Donosti Dining Update, Vol V

mala gissona bar san sebastián

Summer's over, and for every new bar that opened this season I have only been able to cover/get to probably a quarter of them. I promise I am doing my best to bring you the new bars of San Sebastián, sifting through the same-bars-with-a-different-name and trying to do at least a short review of the new bars that are worth looking at. 

This edition, the fifth in the Donosti Dining Update series, is a Gros-centric edition. Mostly because it seems that 2016 was the year of a certain generation of waiters, bartenders, and other thirty-somethings who had served their time in the trenches of the Old Part breaking off to do their own thing: and they all chose one neighborhood (slash two streets, Zabaleta and Peña y Goñi). Here goes nothing...

mala gissona wings


Boys make beer at home. Boys like making beer and get better at it. Boys launch beer brand to world.  Mala Gissona is the age-old hip beer cliche so wonderfully common in USA, Basque-style.  They opened their Beer House on Calle Zabaleta round about a year ago, taking over the space once held by Essencia.  The bar is an attractively decorated spot with something like 150 beers to try, among them the owner's brews.

vegetarian food san sebastián

The menu is miniscule, with just a few starters, a few riffs on the burger, and a couple salads.  It's obvious that the point is to drink beer here—the food is meant to make that possible.  I suppose you could argue that they've focused on the slim offering to offer the best of the best, like hamburger buns from The Loaf, hamburger meat from fill-in-great-butcher's-name-here. But the bottom line is it comes off as a bit bare bones. The veggie burger we tried was actually a highlight, as were the wings, pretty perfectly done. The rest is what it is, nice to fill the stomach in between beers.

$€$€ :  ★ ★ ★ ★  ☆
Vibeyness : ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Gobackability : ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Martimeter :  ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Mala Gissona Beer House
Zabaleta Kalea, 53 (GROS)


This spot, with a lovely corner location one block from the Kursaal, is the second of its kind, the little brother of the Antiguo location.   One would think that would kink-proof it, but that's not so.  I've been a few times, and while each time has been a little better, that could be more because the first couple visits were disastrous....unhelpful service, smoke coming from the kitchen, a plate that came with only half of what was advertised, and then a waitstaff that wavered between uninformed and unapologetic.

My most recent visit, when the majority of these photos were taken, was better. The food is a bit more ambitious than the classic bars of the area, aligning itself more with spots like Aitzgorri than with Bodega Donostiarra.

Mushrooms with egg yolk, rice with foie, braised beef....they pay homage to all the trendy menu items of the moment, throwing in a few extra garnishes for good measure.  But the food doesn't live up to the fancy that the bar seems to aspire to with its decor and vibe—the rice dish wasn't cohesive, the carrillera sauce more like a mom's Maizena grey sauce than a lovely demi-glace.

The service leaves something to be desired, though the spot has a prime location with what during summer are quite agreeable big windows. When they are closed, however, the bar often fills with the smell of smoke or frying and can be a bit stuffy. Service and food is still up and down, though it seems promising.

$€$€ :  ★ ★ ★ ☆  ☆
Vibeyness : ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Gobackability : ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Martimeter :  ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Usandizaga Kalea, 7 (GROS)

bodega  la notaria


This spot took a locale that I have been lusting after since it closed—the old Bodega Donostiarra wine & liquor shop. It was one of those amazing-without-trying, beautiful-without-makeup spots: flourescent lights, concrete floors, shelves, dust, and old wood. Bodega La Notaria, the new bar that took its place, is the opposite: a trendy beauty queen that is trying pretty hard.

You can tell a lot of investment went into the decor: light wood, trendy tiles and even trendier lighting, and a special feature that I actually like, small, private dining rooms. Then...there's the food. The menu is very standard; in fact, one could argue that they try to do what their mega-successful neighbor Bodega Donostiarra does—traditional food with an emphasis on conserves and charcuterie and with a couple of hot plates as well as a lunch-friendly daily offering. The kind of bar a local can get behind, if a bit boring.

The little bun featured above was their specialty, a mixture of chopped charcuterie that they were quite proud of. The heated bun was a nice touch, but the bread is lacking and the sandwich dry. Beyond that, you can choose from adequate classics, like ensaladilla, and generic pintxos from the bar, like goat cheese and ham and tuna and pepper.

I promise nothing I am saying has been influenced by the fact that they are totally trying to rip off the Vermut Society.  In fact, it sort of represents the philosophy of the bar: see something that works for someone else and copy it.

The lasagna below is an example of the hot plates they serve that keeps the spot busy at lunch with local workers looking for something filling and quick. Again, adequate if uninspired.

$€$€ :  ★ ★ ☆  ☆  ☆
Vibeyness : ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Gobackability : ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Martimeter :  ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Bodega La Notaria
Peña y Goñi Kalea, 11 (GROS)