Asador Etxebarri : The Chef, The Menu and...The Magic. Yep.
Like what I did with that title? I thought so.
As has been well established here on my blog, Asador Etxebarri is one of my favorite places to eat around these parts (see blog post titled Etxebarri : The Best Asador. Ever. or Etxebarri, The Return (It's Even Better)). I know...but it is just that good. That's part of the reason I begged and pleaded until Bittor Arginzoniz agreed to write the prologue of my upcoming book on Basque cuisine.
No wonder it has been climbing the charts for the last decade, reaching its peak at number 6 at last year's The World's 50 Best Restaurants. As the 2018 awards are announced tomorrow, only time will tell if they can climb higher. But it's already an incredible feat for what is essentially one rural man's dream made reality.
I've been dining at his formerly humble grill house for the last eight years, and I've never walked away disappointed. I love every minute of it, from the gruff yet warm service, to the terrace on a sunny day, to learning in the kitchen about all the different tools that Bittor has designed from scratch, molding even metal to fit his needs and his dreams for the freshest, best produce that Basque Country has to offer.
Bittor, who is actually Victor Arguinzoniz on his birth certificate, thanks to the oppressive times in which he was born, seems to be a reclusive type. As his restaurant has gotten more and more famous, more and more visited, he seems to be less and less interested in putting on the show that many chefs do. All the hunger that some chefs show for recognition and praise, Bittor puts toward his Monday walks through the mountain and the sourcing of his product—he's even got buffalo for milking, in the quest for perfect mozzarella. I even have a post dedicated to their pulpitos, or baby octopus.
One of my favorite things is sneaking down to the kitchen and bugging him until a smile erupts. For me, Bittor epitomizes Basque-ness. He is most comfortable in the wild, with the mist that's almost always hanging over Atxondo. He is loyal above all to the product and the farmhouse. He has done what not many have—remain faithful to the essential flavors of the product, and to Basque cuisine, but at the same time reinventing tradition with the elemental Basque tool: the flame.
As you probably get, I am a fan and supporter of this place. And would recommend a visit as soon as possible, making sure to reserve, of course.
Although they no longer do a la carte dining, which was a nice way to eat Etxebarri on a budget, the tasting menu is well-worth your time, attention, and budget. It's a journey across land and sea, and you can be assured that every single dish is Bittor's from start to finish. Whether it's the smashing housemade chorizo (above) or the home-cured anchovies (below), in all their big fat beauty.
Below you'll find, step by step, my most recent meal at Etxebarri, dating back just a few months. Live vicariously, and then, reserve your table!