Donosti Dining Update, Vol II

So, the first Donosti Dining Update was quite the success, not to mention I slept better having covered these places nagging on my subconsciousness.

So, time for round two. 

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, as happened this week, instead of appearing in the Donosti Dining Update, it will get its own post—soon. You should also know I pay for my meals, don’t tip off the restaurateurs that I am a blogger, etc (as if these wonderfully down-to-Earth Basque folks would even care).

The first edition was here.  But now it’s time for Donosti Dining Update, Vol II. With that prologue, here goes my semi-weekly collection of new(ish) spots in San Sebastián, made to keep us all in the know.

LA COCHINITA PIBIL

People in Donosti have to have somewhere to eat, too, you know. Somewhere they can feel at home, go every day without breaking the bank, and have their tastebuds oh-so-slightly teased.  That's where places like La Cochinita Pibil come in.

This bar used to be a frozen-in-time tribute to the 1980s, before ownership was transferred in the last year. Fortunately for us, this transfer was made to some pretty hip residents, which translates to a laid-back, cool clientele.  Which, in a neighborhood bar, is really all one is looking for, right?

That, and FREE FOOD.  La Cochinita Pibil takes a page from the playbook of Southern Spain and offers a free tapita, or little plate, with the purchase of any drink.  In addition, they offer a daily plato that rotates as well as a constant menu of pintxos and small plates with just the slight deviation off of the beaten flavor path, like the couscous. I like to overlook the fact that couscous hit its trend peak in the late 90s and instead focus on the fact that everything is sufficiently salted and reasonably rico.

cochinita_ensalidilla.jpg

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

La Cochinita Pibil 
Calle de Fuenterrabía, 38 (CENTRO)

 

ESSENCIA

Essencia is another spot that's not outrageously new, having opened sometime in the last year. It's a useful bar to have in one's back pocket, however, for one reason: the list of libations.  The current Essencia is a reincarnation of the wine store, formerly located across Calle Zabaleta.  In the new space, the wine shop lives upstairs, on top of the fully functioning bar. Why do you care?

The man behind the magic is Dani Corman, one of the region's foremost wine experts, who specializes in champagnes.  While my specialities currently lie in vermouth, baked goods and pickles, champagne is on my short list.

Because of his passion for wines, in Essencia you can find 100 wines by the glass, 50 sherries, and a wide selection of vermouths and other interesting drinks. In this bar they aren't going to slosh your glass with the same two-euro-a-bottle of verdejo.

The food may not be quite as remarkable, but it is simple and based strongly in local products.   You will find adequate classics, with the menu's strength lying in the raciones, or small plates. Try whatever's local, whatever's in season, and just make sure to drink something.

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

Essencia
Zabaleta Kalea, 53 (GROS)
http://www.ardodenda.com

 

CASA SENRA

The guiri darling of Gros is BACK. Casa Senra, always open and always dependable, with its colorful waitstaff, closed last year under mysterious circumstances. The whisper of what would happen faded after several months, until the spot abruptly re-opened last month.

So of course I had to go back and place an order like the orders of the old days. For me in Senra that means brava patatas, croquetas, and baby squid, or txopitos (is all that fried? oops).  After we ordered cava only to find out not a single bottle was chilled, the txopitos came and were so, so sadly soggy. 

In my grief, I turned my eyes upwards, only to note the beautiful oak caserío style beams were painted a half-assed white. On only one side of the bar. Great, a historical nod to Pinterest.

The croquetas were decent. And honestly, I'll probably go back to try a few more things off the menu. But I question if Casa Senra has been restored to its former guiri, over-priced yet dependable glory.

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

Donosti Dining Update, vol i

On my blog, I've always covered whatever I want—from the days when I used to post about cooking in my tiny Alabama kitchen to now, writing about all things Basque as I go on five years here in San Sebastián.  Five years is a long time, a sixth of my lifetime, and it recently hit me that this will be the place I've lived the longest in my adult life.  It makes sense, then, that I have seen a lot of changes here in San Sebastián. Old, wood-covered bars closing and turning into mini-Ikea outposts; tourists beginning to cross the bridge into Gros;  the birth of pintxo pote; the importation of cocktails, brunch, and cupcakes; and a general awakening, for better or worse, to the existence of an outside world.

