Europa : Pamplona, Navarra


You may have noticed that I have been gone for, like, six months. In case you were wondering, it's not because I have grown tired of blogging. After 10 years (I missed my 10-year anniversary!), I still do it 'cuz I love it and won't be stopping anytime soon.  And it's not for lack of content...I have a backlog that is pretty intimidating, not to mention a list of new Basque Country spots to cover for y'all.  I have a good reason, I swear (more on that in the next post)!

I wanted to get back into the swing of things with a post about one of the better places I have eaten this past year: Europa in Pamplona. 

Europa is one of Pamplona's institutions. It's had a Michelin star since you were in diapers, and it's been at the hand of the Idoate family since the 1970s, when Francisco Idoate bought what was not much more than a pit stop inn and passed it down to his children.  The four of them spearheaded a rise to the top of Navarra's culinary scene—Pilar as the chef (female, as is so typical in Navarra); Juan Mari as the business type and networker; and Mari Carmen and the beloved María Eugena (now deceased) at the helm of the front of the house. They make quite a team, heading up one of the Michelin-stitutions of the region.

A meal at Europa can take on various forms—the most obvious being the big, splashy tasting menu. However, they also have a menu for locals, and keep off-the-menu items that are favorites of regulars for those who know to ask. Within the regular menu, one finds incongruous styles, the majority leaning towards modern nueva cocina, with some, however, planting themselves directly in the center of good, simple, local cooking.  

On this note, the buñuelo de bacalao is one of the amuse bouches. In an of itself, it's a classic. Creamy bacalao shrouded in tempura. The presentation, however, from the plating to the powder, is another story.  Delicious, however you look at it.  The olive grissini are, too.

The next plate is much more traditional, but doesn't stop it from being one of the best. Roasted pancetta with confit piquillo peppers.

Back to the regularly scheduled Michelin programming at Pilar's hand—a lovely square crab-avocado salad with some ginger ice cream. Cold but satisfying.

This was Buckley's first Michelin experience, and she stepped up to the plate for a home run. Ravioli with spinach and celeriac. She loved it.

Creamy risotto with duck and shrimp, and a tall crunchy thing. Yes, we are deep in comfortable Spanish Michelin territory now. This is where Pilar, one of the only starred women around, is most comfortable. And her right-hand man, Arkaitz Muguruza, came on not too long ago to help keep the kitchen exploring uncharted waters.

They slipped me a bit of bacalao ajoarriero with some pil-pil plops. Some of the whitest oil-fish emulsion I have ever seen, with a pronounced yet lovely taste of salt cod.

And then, end with a dish that is hard to argue with: braised beef in a perfect, shiny jus. 

A refreshing "mojito" and...

This lovely pistachio rectangle broke to ooze chocolate everywhere.

Bottom line is, Europa is one of Pamplona's highlights. It doesn't get as much press as San Sebastián's Michelins, but I absolutely love the fact that Pilar runs the show, and no one can deny that Navarra's raw vegetable resources are greater than any other region's. And you can't help but feel you are witnessing a true dynasty, real history, when you watch the personalities of the Idoates float around the dining room.  Here's hoping that Pilar stays in the kitchen for a lot longer.

Restaurante Europa
Calle Espoz y Mina, 11, 31002
Pamplona, Navarra
+34 948 22 18 00

{RECIPE} Pear-Ginger Cake

I've been busy with a whole other type of recipe lately (more on that another day), but I'm only human. American human. Which means I am prone to cravings for tender, fresh-out-of-the-oven baked goods. Here in Spain that is like craving water in the desert (no offense, Spain, I'm honestly only trying to spur you on to greater baked heights!).

Fortunately, it's kind of my specialty. So the past weekend I whipped up a cake with the fruit-flavor combo I had laying around: pears and ginger. After quite a few requests on Instagram I decided it could be a nice change of pace to post a real life recipe here. And I promise that one of these days I'll share even more.

Until then, enjoy.

Pear-Ginger Cake

For topping:

1/3 cup (30g) almond slivers
1/3 cup (30g) oats
¼ cup (45g) light brown sugar
¼ cup (30g)  flour
3 tablespoons (40g) unsalted butter, softened
½ teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 pear

For coffee cake:

1 pear, diced
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 (190g) flour
1/2 cup (60g) whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (115g) butter, softened
2/3 cup (130g) sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 one-inch piece of fresh ginger
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Mix together almonds, oats, brown sugar, flour, butter, baking soda and salt. Dice the pear and add it to the crumb mixture. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

Heat the pear and the sugar in a saucepan over medium high heat. Purée with an immersion blender or in a food processor. Return to heat and cook for one more minute. Reserve.

Mix the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well. Mix in the grated ginger.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add half of the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Add half of the pear purée and mix. Add the remaining flour mixture and stir until combined. Finally add the rest of the pear purée and mix until the batter is smooth. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Grease a 9-inch round spring-form pan. Pour the cake batter into the pan. Spread the prepared crumb topping evenly over the cake batter. Bake for 45 minutes, or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.

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