Thanks to my wonderful friend Stefani, a perennial visitor to San Sebastián, I finally got to eat in the dining room at Martín Berasategui, one of San Sebastián's three-Michelin spots. Please, nobody ever tell her that I would let her stay at my apartment indefinitely even without being wined and dined.
We had the tasting menu, whose fourteen dishes are all preceded with the date in which they were created in the Martín kitchen. It should be mentioned that I spent the better part of two years of my time in San Sebastián organizing a project whose major component was a stage in Berasategui, so I had spent my fair share of time in the kitchen (as well as comforting stages at the end of their young, American rope).
Visually, the meal got off to a strong start. The sea crunch tempura with txakoli mayonnaise and citrus gel was lovely to look at, if a bit muddled when it came to flavors. And a kumquat filled with potato firewater, olive and anchovy was a nice partner.
During my meal, I tried my best to erase my knowledge, to judge my waiters, sommeliers, and cooks as if I didn't know they were young and in training. Once you do know this, it certainly goes to explaining why there are so many staff members at Berasategui. Overall, though, I have to say they did quite well for youngins.
The meal began with a heavy hitter, the oldest dish on the menu (1995): mille-feuille of smoked eel, foie-gras, spring onions and green apple. A delicious sweet, creamy, fresh combination. Though smoked eel always has and always will remind me of grilled hot dogs. (Look ma, I'm sophisticated!)
Then it was time for a delicious, tender version of shrimp royal, with dill and venta del barón oil.
Beautiful award could very well go to this dish. A slightly warm, lightly marinated oyster sat in its shell, with icy cucumber and txakoli slush to contrast with a bit of spicy apple purée.
One of our favorite dishes of the meal was this colorful mess. Sauteed black garlic in Alma de Jerez oil with beet ceviche, ice radish and raifort cream. How often do you get to eat pink and black shit? Pretty much never. Seriously, though, the earthiness of the black garlic was amazing against the beet in its various forms.
Gorgeous dish of raw seaweed and seaweed cream on a sea urchin curd with fennel salad. However, be warned. Of the three tables in the restaurant, I literally heard each table tell their waiter they didn't quite love this one. Is sea urchin really that controversial?
A vegetable lover's dream: golden crispy swiss chard stems with scallops in their own aniseed-flavored sea juice. The scallop was too fishy, though.
Another goodie: Gorrotxategi egg resting on a liquid herb salad and dewlap carpaccio. In cases like this, I regret not getting the Spanish menu to know what the heck dewlap is. Creamy, rich, and delicious is what it is.
This vegetable hearts salad with seafood, cream of lettuce and iodized juice was the second oldest dish on the menu, dating back to 2001. It would also have to be my favorite. I am such a veggie sucker, and this was a plateful of different textures and tastes.
I think I was too busy praising the vegetable plate to take a picture of the next dish. Unless, that is, it was a subconscious antiestablishment gesture, refusing to photograph Martín's famous red mullet. The legendary red mullet that Spanish chefs say he carries around in his suitcase on the food conference circuit. Sorry, mullet lovers.
At this point, I actually felt a tinge of regret. This lamb chop was BOMB, and I was wishing I had laid off the former dishes to be able to accommodate this more readily in my stomach. The tenderness of the lamb was amazing. Served with parmesan whey, fritters, and asparagus in a citrus dressing, it was a show-stopping way to end the meal.
Dessert time: saffron veil with melt-in-your-mouth macaroons and tea flower ice cream. Ice cream amazing. Colors gorgeously bright. Rest, just fine.
Blurry End of Meal picture syndrome. This smoked sponge with cocoa crunch, frozen whisky cream, crushed ice, green beans and mint had a strange, futuristic gaseous taste to it, unfortunately. As much as I loved the crunchies, it was impossible to ignore. So...we downed the rest of our delicious wine and bantered a bit with our neighboring table.
Stefani and I agreed that our Amazing Meal Ranking would be 1)Mugaritz 2) Arzak and 3) Martín. She hasn't been to Akelarre, but that would probably hover around Martín. So, there you have it, your complete guide to booking stars in San Sebastian.