a bit with Alejandro who said my Spanish was “perfecto” – gracias although certainly not true. He let me try a few other of the wines and eventually I had to say “basta” since I didn’t want another hangover. I promised though to come back tomorrow on my final night for perhaps a cava this time.

Priorat to Barca – Going Sideways

After recovering from my inevitable hangover from the previous night’s bacchanalia, I packed up my things, climbed up the steep hill with my bags (always fun with a hangover) and set off to my first winery – Ferrer Bobet. I had a noon appointment scheduled but decided to go there a bit early. I had also purchased a vegan cheese and “meat” boccadillo to eat afterwards. I had no idea if it would be any good but at only 3 Euros it was worth a shot.

I had looked up the route previous so I knew it was relatively close by. This was a good thing as I was staring to run low on gas and would need to fill up after the winery. I drove up into the truly spectacular countryside into a small town. It was then that I started to think something was off given the pictures on their website didn’t seem like it was in a town. My instincts proved correct when it showed I had arrived at my destination – a street called Ferrer Bobet. Shit!

There was also no cell service so I frantically drove back towards where I had come from and finally got enough service to see I was now 30 mins away… and it was noon. Great.

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I zipped down the curvy mountain roads, drove back through Falset (grr) and then took a truly insane switchback with no guardrails up another mountain. I finally arrived at the correct Ferrer Bobet with the tour already in progress.

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I wasn’t expecting a full tour so joining up with a random group whilst my body was dying for a glass of wine to steady my nerves. Still, it was pretty interesting if a bit long. One thing that was fairly unique is that they don’t crush the grapes at all but instead use highly controlled temperature tanks to gradually start the fermentation process.”

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Eventually the tour concluded and it was finally time to taste in a pretty spectacular room.

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They served 3 different bottles – one was a 2016 100% Carrinyera that had recently one a blind Priorat tasting. It had a slightly sour note which was due to the lack of the sugar in the fermentation process, which the defined as “fresh” The second was the same year but now 100% Granacha. However, the usual jammy taste of a typical Granacha was replaced again with this “fresh” taste. The final one was a blend of the two. Because of their process, they said that the bottles have to be stored at cellar temperature. That made it basically impossible for me to buy a bottle. Oh well.

I was now seriously low on gas but had to take that same switchback to get to the station in Falset. Nervously eyeing the last brick on my digital fuel gauge, I somehow made it back in time. Relieved I filled up and then set off to my next winery – Scala Dei.

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The sommelier at Mugaritz had told me this was a must-stop and since it was more or less on the way to Barcelona, it would work out. I drove through some more spectacular countryside side and took the stone bridge into the former Caruthian monastery Scala Dei which was now home to the winery.

I didn’t have time to do the tour so I went straight to the tasting room, which in my slightly frazzled state I forgot to take a pic of but it was very nice. They were pouring 3 versions of their award winning wines. One was a 100% Granacha in the “new style” – similar to what I had at Ferrer Bobet. The next was the Carrinyera of that “new style” Overall I preferred those to what I had at Ferrer Bobet. The final was the “classic style” which was a blend of Granacha and Carrinyera. This was fantastic and I bought a bottle almost immediately, which then covered my tasting – sold!

As much as I was enjoying the wine, I knew I had to get on the road soon so I said adios and started back down the winding road. I had decided to take the scenic route up to Barcelona and that turned out to be a great idea as it was breathtakingly beautiful.

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I crossed through several Medieval towns and eventually ended up on the main road to Barcelona. I was expecting to pay more tolls but got into the city without having to do so. I had to drop my trusty steed at a hotel and after a couple of missteps trying to decipher the confusing directions, finally said adios to the Black Stallion – 1100 kms after our first trip.

My hotel was only a short cab ride away and it was past 9PM so I checked in, dropped off my bags in my small but nice room, and walked into the ancient part of the city I was staying in called El Born.

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Known for its bars and restaurants, even on a pretty cold Monday evening there were a surprising number of people out and about. I didn’t really have a specific destination in mind but soon came across an item on a menu that I hadn’t had since I lived in Spain – Jamon Ibérico with an egg and fries. My senora used to make this which I called the Spanish truck stop special.

