Thursday, October 11, 2012

Asador Etxebarri (Vizcaya)

October 2012

Plaza de San Juan No. 1, 24549 Carracedelo, Spain
Tel: +34 946 58 30 42

Nestled in the mountainous region of Biscay in the Basque Country is a gem of a restaurant which we heard was worth the ninety minute drive from San Sebastian (where we were staying) to dine at. The star of this establishment is its wood-fired grill presided over by Chef Victor Arguinzoniz, who uses different types of wood to create variations of flavour for the food which passes over his grill. The rustic 'asador' (a barbeque restaurant) has one Michelin star, which speaks more about how highly regarded the food here is than to the other aspects of how the Red Book judges restaurants.

The drive south from San Sebastian was long but very scenic especially after we entered the hilly terrain near to our destination. We arrived early, before the restaurant opened, but was grateful for the chance to stroll around the very small hamlet enjoying the refreshing air of the mountains and the peace and quiet of the countryside.

Asador Etxebarri is set in a two-story stonehouse which interior reminded us of an old-fashioned country inn. We were its first guests for the day so were brought upstairs to the main dining room and given the choice of the tables in the room. We took the corner one which afforded us a view of the mountains through the window.

The menu looked quite simple but to makes things easy, we opted for the tasting menu, which was a selection of the most popular dishes.

We started with the Carrot Juice, which was a simple gazpacho.

The few pieces of Chorizo elaborated from acorn-fed pork were full of flavour.

Butter with goat's milk and black salt with salted anchovies with toasted bread: The butter was smoked and we couldn't have enough of it. The anchovies tapas were good but what was really special was the way the bread underneath was grilled.

Buffalo mozzarella and cherry tomato.

Mussels in escabeche: This classic Spanish dish of mussels poached in vinegar was very good.

Oyster with seaweed.

Prawns from Palamos: These were very large and fresh prawns which were grilled in such a way as not to burn the skin (i.e. probably grilled over low heat). They were quite brilliant.

Sea cucumber with fresh white beans.

Porcini with eggplant.

Baby squid: This was a subtlety and lightly grilled squid accompanied by its own black ink.

Beef chop of Galician beef: The iconic Galician bone-in steak, grilled to perfection. It was one of the best pieces of beef we had ever eaten.

Reduced milk ice cream with red fruit infusion: Chef Victor's obsession with his grill knew no bounds. Even his ice cream was smoked, to very unique and interesting results. We never knew simple milk ice cream flavoured with ash tasted so good.

Basque cake with figs: This was a very simple local dessert, followed by some slightly burnt madeleines  for our mignardises.

Impressions: The remote location and gorgeous surrounds of Etxebarri, coupled with the very special grill and in particular the steak, makes this restaurant a must-visit when in the Basque region. The use of the wood-fired grill was very unique and resulted in a unforgettable smoky flavour of most of the dishes (although they were all otherwise cooked very simply). This was a family-run establishment and service was friendly without being particularly slick. On another day (it was raining shortly after we started our lunch), it would have been wonderful to have dined in the balcony facing the stunning views of the mountains.

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