Spain really was the perfect place for us to honeymoon. While The Astronomer enjoyed practicing his rusty Spanish and whooping it up at rowdy futbol games [See: FC Barcelona and Real Madrid], I had the pleasure of taking in some spectacular art and eating at the world’s greatest restaurants. Of all the places on our culinary itinerary, it was a trio of thoroughly modern restaurants that I was most stoked about. I’ve always adored the playful, innovative, and twisted genre of molecular gastronomy, and experiencing it on its home turf was a dream come true.
Our first stop on the cutting-edge cookery tour was at Chef Pedro Subijana’s 35-year-old restaurant Akelarre in San Sebastian. Located high above the Bay of Biscay, Akelarre boasts a magnificent view. Taking in the ocean in between bites made the dining experience all the more wonderful. A table by the window is a must.
The dining room was comfortable and understated, while the service was efficient and quite friendly for a 3-star Michelin rated restaurant. I love fine dining but hate stuffy atmospheres. Akelarre hit all the right notes to make me feel at ease. I also appreciated that there were a handful of English speaking staffers who could answer my questions (sometimes cryptically) about ingredients and techniques.
We were offered a choice of wheat, white, or multi-grain bread to start our midday feast. The Catalonian olive oil served on the side gave each crusty section a bright and fruity boost.
The real fun started when the amuse-bouches arrived. The first was “bacon bread”—a hollow, blob-shaped cracker flanked by a transparent sheet of smoky bacon.
Soon after, a tin can with two fillets of sardines came to the table. The fishes were mellow and deliciously oily.
The best amuse of all was a collection of savory little bites. When the silver cardboard box arrived at our table, we thought that our server had mistakenly brought the mignardises early. It’s this kind of playful trickery that makes eating at Akelarre such a treat! I particularly loved the “mackarel burger” masquerading as a macaron and the flaky black pudding roller. That’s not to say that the fried cod bacalao and artichoke and almond “polvoron” weren’t awesome, because they most definitely were.
Prawns and French Beans Cooked in “Orujo” Fire
Akelarre offers two different degustation menus: Degustacion Aranori and Degustacion Bekarki. Each one is priced at 135€. In our first important decision as man and wife, we agreed to play nice and share both menus.
The first official course was a pyrotechnic spectacle involving Spanish shrimp flambeed over lava rocks and liquor.
The shrimps were plated beautifully tableside with ice plant, a puree of green peas, and a powder made from shrimp shells and rice. The flavors and textures were nothing short of perfect.
Porous of Foie Gras, Toasted Peanut Bread
Served in tandem with the shrimp was “porous” foie gras. I’m not sure how Chef Subijana did it, but he managed to transform a fatty lobe of liver into an airy sponge that melted on the tongue. The foie gras was so light that it could be eaten straight up and in large quantity without feeling overwhelmed. Highlighting the magnificent foie gras were dots of hibiscus, a pretty pink begonia flower, and peanut butter bread.
Mollusks in the Net of the Fisherman
One of the most beautiful and poetic dishes involved clams, squid, mussels, scallops, and oysters “caught” in a rice flour net. Each morsel was supple and tasted as if it was brought from the sea moments before plating. I especially liked the camouflaged dried shrimp tangled up in the net.
Razor Shell with Veal Shank
Course number two on the second tasting menu was a razor clam with a gelatinous veal shank and “mushrooms” made from cauliflower. The pleasantly rich veal tasted like a cross between tendon and marrow, while the clam and mushrooms were light and brought balance to the dish.
Country Little Peas and Fava Beans as Risotto
The Astronomer wasn’t too keen on this little number, which boded well for me because I had the pleasure of eating every last fava sphere. The orbs of beans and peas were literally and figuratively bursting with springy freshness. The spiral of candied parsnip was a lovely touch.
Glazed Iberian Cheeks, Apple, Almonds and Cider
While I was digging into the “risotto,” The Astronomer was served a tender slab of pork accented by a sweet apple glaze, cider paste, raw almonds, and fresh and dried apples. After polishing off my risotto, I ate more than my fair share of the little cheek.
Sauteed Fresh Foie Gras with “Salt Flakes and Grain Pepper”
Foie gras made its second appearance of the afternoon in the more traditional form of a seared lobe. Chef Subijana topped it with what looked like a heap of flaky salt and black peppercorns, but, as is often the case with molecular gastronomy, initial appearances were deceiving. The “salt” was a form of sugar that was sweet but not cloyingly so, while the “pepper” was puffed grains of black rice—I believe the server called it a “black rice souffle.” Everything was tied together by a syrupy white wine sauce.