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Memories came flooding back as I ate this wondrous combination of fat, salt and gooey yolks. Along with it, I got an order of chorizos braised in Austurian cider, as old skool as it gets. Feeling better I also opted for a very intriguing cocktail simply called – Cava Sangria. It was by no means a simple cocktail though – cava, ginger beer, gin and apple liqueur – dangerously delicious.

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That combo meant I was done for the evening so I made my way back to the hotel, discovered the blackout curtains and hit the sack. The weather forecast looked great for tomorrow and I looked forward to exploring my new surroundings.

Road to Falset – Day/Night 1 – En Vino Vertias

The weather had improved considerably, just in time for me long drive to the Spanish wine country of Monstant and Priorat via the small town of Falset. I had initially planned stopping in Pamplona for lunch but given how good that Bar Zapoleta torilla was, I got one of those to go instead. The Spanish toll system is an incredibly impressive maze of roads which cut through the mountainous regions of northern Spain. This, of course, comes with a price and I ended up spending about $30 in tolls throughout the trip. Still, given it shaves hours off of driving, it was more than worth it.

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I had missed my old friends, the Osborne brandy toros that dot the highways in Spain. The problem with driving yourself in a standard vehicle is that road snapshots are very challenging. This is about as close I could get.

After filling up for the first time (good fuel economy job, Black Stallion!) and a few more tolls, I finally made it into the Montstant region, the entry of which surprised me with a rather large nuclear power plan just off the main highway (my 2 pictures turned out to be rubbish so just visualize in the mind’s eye.) Eventually, I arrived at the ancient town of Falset, which given it was the off season wasn’t exactly bustling with activity. As it typical with these towns, there was a general parking lot and then I had to just carry my luggage inside the city.

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Apartments Falset was located just right off the main square, and the street was in the process of being repaved. My apartment was basic but given I’d only be there one night, it was perfectly fine. After I got my bearings, I was anxious to go try some local wine but the main wine bar was closed given it was Sunday. I ended up at a bar filled with locals and tried a pretty decent Monstant red for 2 Euros.

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The restaurant I wanted to go to, Hostal Sport, wasn’t going to open until 9PM but I found out the accompanying bar would be open so I asked the bartender/server to choose a good Priorat. He brought me one he liked, and it was very good. The wine list was incredibly impressive – basically a phone book – filled with just about every major winery in the area and a lot of smaller ones. I asked if I ordered a bottle if I could take away what I didn’t finish and the server said of course I could do that.

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I ended up selecting one I had read about – a local Falset collective of wine makers called Castell de Falset. They were known for doing some pretty interesting blends and the bottle was only 19 Euros so why not?  It turned out to be a great choice as the wine was dark and rich – superb and exactly what I wanted on this cold night. The restaurant finally opened and I soon discovered I would be probably its only patron of the evening.

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The menu had all kinds of intriguing options but I asked my server for some local recommendations. She said they have a lot of game meat and that the croquettas and the hunter casserole would be good options. Sold.

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The croquettas turned out to be 3 kinds – ham and chicken, wild mushrooms and rabbit with Priorat wine sauce. The last one was the most unique with a nice mix of the gamey rabbit cut by the slightly tangy wine sauce. The hunter’s casserole with rabbit, wild board and beef with elemental gratin was excellent and again perfectly matched the cold weather. Simple but delicious. Not wanting to make them stay open longer, I paid my check and made the walk back to my apartment, noticing now I was pretty much the only one around – except of course for the zombies that were no doubt hiding in the shadows.

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Fortunately, I made it back alive and in one piece. I was tempted to have some more of my wine but once again, given the big day coming up, I thought better of it. Tomorrow would give me ample opportunities for mas vino.

San Sebastian Day/Night 5 – New Discoveries

The weather in San Sebastian had turned nasty – cold and rain. Still, there was enough of a break in the dourness to take a quick walk down to Bar Zapoleta, which had been recommended to me for their tortilla espanola, which was apparently the best in town. It also happened to be in Gros basically right down the street.

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I opted for a slice of the tortilla plus a glass of Txakoli por supuesto. I was excited to try the torilla and boy they weren’t kidding about it being the best in town, if not the best I’d ever had.

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The key different was how moist it was whereas most tortilla espanolas, even the good ones, tend to be on the drier side. This was decidedly not and so good I immediately ordered another slice. Outstanding. I paid the 5 euros – absurd price – for my meal and took off for my next destination, this time one I had been before – Bar Bergana.

