La Rosa Vermutería : Palma de Mallorca, Spain

I love vermouth, so much so I made this little International Society devoted to it. So it stands to reason that, in every city I visit, I turn on the vermut radar to see out spots to try new and old favorites.

So on a recent trip to Palma de Mallorca, of course we ended up at La Rosa Vermutería.  Palma de Mallorca is a strange town.  Invaded several generations ago by Germans, much of local tradition has been pushed to the outskirts or even denied completely, by locals themselves.  This has left room for global trends, for trends imported from the mainland peninsula, and for resurgence of things from the forgotten past.  However, it is still very much a city re-discovering itself—and its appetite.

La Rosa Vermutería is a lovely spot that couldn't possibly be more on-trend.  Part of a breed of new-old bodegas where vermouth is the star drink, this place is a Disneyland for the vermouth lover.  Over 20 vermouths dot the bar, with the most expensive ones coming in around €5.50, vermouths imported from France and Italy. Truly, though, there is no need to splurge on these imported versions of vermouth, when Spain's artisan scene is EXPLODING.  Order a vermut Montaner instead, keeping your drinking roots closer to home.

In the tradition of Barcelona's Casa Mariol, there are nods to comida viejuna, like an extensive list of conserved seafood ranging from mackerel (above) to sardines to octopus.  This Spanish version of "fast food" has a long history, its raison d'etre being to make perishable food readily available all year round. And to pair magically with vermouth.

Like another Barcelona favorite, Bodega 1900, there are also aspirations to modern cuisine glory, like the above dish of anchovies, mahonés cream, and pepper "crystals". It was tasty, but a bit clumsy, and in the end kept me wishing for more old-fashioned canned fish.

Vermutería La Rosa is can catch Palma's young in-crowd gathering at night and on the weekends, and a table can be hard to find.  And the decor is equally "on-trend", that perfect combo of vintage and modern, of carefully curated yet somehow happenstance aesthetic. 

God bless it, Vermutería La Rosa has something that just makes me happy.  A must visit on the island.

Coffee In San Sebastián : Sakona Coffee Roasters

Your first relaxing cafe con leche in Madrid or Barcelona is unforgettable. However, in Spain, coffee is something that, upon closer inspection, sucks. Just yucky flavors, burnt coffee with boxed milk, albeit a satisfying proportion of milk and espresso.

Fortunately for coffee, as with many things, Spain is globalizing.  The meticulous and careful barista has popped up over the last couple of years in San Sebastián, in various forms: Caffe Terzi in Antiguo, an appearance by Javier Garcia in The Loaf, followed by a spattering of pop-ups in the local markets and the Tabakalera.

There's a new coffee shop in town. Sakona is not just a shop; they are roasters, based about 10 miles outside of San Sebastián.  Javier Garcia left his spot behind the espresso machine of The Loaf to break out and make his own coffee, and Sakona is the result: a coffee shop for the new century, as on trend as on trend can be, and also the best spot to grab a coffee in town.

sakona chemex

Yes, a chemex! Welcome to the 21st century, San Sebastián! 

So I have sat down with Javier Garcia, founder and jefe of Sakona Coffee Roasters. Javier has been the Barista Champion of Spain FIVE times, dominating from 2008-2011 and then again in 2014. He was also fourth in the World Barista Championship 2011, celebrated in the cafe mecca of Bogotá.  It doesn't stop him from patiently explaining coffee to even the most clueless, sourpuss citizens, totally turning the stereotypical hipster barista prototype on its head.

 This is a small introduction so that when you have the chance to pop into their beautiful, light-filled space on the river in San Sebastián, you'll already feel part of the Cool Coffee Kids Klub.

Javi! I knew you were expert at pouring espresso and gently explaining why people shouldn't put sugar in their lattes. But where did you learn how to roast coffee?

In my case, roasting is a challenge. I have had the opportunity to be with a good number of roasters in my life that have shared roasting techniques and tastings, but I had never had the chance to roast and roast batches and batches, capturing the best of every bean.

The exciting thing about roasting is that it goes hand in hand with tasting and the appreciation of flavors. Tasting and recognizing qualities of each roast turns roasting into a constant learning process. We have access to a lot of theory nowadays, and there are great books to recommend, but the experience of roasting many different cafes and tasting the results is what is truly teaches you and helps you form your own identity.

And what distinguishes your coffee?

