Ni Neu is one of the newer restaurants here in San Sebastián. It occupies a "priveleged" site...the ground floor of Donostia-San Sebastián's conference center, the Kursaal.
It replaced the Kursaal Martin Berasategui restaurant, which I visited last year. However, the food is of similar ilk...affordable, name-brand alta cocina. This type of cooking, which can be delightful or disastrous, specializes in taking the amazing products of this country and playing with them, changing their form, sometimes concentrating their flavors, and sometimes tricking the eyes and the tastebuds.
green bean juice with spicy roseval potatoes (jugo de vainas acompañado de patatas rosevall ligeramente picantes)
This was the first appetizer we ate, and actually one of my favorite plates. The juice, more of a thin puree, was made from cooked and thermomixed vaina, a flat green bean characteristic of the area. It was absolutely delicious, loud+clear+perfectly seasoned. The roseval potatoes, a new potato also typical to the region, were soft and creamy next to the bright broth.
Ni Neu means "myself" in Basque. I'm not sure why the IXO group (see chefs Andoni Luis Aduriz y Bixente Arrieta) chose this name for the restaurant, but some of the dishes might benefit from a little less navel-gazing attention on preening and a little more in regards to how they will be perceived/enjoyed by diners.
endive impregnated with roquefort juice, resting on a walnut/hazelnut sand (endivias impregnadas con un jugo de roquefort, reposadas en arena de nueces y avellanas)
For example, this salad. It's interesting...endive that seems lightly cooked, yet which is served cold, and tasting of blue cheese. I'm so interested as a thinking cook that they were able to figure out a way to infuse endive with a flavor through repeated cryovac-ing in a cheese broth, but my tastebuds were not quite as interested, favoring the nutty crumbs to the cheese-flavored lettuce.
On to the entrees, which were solid:
glazed veal canneloni, with mustard seeds in a roasted pepper broth (canelones de ternera glaseados, con granos de mostaza cocinados en un caldo de pimientos asados)
These were delicious...succulent veal wrapped in pasta can't go to far wrong, right? The sauce was great, to...I loved the texture of the mustard seeds, round and soft in the mouth next to the creamy veal stuffing. Fellow diner had the MEAT, which was perfectly cooked and served on a garlicky, uber-smooth potato puree.
veal top round with potato puree (solomillo de ternera con puré de patata)
We got the two desserts on the opposite sides of the spectrum...classic:
warm chocolate cake with licorice ice cream and candied white sesame seeds (pastel tibio de chocolate con helado de regaliz y sésamo blanco garrapiñado)
violet ice cream with whipped cream and crunchy chocolate cookies (helado de violetas con crema batida y galletas crujientes de chocolate)
....and they were both delicious in their own way. The cake was perfect: moist, warm, and small enough to leave you wanting more. The licorice ice cream was very lightly flavored (a good or bad thing, depending on how much you like licorice). The violet ice cream, however, smacked of its namesake flavor. The chocolate cookies and cream seemed like an addendum...good together but nothing special in conjuction with the violet ice cream.
The few less-than-stellar dishes aside, it is an extremely affordable (our menu ranged from 26-35 euros, for three courses, wine, water, coffee and bread) and enjoyable way to have a meal from a world-class chef, in a world-class setting, from a world-famous cuisine in the city of San Sebastián.
Avda de la Zurriola, 1