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Known for their outstanding and creative pintxos, the place was packed to the gills with locals enjoying their food. I was once again able to carve a tiny space at the end of the bar and got my order in relatively easily.

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Given the cold, rainy weather, I chose 2 of the heartier options on the menu – Puff pastry with duck, apples and Calvados, and one of their signatures – Xtalupa – Baked crab au gratin. Both were delicious and by the time I finished them, I was more than full for my lunch. I headed back out into Gros and took some pics along the way, including several of the truly unique architecture of the Basques.

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After catching up on some work and blogging, it was time to slum it at only the 30th best restaurant in the world, Elkano – I know, for shame, for shame. I had hoped the rain would have stopped by now but nope, still going. This made the trek over to the small fishing village of Getarria a bit more challenging than anticipated. Of course, this being Spain, parking was also very difficult to find although after inquiring what to do at the restaurant, they guided me to the port that was below the town.

After running up a truly large set of staircases in the rain, I eventually got back to the restaurant. This had been a very tough reservation to get so I was damned if I was going to let some rain get in my way.

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Elkano looked like a classic seafood restaurant, including the de riguer nautical theme. However, it was known for its incredibly fresh seafood, with no set menu – whatever was caught that day and then prepared with minimal fuss on a large outdoor grill just outside the restaurant.

Most of the main dishes were whole fish meant to be shared amongst a group. Since I was just oh solo meeoh, I couldn’t get, for example, their specialty – grilled turbot – but the owner said they could still do fillets of others. I had read about another speciality I could have, which was the Xtcholoas (throat) of the hake, done 3 ways. First up though was an amuse bouche of smoked hake with an avocado sauce.

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The Xtocholas arrived shortly thereafter – one grilled, one breaded and one with a classic Basque pil pil sauce. All 3 very good and very unusual. I had never had anything quite like it. The texture was borderline gelatinous, especially the pil pil one but still had a meaty firmness of the hake. A nice start.

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Next, I had the cream of crayfish soup. Typically I’m used to having lump crayfish as part of this but this had no meat, just the pure crayfish flavor – it was very, very good.

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As I waited for the main course, I asked what the WiFi password was and was handed this wood block – that was definitely a first.

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I also observed the owner carving up one of their turbots table side for a group that was near me. He explained to each what part they were getting and why he chose it from the fish. That level of detail is part of the reason the restaurant is so well regarded.

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One of the fishes I could get a portion of was fortunately one of my favorites. The owner explained to me that they had chosen the upper chest for me because of its combination of firmness but also flavor. He also gave me a steak knife for it, which really wasn’t necessary given how tender it was. Grilled with just a bit of salt, which is all this magnificent fillet needed. Simply one of the best grilled fish dishes I’ve ever had.

After I finished the grouper, the table next to me motioned me over and asked for me to join them. Three older friends from Madrid on a weekend getaway, they told me how much they loved this restaurant and I chatted with them about my own travels to Madrid. They also told me occasionally the road to the restaurant is under water this time of the year so we lucked out apparently. I was also served some final sweet bites.

I said my goodbyes and thankfully the rain had now stopped. The Black Stallion once again proved surprisingly adept guiding me home and while tempted to get a nightcap, knew that given the long day ahead tomorrow, probably best not to push it.

San Sebastian – Night 4 – Pintxos Hopping

After recovering from my truly Mugaritz epic meal, I was somehow hungry again so seemed like a good idea to do some pintxos hopping back in the Old Town. This time I gave up the futility of trying to find parking and opted to walk there instead. I needed the exercise anyway.

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The wind had died down a bit so the walk turned out to be very pleasant and after the trek across the bridge, I soon arrived in the Old Town, which unlike my last trip, was bustling with people.

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I had asked around for some recommendations for spots that are more for locals versus the tourists. I got multiple replies to check out La Cucharra de San Telmo so that was my first stop. A fairly small bar that had helped kick off the pinxtos revolution 20 years ago. A mix of traditional and modern, all of the pinxtos are made to order – no toothpicks here.

