Arzak is a 3 Michelin star restaurant run by chef and owner Juan Mari Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain, rooted in the long Basque food traditions of the area and is currently ranked as the 8th best restaurant in the world by S. Pelligrino. The location was originally opened by Juan’s grandparents as an inn and tavern but converted to a restaurant by his parents. Juan continued the tradition but began pushing Basque cooking into a new era of cuisine eventually earning him his Michelin stars and the Universal Basque award for “adapting gastronomy, one of the most important traditions of the Basque Country, to the new times and making of it one of the most innovative of the world”.
Today his daughter Elena Arzak who trained around the world including El Bulli, is co-head chef and seems to run most of the business and create the dishes. But Juan can be found each night in the restaurant greeting guests and overseeing the kitchen. In 2012 she was named best female chef in the world.
Arzak will always be special to me because it is the first Michelin starred restaurant that I had the opportunity to eat at. I made the reservation months in advance and was giddy with excitement. I was star struck upon meeting the chefs and the level of food and creativity of presentation were transformative in my own development.
I regret not having better photos of the meal. These are the best I could find. My cell phone was not up to the task. But these are things we learn the hard way.
Starter course. The crunchy things on sticks are kabrarroka pudding with kataifi.
Red cod fish
This might have been my favorite bite of the meal. It’s sardine wrapped around a cream sauce with a strawberry. So simple and clean but it just turned me on.
Chorizo with tonic
Cromlech, manioc, and huitlacoche. Crispy manioc hydrated with huitlacoche stuffed with a preparation of onion, green tea, and foie gras. You pick one up with a spoon and eat in a bite. (though a little big for just one bite).
Hemp, mustard, and lobster. Sauteed lobster served with crispy hemp bread, and mustard vinaigrette. The mustard vinaigrette was hidden under those two leaves at that top. And the clothespins were carved or molded out of something edible. It tasted like cooked bamboo shoots.
Salad with tapioca balls
Ovo-lacto. Egg with semi crunchy shell and baobab accompanied by “lactic leaves” and curds. Soft egg with a crispy shell, the white wafers were “crispy milk” they said. The green leaf tasted like melon. A triangle of port infused cheese. And the little ball looked solid but punctured and turned to liquid when you poked it. The plate texture was important as well. It was like a large disk of sand weathered shell. The food and your fork would make a sound as it moved across it
Special house wine
Fish steak with potatoes. Fillet of seabass lightly marinated with gin and served with several flavors of potatoes. Very creative plating. First the waiter sets down a tablet playing a video of the ocean breaking on rocks with sound. Then the dish comes out, a glass frame with a see-through bottom. The potatoes look like transparent crepe paper but they were extremely crispy making a loud crunch. Half way through the course the video changes to a video of fire. Then back to the ocean.
Monkfish green witch. Monkfish served with crispy green balloon. This was Katy’s. It comes out in this giant green balloon. It looks like a set prop from star trek. The waiter cuts the center top of the balloon loose letting it drop onto the monkfish and the sets the rest of the balloon on a plate beside the dish (shown on the next pic). The green skin was like crispy rice.
Monkfish green witch. Monkfish served with crispy green balloon.
Longan and lamb. Lamb with different flavors and textures accompanied with fried grapes and longan. Longan is like a lychee. The fruit was taken out (the white half spheres) then the shells were also filled with something and you get a little spoon to eat out of the shells. Plus half peeled warmed grapes. As the powder on the plate would get wet it would melt into green.
Peas in butter.
Side bar to Katy’s pigeon dish, half eaten. A rich pigeon morsel with a wedge of watermelon and a fried basil leaf.
A layer of white chocolate flavored with parsley filled with black chocolate emulsified with kudzu and lime flavour, served with Frangelico.
Enriched melon with wrinkled tomoatoes, sumac, lime, and crunchy chia.
Caramelized fruits served with black sesame bread, pepper, and licorice ladybird filled with yoghurt and olive oil crystals.
Portrait of Juan Mari Arzak