Address: Avda. Alcalde Jose Elosegui, 273, 20015 Donostia-San Sebastian
Phone: 943 278 465 / 943 285 593
The chef/owner of Arzak restaurant, Juan Mari Arzak, along with Pedro Subijana of Akelarre restaurant are actually the founders of New Basque cuisine or Nueva Cocina Basca. Juan Mari Arzak was trained under the Trigois brothers, and it’s only natural that he (along with Pedro Subijana) lead the way in the modernization of Basque cooking, the same way the Trigrois brothers, Paul Bocuse, Alain Chapel and Michel Guerard did for Nouvelle French cuisine. We chose Arzak over Akelarre, since we only had so much time in San Sebastian, especially with the top restaurants there closed on Sundays and Mondays. But Akelarre’s menu looks really interesting as well.
Arzak restaurant has been around since 1897 and it was originally a wine tavern inn started by Juan Mari’s grandparents, before turning into the most popular restaurant in the area. It has been passed down from one generation to the next, with Elena Arzak (who used to work at El Bulli) being the 4th generation to run this place. What amazes me about the restaurant is that it has been successful in keeping the 3 Michelin Stars it was awarded since 1989.
The food is Basque but modern and avant-garde; we came across interesting flavors and new taste that we have never had before. The secret behind all these is Arzak’s own flavor library, where they store new ingredients/spices/flavors creations in hundreds of small containers. Wished we had requested to take a look at the flavor library when we were there!
The Manzana con aceite de foie, Ostras vegetables, Bogavante con aceite de oliva "extra blanco “and Sopa y chocolate "entre vinedos" were some of the highlights of the dinner. Manzana con aceite de foie (foie grais and apple) is a common combination but Arzak's version is presented beautifully in a nice bite size portion. Ostras vegetables (Oysters with vegetables) was a different take on the traditional basque dish gambas (shrimp) and vegetables. The Bogavante (lobster) con aceite de oliva "extra blanco “ was wonderful and reminded me of lobsters with oyster sauce and caramelized onions in Chinese cooking, and the chemical reaction between the sauce and the powdered olive oil was fun to watch! I also really love the Sopa y chocolate "entre vinedos” dessert. I wouldn't normally associate basil with dessert, but the basil sorbet was really refreshing.
We did not eat at Arzak when Juan Mari was running the restaurant, but the food under Elena is noticeably feminine and pretty. There were lots of colors and playful presentations and most of the dishes came out looking like art pieces.
Aside from the food, Juan Mari Arzak and Elena Arzak are definitely the biggest attractions of the restaurant. We had no idea that we would get to meet both chefs when we were there. But when we first arrived, Elena came and greet us personally and chatted with us for a bit, and after dinner, she came back up again to see what we thought of the food. We were totally surprised when Juan Mari came and meet us too, just as we were leaving. We've never felt so welcome!
Raiz de loto con mousse de arraitxiki, Puding de kabrarroka con fideos fritos, Caldito de alubia negra con queso
Pato (Duck) azulon con perdogones dulces. The colorful balls were filled with flavorful liquid. I particularly liked the silver metallic balls, but couldn't figure out what flavor it is.
Bizcocho aireado de yogur con cristales de calabaza. We first saw this type of cake on Anthony Bourdain's No reservation episode, where he visited Albert Adria at his laboratory when he was experimenting on dessert making and he made this cake in the microwave. Not sure how Arzak made theirs, but it was simply lovely.
Dulce lunatico. This caramel dessert was really memorable. I thought I was eating a hard caramel candy, instead, it was just a thin caramel coating, with citrus flavor light syrup inside. Very exciting!
Juan Mari Arzak came up to say hi just as we were leaving. After finding out that we are Malaysians, he told us he was in Kuala Lumpur 20 years ago and enjoyed the street food in South East Asia. But he explained that it's different in Spain, as that restaurant food here is better.