Wild Mushrooms and “Egg Pasta”
Served in tandem with the seared foie gras was a quirky dish comprised of perfectly al dente strands of egg whites and yolks resting atop a bed of wild mushrooms and soy sauce-laced mayonnaise. The eggs were so incredibly noodle-like that I couldn’t help but smile with each bite. This dish was definitely one of my favorites.
Turbot with its “Kokotxa”
Next came the fish courses. The turbot was served with a faux kokotxa (cheek) that the chef created using a Japanese root and fish broth. According to our server, fishes are usually plated with their kokotxa in Basque cuisine. Since turbots are naturally kokotxa-less, the chef had to cleverly improvise. Alongside the fish and its “cheek” was an olive oil and fish gelatin emulsion, fish chips made of bones and skin, and parsley powder. The dish was fishy-to-the-max in a terrific way.
Integral Red Mullet with Sauce “Fusili”
The red mullet was equally great. I especially adored the trimmings—little corkscrew “pasta” flavored with garlic, parsley, and soy sauce, and a funky paste made of liver and onions. I also found it pretty awesome that Chef Subijana took the time to create a new skin for the red mullet to enhance its flavor.
Roasted Baby Pig with Tomato “Bolao” and Iberian Emulsion
Moving on to the meats, I was about ready to call mercy. Luckily, The Astronomer carried me through the finish line [Read: he ate the meats while I awaited the sweets]. Perhaps the weakest dish of the afternoon was the roasted baby pig with tomato confit, tomato meringue, and garlic chives. The accouterments were fantastic, but the meat was unspectacular in spite of its divinely crispy skin.
Roasted Pigeon with a Touch of Mole and Cocoa
The roasted pigeon, on the other hand, was caramelized, moist, and served with a most fabulous mole. Is it just us or does the positioning of the pigeon hunks resemble Halong Bay? It totally does, right?
A little pastry made of pigeon leg wrapped in filo dough was served on the side. It was as delicious as it was beautiful.
“Xaxu” and Coconut Iced Mousse
Transitioning from savories to sweets, The Astronomer was served a coconut iced mousse made using the same technique as the porous foie gras we were served earlier. The mousse was paired with a thin, doughnut-like orb filled with a sweet sauce in the center.
Milk and Grape, Cheese and Wine in Parallel Evolution
While the coconut icebergs melted in The Astronomer’s mouth, I was served the greatest cheese course ever. Ever. Eaten from left to right, the dish narrated the cheese and wine making process. The first component was comprised of a green grape, a fresh milk cheese, walnut flecks, and ricotta powder. Next, a creamy Quark from Germany, a tomato confiture mimicking “grape jus,” and white grape juice tapioca. This was followed by a powdered red wine reduction, idiazabal (a hard Basque cheese), and quince paste. The penultimate component was a Torta del Casar cheese paired with a sherry wine. Lastly, a brandy reduction, blue cheese ice cream, and black bread.
The spectrum of cheeses and wines gradually shifted from mild to bold, and in the process, wowed me with its thoughtfulness and creativity.
Strawberry Cream with Yogurt Frozen Pearls
Following the cheese and mousse courses were two simple and satisfying sweets. The strawberry and yogurt Dippin’ Dots were cool and refreshing.
Another Apple Tart
The apple tart was comprised of a luscious apple cream sandwiched between puff pastry and wrapped in an apple “paper” tent that The Astronomer thought tasted like Fruit by the Foot.
The mignardises were served in a bowl wrapped in pear flavored “paper” that was as delicious as the sweets hidden underneath. The Astronomer liked the raspberry and cherry bonbons, while I was crazy about the granola-like balls of dried fruit, passion fruit truffles, and candied hazelnuts. All of the little bites had lots of big flavor.
After we finished up our mignardises and paid the bill, Chef Subijana came out of the kitchen to say hello. With a translator by his side, we were able to tell him how far we traveled to taste his fabulous food and how much we thoroughly loved our meal at Akelarre. This place is nothing short of amazing.
Paseo Padre Orcolaga, 56
20008 San Sebastian – Donostia, Spain
Phone: +34 943311209