Our coffees were conceived always thinking of the quality of their flavor. Coffee is a seasonal fruit and we should respect freshness. Generally, they are coffees that are obtained from specific farms, where we have a ton of information on how the coffee has been treated at all times. The price of this coffee is higher, and it's not part of the commodity markets.  The quality of the coffee allows us to roast it in a way that allows us to capture the lovely flavors while avoiding the bitterness and burnt flavors. Our bags have the date of the roast on them and we always sell them as a perishable product.

How did you come up with Sakona as a name?

We didn't look for a name based on meaning. The goal was for our work to give meaning tot he name. Our objective is that, with time, when people hear 'sakona', they identify the name with the quality of what we do. It's easy to pronounce for nearly all the inhabitants of our planet.

sakona cafe con leche

You roast in Irun but the cafe is in Donosti. Explain!

I am originally from Irún, and the idea of having a roaster in my hometown has always been a dream of mine. For a shop, Donostia is without a doubt the best spot, a city open to the world.  It's a new time for specialty coffee, and being the one to help bring it to a city as known for food and drink as San Sebastián is a seductive proposition.

Will you sell your coffee in other places?
The goal is to sell coffee wholesale, and to support and participate in the new specialty coffee market that is awakening in this country.


We've known each other for a few years now. What does it mean that I still love French Press more than any other preparation of coffee?

You got me! That's a question I have had for years.  You probably like it because the way it filters coffee is with a metal web, which in most cases allows the smallest particles of ground coffee to pass through. Because of that, in the cup you can feel a slightly sandy texture and the flavor in general is a lot stronger. Let's say you like French press because you like to chew on coffee.

sakona french press

What is the perfect cup of coffee for you?

It doesn't exist. Coffee, like fruit, has a diversity of characteristics and flavors that allows us to experience and enjoy very different, wonderful coffees.

sakona gros

Sakona Coffee Roasters

Bajo, Ramón María Lili Pasealekua, 2

20002 Donostia, Gipuzkoa

Things to do in June : San Sebastián

zurriola beach san sebastian

We're kicking off June with cold and wet here in San Sebastián, though you wouldn't be able to tell by the photo.  That's thanks to San Sebastián's meteorological affinity for packing four seasons into one day. The Basque hardiness means that the cultural agenda is packed despite any diluvial rain, freezing wind, or a sun that beats down mercilessly.  Here's to June:

  • june 1-5 ::: WORLD PUPPET FESTIVAL ::: From human puppets pedaling in the sky to more traditional puppetry, the World Puppet Festival takes over San Sebastián. (Everywhere, various, FREE)
  • june 2 ::: PINTXOS & BLOGS ::: A roundtable and dinner in the basement of local gourmet shop Pantori to talk about tourism and the future of our dearly beloved yet quickly changing city. (Pantori, 20.00, €25)
  • june 3 ::: HOWDY ::: Some Anglo-Saxon friends play a free concert of their rocking rowdy folk music. (Picachilla, 21.00, FREE)
  • june 8 ::: JOSHUA ABRAMS/NATURAL INFORMATION SOCIETY ::: Hipster beard, hipster instruments, and what will surely be a not-to-miss concert at hip local venue Dabadaba. (Dabadaba, 20.30, €5)
  • june 10 ::: MEET THE MAESTROS ::: A tasting with local craft brewers Basqueland Brewing Project at San Sebastián Food Cooking School. (San Sebastian Food, 18.30, €18)
  • june 10 ::: TERRAZA OPENING ::: A summer classic kicks off: the Terraza of Bataplan. See, how to enjoy Bataplan slash La Concha nightlife for Grownups. (Bataplan, 22.00, FREE)
  • june 11 ::: TALLER HORNKONPON ::: A workshop on how to use recycled tools and appliances to create something new. (DSS2016 headquarters, 10.00-14.00, FREE)
  • june 17 ::: JOHN BERKHOUT ::: One of the few local bands that everyone loves returns to the stage. (Victoria Eugenia, 20.00, €7.20-14.90)
  • june 22 ::: CHRISTINA ROSENVINGE ::: This classic artist of pretty lady Spanish grunge singer songwriting puts on the concert she was scheduled to perform in April. (Teatro Principal, 20.00, €18)
  • june 23 ::: SAN JUAN ::: The annual bonfire on the Zurriola beach to celebrate San Juan and summer—witches dancing and romerías and all that sort of thing. (Zurriola, 20.30, FREE)

That's all folks!

If I missed something, leave a comment...

Things to Do in April : San Sebastián

rain san sebastián

Kicking off April's edition of things to do in San Sebastián....basically a list of everything yours truly would if I had the time. Enjoy...after all, you're in the Capital of Culture!

