Kokotxa. It's that unpronounceable Michelin-star spot tucked away in San Sebastián's Old Part. A place that took me five whole years to visit, because, as I was commenting with a friend the other day, it's situated in quite an awkward place in the dining spectrum. It's one of the area's 16 Michelin stars, and the only one in the old part of San Sebastián. The menu is about half the price of the two and three-star spots like Mugaritz and Arzak, coming in between €62 and €87 depending on which you choose. Something about that range, special occasion but not too special, fancy fine dining but not driven by a PR machine like the others had that rockets it to culinary hipdom....it's weird.
However, I was finally able to visit, thanks to my friend and co-worker Monica. The restaurant is owned by Dani López and Estela Velasco, a former couple that managed to split on good terms and keep their ambitious baby going.
It's that ambition that works tirelessly, and without attention from the global media, to churn out lovely product-based plates with a feminine sensibility. The beginning of the meal was disarming, as we were presented with finger foods like a grissini with mustard mayonnaise and a watermelon salmorejo with a baby shrimp blini and some queso fresco.
I just loved this fresh fish tartar, slipping away from the cliche thanks to an icy celery sorbet.
At just two blocks from the port, Kokotxa is virtually obligated to put forth the best of the day's catch. And they do so in a way that honors it, giving all attention to the carabinero above with only a bed of purple rice as a complement.
And so happy to see my second soft shell crab ever in San Sebastián, served with coconut and kimchi.
We requested a strange wine, and maitre and wine expert Estela happily steered us towards a white Vin de Savoie, Le Feu (2011).
A lovely crisp bit of turbot was one of the mains, served with pickled white beans, flowers, and tiny beads of gelatinous flavor.
Then came the pigeon, which was absolutely perfect, served alongside a bit of corn bread.
Another good thing about Kokotxa, and perhaps one of its secrets of success, is that it offers a midweek lunch menu around €40, featuring the chef's plate of the day with appetizer and dessert. A nice Michelin hack if you're trying to save some €€€.
Desserts were good, though my favorite thing about them was the presentation, not too precious and with carefully considered color combinations and accents. All in all, the aesthetic is very particular in Kokotxa. While it may not be a three-star on the top of everyone's list, it's a restaurant that in any other, less-saturated city would be a star of the dining scene.
Calle Campanario, 11, San Sebastián, Spain
+34 943 421 904
Monica with her digestif dessert selection. Thanks :)