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I had enough experience now in crowded pinxtos bars so look for a corner and force my way into a small space – this one was a bit of challenge but eventually I prevailed. It was their 20th anniversary which featured a special menu of pinxtos throughout the years. I selected the braised veal cheeks in a red wine sauce and hummus, which was apparently their first major pintxos when they launched. Along with that, given I was in a cheeky mode (sorry), I also went with the pork cheeks with chicharon and a quince sauce.

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Both were superb but the quince sauce with the rich pork cheeks was the real standout. After I remarked to the server how good it was, he said that was his favorite item on the menu. A great start to my bar hopping.

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Next up was a return to the world famous Gandaras, which had been a bit too crowded when I tried to go there Weds. It was still pretty rammed but this time I was able to at least get an order in amongst the masses. Known for its game meat offerings, I chose the duck brochette. At only 5 Euros, I assumed it would be a small bite-sized dish. I was wrong.

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Instead, it was a pretty huge plate of perfectly cooked Margret duck pieces with a thick rich red wine reduction for the sauce. It was fantastic but after finishing, I started to hit the wall hard. Still, I wanted to try at least one more pintxos and went out in search of a lighter offering, perhaps a salmon one?

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I ended up at another local tip, Gastrolexu, which featured a younger, hipper crowd than the traditional pintxos bar. I did in fact find a great salmon option but in my post duck stupor, forgot to take a picture. Trust me, it was delicious.

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I was done with food but had passed an intriguing looking cider bar earlier and though that would make a nice night cap. The cider was made locally and had a very ornate way of pouring it, which I sadly mistimed with my camera but trust me, it was a cool method. The bracing mixture of slightly sour with the alcohol punch turned out to be just what I needed to end the evening and soon after I paid the 1 Euro – yep – for the cider, I headed out into the cold windy weather and staggered my way home.

San Sebastian Day 3 – Mugaritz

Today was essentially the pinnacle of my entire trip – a 3 hour meal at one of the top 10 restaurants in the world, Mugaritz. Located in the countryside about 5 miles from the city, the restaurant is a former Spanish farmhouse that had been transformed into a modern cuisine temple.

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I had come here 10 years ago with my dad and still remembered what an amazing experience it was so I couldn’t wait to get back. A fire 8 years ago had caused the restaurant to rebuild a bit (although thankfully not the main building) and since that time, the owner/chef had decided to reinvent the concept a bit. Gone was the selection of choices for the menu and really any sense of a traditional progression of a multi-course meal, no dessert courses for example as they explained when I sat down.

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Usually they start with a few courses outside on the patio but the rain and 40 mph winds made that not the best idea so instead, I was offered a class of Cava from the winery that first used the word in their sparkling wine. I was also given a little book which was full of definitions for what they said helped inspire the meal to come, including several that were left blank for me to fill in with my other definitions if I wanted.

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Soon after, a team of servers assembled the first few bites in front of me, along with a wet towel and no silverware – ah OK, so use my hands to eat these, got it.  The bites included – a wild mushroom, a Romesco cauliflower floret, a mini pickled carrot, an Icelandic root vegetable with pea soup and a penicillin encapsulated blu cheese. All were quite tasty and a fun way to begin the meal.

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Next up a server poured what he explained was a Greek sweet wine in this bowl and then another server listed off several Greek ingredients, from rosemary to fenugreek and then asked me to guess what other ingredient was inside. I correctly guessed a white grape and they gave me kudos for getting it right.

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Next up was a traditional Basque stew with bread, sea urchin and a very intense chicken stock. This was also the first course I had utensils, which I noticed had been heated. A server explained that they were playing around with temperatures with the utensils to make that match the temperature of the dish. It added an interesting tactile element and the soup itself was delicious.

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Next I once again had no silverware so back to hands with this puff pastry that was filled with foie gras and an absurd amount of shaved white and black truffles on top. I’m not a huge foie gras fan but this was a good use of it, helped out by the truffles.

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Back to soups, this time a squid stock and a fermented onion. Again, the spoon was heated to match the warmth of the soup. An excellent course.

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Next the server explained was a lobster dish that used the entire lobster – meat, roe, bones for the stock and then a scarlet shrimp sauce, which is what gave it such a deep unusual color. Delicious.

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Back to hands again with this bite of what they said was their interpretation of a classic ham and cheese croquette, in this case blu cheese with Iberican ham injected. I was instructed to pop it in my mouth in one bite, which I did and everything liquified instantly.