  • april 12-16 ::: FUSION RED ::: A series of workshops culminating in a dinner, all in one of San Sebastián's most luxe concept stores (Noventa Grados, 17.00, 5€)
  • april 15-22 ::: FESTIVAL DE CINE Y DERECHOS HUMANOS::: The 14th edition of this film festival features 33 movies, 23 shorts, and 5 exhibits. (Victoria Eugenia, among others, VARIES)
  • april 16::: STICK DANCE QUARTET:: Music in family, part theater, part workshop, part concert. (Victoria Eugenia, 14.45, €6)
  • april 16::: LOS PELOTARIS:: A documentary about that peculiar Basque sport, pelota. (Victoria Eugenia Antzokia, 22.30, €4)
  • april 21 ::: VERMUTEKE ::: A Fería de Abril themed celebration of vermouth by the International Society for the Preservation and Enjoyment of Vermut. (Sirimiri, 19.30, FREE)
  • april 23::: LES VOIX BASQUES::: Two singers from the north Basque country visit San Sebastián to sing both traditional and original songs (Victoria Eugenia, 20.00, 15-19€)

If there's something I missed, please leave a comment or shoot me an email for future editions.

Shibui : Eating in Bilbao

I have all these posts backed up about spots to eat in allll of Basque Country.  In an effort to get to churning them out, I've decided to start with perhaps what is one of the least 'typical'.  Shibui in Bilbao is located in the Abando neighborhood of Bilbao. Its façade is deceiving; empty, small, perhaps resembling an avant-garde clothing store more than what it is—a fusion sushi restaurant that swooped in from Barcelona and made a big bet on design.

shibui bilbao monkfish

The menu runs the gamut from sushi to hot noodle dishes to urimaki to gindara nanban amazu an kake (black cod coated with nanban-zu dressing).  Or the monkfish liver, above, which I have no idea why we ordered, though it was good enough.

shibui bilbao

The interior design, by Susana Ocaña, combines avant garde contemporary with a Japanese sensibility, consciously giving the food a run for its money in a fight for your attention.  Iron, wood, and ropes are the main elements of design, taking their cue from the Spanish pavillion in the Expo at Shanghai, the work of architect Benedetta Tagliabue.

So, does the food live up to the decoration?  I am so far from an expert on oriental fact, it is probably my weakest point. However, the star dishes are solid, among which include tuna belly tartar with caviar, spicy prawns (Ebichiri), eggplant with red miso noodles and minced turkey (Nasu no torimiso dengaku) and Hotate Kushiyaki, the scallop skewers.  The sushi, served along a custom made, chunky wooden bar, is also solid...if perhaps not quite exciting enough to drown out the outspoken decor.

shibui bilbao sushi bar

Shibui Bilbao
Gardoki Kardenalaren Kalea, 6
48008 Bilbao



Donosti Dining Update, Vol IV

New spots are opening in San Sebastián faster than I can keep up with them. Especially as things get busier and busier. My desire to explore them is somewhat dampened by the fact that very few of them are truly outstanding.  Why? A confluence of factors, an important one of which being that San Sebastián is opening up to the world. Foreign concepts are the trend, but they are so often low-fi copies instead of the product of true dedication and research and innovation. That said, some of them are nice neighborhood spots.  So anyway, my apologies!

For those of you curious as to how this works, you should know I head off to new places with the idea of slotting them here. However, if a place pleasantly surprises me, instead of appearing in the Donosti Dining Update, it will get its own post. You should also know I pay for my meals and don’t mention my intentions when I head off to dine.  For a key to the slightly unconventional rating system, scroll down to the bottom of the post.  The first edition was here, the second here, the third, Gros-centric edition here, and here goes number four:   

drinka san sebasti�n bois et fer


Jan, edan eta gozatu (drink, eat & enjoy) is the motto of this new spot, lighting up the Antiguo from its posh, vaguely Nordic digs (by Bois et Fer) on Calle Matia.  The owners of the miniature Zurriola favorite, La Consentida, have opened a spot with a more grown-up aspect: Drinka.

calamari drinka san sebasti�n

The menu is still a loveable, picky-eater-friendly mixture of fried stuff, cool dips, and hamburgers.  But now, like these fried calamari, they come in design-y dishes that are Instagram-ready. The place is often packed with diners since its October 2015 opening.

nachos drinka san sebasti�n restaurant

 You, dear reader, can judge from the above foto, but I recommend sticking with the more local specialties, like the made-from-scratch croquetas or the famous hamburgers, which include one made from tuna.

