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San Sebastian

May 22, 2017
Celia Sin-Tien Cheng

Known as the food capital of the world, San Sebastian’s charm lies in its understated humility, which is impressive for such a high-profile food destination. The blend of traditional Basque culture, the warmth of the locals, and the spirit of innovation that keeps this town at the forefront of culinary excellence are all things that made me fall in love with San Sebastian. Every restaurant I chose to dine at was a local joint, where the home-style cooking and cozy atmosphere warmed my soul. The experiences and perfection of the meals spoke for themselves, making it the most memorable food journey I’ve ever taken. I visited San Sebastian in the fall, and each meal still lingers vividly in my memory. During my four-day stay, I kept running into the same food-loving adventurers from around the world like me, which made the trip even more endearing. Nearby day trips to Bilbao and Getaria to visit the Guggenheim and Balenciaga Museums made it all the more spectacular.

Creamy Seafood Rice at Restaurante Narru / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng A. Restaurante Narru

Narru was the newest and most modern restaurant we visited. It was also our first meal in San Sebastian, and it couldn’t have been more ideal. The restaurant is below ground, and the wood door entrance and minimalist décor reminded me of modern izakayas in Tokyo. We started the meal with jamon and pan con tomate, and for a second I thought that... full article

Squid with Onions at Elkano / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng B. Elkano

Elkano is located in Getaria, on the Bay of Biscay, a 45-minute drive from San Sebastian, but it is absolutely not to be missed. Known for its turbot, grilled whole outside the restaurant, Elkano is the holy grail of seafood experiences. The turbot and kokotxas prepared two ways — one plain grilled so you taste the fresh flavor of the fish... full article

Percebes at Ibai / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng C. Ibai

Ibai was the most local of the restaurants and my favorite meal of the trip. The restaurant is only open weekdays between 1-3pm, and inside there are only eight tables. A little mom-and-pop restaurant that serves the most amazing food, Ibai has no English menu and the staff speaks little English. From the kokotxas to the fresh gooseneck barnacles... full article

Tuna Bocadillo at Bodega Donosttiarra / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng D. Bodega Donostiarra

Highlighting pintxos made from canned seafood, Bodega Donostia is located on the other side of the river in the Gros neighborhood, like Bar Zabaleta. The décor is modern and some of the pintxos are so sculpturesque; I loved the tuna bocadillo and thought that it would be easy to replicate at home. In fact, I brought canned tuna, anchovy and green... full article

Piementos T-bone Steak at Bar Nestor / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng E. Bar Nestor

Bar Nestor is part of San Sebastian’s touristic tapas bar crawl in Parte Vieja. I mainly stayed away from these tapas bars because of how touristy they are, but Bar Nestor was one of the places that our concierge Ane did recommend, so I gave it a try. Famous for its tortillas that sell out almost instantly, and the t-bone steak (chuletas),... full article

Tortilla at Bar Zabaleta / Celis Sin-Tien Cheng F. Bar Zabaleta

Our concierge Ane at the Hotel Maria Christina, a lovely young lady who helped obtain reservations for all my meals, was my angel — I had a very precise list, and she patiently worked it all out. She really understood my taste; when we did finally arrive and got to meet her in person, she recommended Bar Zabaleta for its tortilla. Bar Zabaleta... full article

Hotel Maria Cristina in San Sebastian / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng G. Hotel Maria Cristina

Hotel Maria Cristina is the luxury hotel in San Sebastian. I had my doubts because my experiences at Starwood hotels have generally been mediocre, but I left with a deeply positive impression of the Hotel Maria Cristina, in large part because the concierge was outstandingly on top of her game. I got in touch with the hotel a month in advance of my... full article

Clams with H. Rekondo

For dinner, we went to Rekondo, which turned out to have the best kokotxas — a San Sebastian delicacy of cod or hake throats. We ordered kokotxas at every restaurant, but Rekondo’s was hands down the best. I asked the matron of the restaurant how they made their kokotxas with pil pil sauce (olive oil and parsley) so tender and tasty, and she... full article

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao / Celia Sin-Tien Cheng I. Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

It’s been 20 years since I visited the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. I was awed the first time, and 20 years later, it’s still so spectacular to drive into the city and catch sight of Frank Gehry’s signature statement in the middle of a formerly industrial city. Santiago Calatrava’s footbridge next to the museum was equally as memorable,... full article