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The next course was their “sweet interlude” – raw kidney beans that had been injected with sugar and cinnamon. An interesting combination but not a favorite.

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This however was followed up by a true showstopper – their interpretation of burrata except made with pine nuts (!) and a classic Basque sauce called pil pil. Damn if it didn’t taste pretty much exactly like the creamy goodness that is burrata – outstanding.

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After finishing that last dish, I was escorted into the kitchen where the chef introduced me to the team working on my meal. I had done this last time and it’s such a very cool touch to be able to say thanks to the people doing all of the work.

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A few minutes after the tour, I was back at it with this amazing trio of pork-based bites – abalone that had been cooked in Iberican ham fat, making it basically taste like bacon; crispy pig’s tail with lobster caviar and scarlet shrimp sauce (fantastic) and the best of them all – crispy pig cheek with a lobster sauce – superb.

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I was a bit confused when a server came over and cleaned off my palm with a warm towel and then soon after dumped this power into it. The server explained that it was a mixture of dried powdered octopus and crispy onions. I initially tried to eat it like pop rocks but eventually just had to pick away at it with my other hand. A fun, incredibly unique course if not my favorite flavor-wise.

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Next the server explained was the game course – in this case wild duck – since hunting season had begun. He cautioned to look out for buckshot but I explained I had grown up eating game meat and knew the drill. The duck had been lightly seared and covered in an intense blackberry sauce. A great dish.

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This was their interpretation of a classic French Basque dish – sting ray with black butter sauce. I had never had sting ray before so I can’t compare it to others but with the rich black butter sauce and sliced, it was quite good.

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The sommelier came up to me with a bottle that looked pretty old and said this our reflection on luxury. He asked me was what luxury do I crave the most. I thought about it and said probably food and meals like this. He smiled and said that for him, time is the biggest luxury.  He then explained that the port he was now pouring was 100 years old and the chocolate was filled with caviar. This combo was a true holy shit moment and something only Mugaritz would do.

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Next was the beef course – one being a spongecake made of beef tendon, which the server playfully shook the plate to make it jiggle, and the other “beef” which was actually a Spanish yellow pepper cooked drizzled with beef fat. Not a traditional beef course whatsoever but very tasty.

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The server said the courses were over unless I wanted to try 2 others they are working on for the next year. I, of course said yes. First up was what they called “the whole chicken” soup – a rich chicken stock with shredded, dehydrated chicken. I was told to mix the two together, which made the dehydrated chicken melt, creating a truly delicious and hearty chicken soup.

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The other course was what they explained was a traditional Portuguese holiday cake, which in this case was made with sushi rice and then they drizzled honey over the top. Again, no utensils so I popped the whole sticky bite in my mouth. It was served alongside a Madeira wine, in which the casks are left outside for 5 years in the elements to give it some different flavors. Plus, the label on the bottle rocked.

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I was a bit surprised of the lack of sweet courses but this changed when they brought out the final item – the tower of chocolates. The picture below doesn’t quite get how big this thing was – at least 3 feet – in which each container was a piece of what I assume is crazy expensive chocolate, starting from the most bitter to the least.

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I’m not usually a big dark chocolate fan but it’s clear I just haven’t been having the really good stuff. I was surprised that my favorite of all of them was the 75% cacao from Peru, which was simply fantastic. As I was going through the layers of the tower, I noticed the lights appeared to have gone out. Given the gale force winds outside, this wasn’t necessarily surprising. One of the servers jokingly started singing happy birthday as other servers busily scattered to figure out what to do.

My main server came over to apologize and asked if I wanted a glass of cava. I suggested a port instead to go with the chocolate and he returned with a very nice 12 year Nieoport tawny that went great with the remaining chocolates. About 30 minutes later, with the power still coming off and on, the sommelier came over and insisted I try his favorite rose, made in the Champagne region entirely out of Chardonnay. Who was I to say no to that? Like pretty much everything at Mugaritz, it was exceptional.

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The power finally came back on and almost 4 hours since my arrival, it was time to go. Along with the bill, they gave me a copy of the menu and, in a first for me, my actual order ticket – a fun touch.

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There’s no real reason practically to spend almost $300 on a meal but the combination of the service, the food, the ambience and the overall feeling of true luxury make it more than worth it. Mugaritz is a truly special place.