The best thing we tried at Drinka was the goat cheese salad, with caramelized goat cheese, bacon, corn nuts and spinach.   It's food for the people, food for enjoying, food not for thinking too hard but just to serve as a pretty background for a pleasant experience.

Is it worth going to Antiguo for? No. But definitely worth a peek if you are in the neighborhood.

$€$€ :  ★ ★ ★ ☆  ☆
Vibeyness : ★  ★ ★ ★ ★
Gobackability : ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Martimeter :  ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Calle Matia, 50 (ANTIGUO)


Some of the city's most charmed proprietors tackle what is one of the most difficult real estate slots, gigantic, cast off to the side of Gros and exposed to intense winds (which sounds like a chorrada but is a major factor in choosing where to go on a cold, rainy, Donosti night).

belgrado san sebasti�n bar

I'm happy to report that they do it not by repeating the same mistakes with a different Pinterest palette, but by testing what, for San Sebastián, is a new model of business.  They take the casual, homey vibe of their ever popular Centro café, Koh Tao, and transport it to Gros. On the way, they pick up a couple extra businesses to a)help with the rent and b) make the spot a one-stop-cool-shop. 

koh tao belgrado san sebastian

You can find standard drinks, cocktails, hummus, guac and hamburgers, as well as vermouth, coffee and snacks. Everything is outsourced, except for the menu of snack food and the drinks.  Pastry is by Meyvi, wine shop is by ardoteka Goñi, clothes by Letitare and Viva la vida, and eclectic gifts byFranck FischerKoloreka, and the jabonería de la Almendra.

letitare belgrado

To sum it up, it's a nice, sunny anchor on the east side of this little town that likes to think it's a big city. Bustling, with wifi, everything looks happier at Belgrado; even the occasionally dismalservice becomes something to smile about.

$€$€ :  ★ ★ ★ ☆  ☆
Vibeyness : ★  ★ ★ ★ ☆
Gobackability : ★ ★ ★ ☆☆
Martimeter :  ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

De Navarra Hiribidea, 2 (GROS)


pizza papparazzi


Tucked away up on a hill in Egia, this pizza joint has been called the best in Donosti by American pizza eaters I know.

calzone san sebastian italian

I'm not sure if it's the best, but it's definitely the most similar to the American-style pizzas, due in part to the crust style (thicker, not overly crispy) and the abundance of ingredients (lotsa cheese).  It's pizza...nothing revolutionary, but a good ace to have in your pocket when nothing but an old-fashioned pie will do.

pizza san sebasti�n

$€$€ :  ★ ★ ★ ★  ☆
Vibeyness : ★  ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Gobackability : ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Martimeter :  ★☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Pizza Papparazzi
Virgen del Carmen Kalea, 4 (EGIA)

Things to Do In March : San Sebastián

Things to do in San Sebastian

Things to do in San Sebastian

Kicking off March's edition of things to do in San Sebastián....basically a list of everything yours truly would if I had the time. Enjoy...after all, you're in the Capital of Culture!

  • march 9 ::: THE CALEDONIAN ::: This neighborhood bar has had its highs and lows, with a spotted past only befitting a bar that stays open very, very late.  They re-open and promise "an exclusive design". Uh-oh. (The Caledonian, 20:00, FREE)
  • march 9 :::  AMAMA ::: The Basque smash cinema hit of the year screens for those who missed it at the film festival. (C.C. Intxaurrondo, 17.00, FREE)
  • march 11 ::: CONVERSACIONES (IM)POSIBLES ::: In this series, surprising pairs of people are grouped together to have taboo conversations. This round features Martxelo Otamendi y Gorka Landaburu, two journalists who lived through Euskadi's cruelest years. (Garoa, 17.00, FREE)
  • march 12 ::: MUSIKAGELA WEEKEND ::: Several winning local groups, one of which is composed of a fellow Southerner, gather for a free concert. (C.C. Intxaurrondo, 21:00, FREE)
  • march 12 ::: TALLER DE CREACION DE FUEGO ::: Kids playing with fire. 'Nuff said. (San Telmo, 17.00, 5€)
  • march 17 ::: NOLA JAZZ ::: Gumbo Lightning Lee, straight from the 6th ward, shows these Basques how NOLA music is done. (Dabadaba, 22.00, FREE)
  • march 20 ::: MARATÓN DE SWING ::: Five hours of dancing swing and, I think, even a little bit of vermouth. (Mercado del Antiguo, 12:00, FREE)
  • march 31::: ZAHARA::: Indie rock darling from Spain makes a stop in Basque Country (Dabadaba, 21.00, 15-19€)

If there's something I missed, please leave a comment or shoot me an email for future editions.