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.
Calle Espoz y Mina, 11, 31002
+34 948 22 18 00