This, along with the emergence from a nationwide recession, means a lot of new businesses opening, many of them restaurants, cafés and bars. If there's one thing I'm short on, it's time. And I've always written my blog with an eye for excellence, insisting on covering only spots that really blow me out of the water.  But that means I miss a lot of coverage, and I feel like I am letting my readers and visitors to San Sebastián down.  

With that prologue, I would like to introduce the Donosti Dining Update, a semi-weekly collection of new(ish) spots in San Sebastián just to keep us all in the know.

san sebastián restaurants & how i rate them

Since this is my blog and I can do what I want, I have curated a strange group of criteria that summarizes the way my brain breaks down a restaurant experience. Ratings are from 0-5 and highly subjective.

$$ : Tuning in to how I felt looking at the check. The general price to quality ratio, the relation to how good it was to how much I paid. 
Vibeyness :  I'm super sensitive to ambience. Love low lighting and textures. Don't like virtual Pinterest reality.
Gobackability :  How likely is this place to be somewhere I make a regular haunt?
WIFI:  👍 or 👎, self-explanatory, ¿jyes?
Martimeter : The general feeling I have about the place, an unexplainable rating yet perhaps the most important of all.. 

That said, here goes the first-ever Donosti Dining Update:

Gerald's bar

Gerald's Bar comes to San Sebastián straight from Australia, bringing with it the Anglo-Saxon sensibility that is, fortunately for them, just beginning to catch on in San Sebastián. The menu marks its differences in the enthusiastic presence of seasonal vegetables, herbs and spices. Think Australian restaurant that serves its idea of European food opens branch in Europe serving a cuisine twice-removed.

We had quite a few plates....stewed garbanzos, salmon with dill, lamb shank with eggplant and potato, and a citrus mousse.  All familiar plates if you read English-language foodie glossies, but for the locals of San Sebastián I think there is a bit more of an exotic air. For me, the vibe, the charcuterie and cheese plates, and the longer-than-average wine-by-the-glass list are the main attractions.   I appreciate the foreign touches, like a bit of luxurious butter with bread to start and tunes from *gasp* a record player. ¡Qué guay!

$$ :  ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Vibeyness : ★  ★ ★ ★ ★
Gobackability : ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
WIFI: (look for in future editions...i forgot to ask, ok?)
Martimeter :  ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Gerald's Bar
Calle Iparragirre, 13 (GROS)

ambigu EStación

Okay, Ambigu isn't all that new— I think the first time I went there was a year ago. However, it's been on my longstanding list of new places to blog about and I wanted to get to it.  Housed in the former parte vieja branch of Iturrioz, it was one of the first bar-cafés to inaugurate the trend of "different" design, of paying attention to details and doing so in a way that is not typically Basque.

Ambigu has a menu made for sharing.  Don't expect pintxos...the only consistent offering is a croqueta.  These are full and half raciones, and they are not your standard San Sebastián fare:  green salad with strawberries, bacalao ravioli, pea and scallop risotto....

We had a wrap and their patatas bravas. They fell somewhere between normal bravas and excellent bravas. A pinch of salt could have made the difference.

Apart from their dinner menu, Ambigu is notable for its brunch and breakfast offerings.  A rare find in San Sebastián, that's for sure.

$$ :  ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Vibeyness : ★  ★  ☆ ☆
Gobackability : ★   ☆ ☆
WIFI: (look for in future editions...i forgot to ask, ok?)
Martimeter :  ★ ★  ☆ ☆

Ambigu Estación
Calle Aldamar, 12 (VIEJO)
http://www.ambiguestacion.com

chocomint

No sooner than a street or plaza is made pedestrian-friendly, you can count on a few coffee-shop/bakeries to pop up. Chocomint, with its oh-so-cutesy logo and branding, is one of these.  First feeling: happiness. Not another bakery chain.  First feeling checked upon our visit....the majority of the baked goods sold there are from a larger, locally based chain.

As far as homemade goods go, you can look for the mini- and regular-sized cupcakes, as well as the layer cakes.  They were cute, but the one we tried was over-soaked with an over-watery simple syrup and honestly just barely adequate, nothing special enough to write home about. Sigh. 

$$ :  ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Vibeyness : ★  ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Gobackability : ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
WIFI: 👎 (supposedly, but it didn't work)
Martimeter :  ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Chocomint
Calle Usandizaga, 5 (GROS)

 

I have a list going for future updates, but if there's somewhere you want me to checkout, leave it in the comments!