I had always dreamed of visiting San Sebastian, Spain. It was not just the tantalizing photographs of Playa de la Concha, the beach and beautiful coastline seen in travel magazines, nor the vision of a romantic stroll down Parte Vieja (Old Town). My laser like focus was on the Pintxos – the local word for “small bar bites” or “Basque tapas”. Yes, there are Michelin starred restaurants in San Sebastian, but @Tee2Pub and I were intrigued by these miniature, bite sized perfections.
Arrizul Congress Hotel @arrizulhotels – is perfectly located in the Gros neighborhood – a bridge away from Centro and Parte Vieja. The neighborhood is quiet and a nice respite from the late night party atmosphere across the bridge. The hotel is a seven minute walk from the train station, and within walking distance of Boulevard, Concha Beach and Zurriola Beach. Our room was immaculate and came with free Wi-Fi. There is a free coffee bar off the front lobby, where you can grab a quick espresso, water or soft drink and be on your way. The front desk was professional and helpful with our every need.
Casa Urola was the right choice for dinner on our first night in San Sebastian. Located in Parte Vieja we sat above the crowds and watched them from a balcony window. The food was delicious. Having seen @RestCasaUrola on @Bourdain @PartsUnknownCNN I was very excited to try a mushroom dish highlighted on the show. It did not disappoint – wild mushrooms grilled with a duck sauce, egg yolk and pine nuts. OMG! And it happened to be mushroom season! Other highlights included a charcoal grilled seasonal vegetable dish with squid and mild “Romesco” sauce, grilled white shrimps from Huelva and charcoal grilled Hake cheeks. We finished our meal with a memorable dessert – Traditional caramelized toasted bread with milk coffee ice cream.
Let’s start with Pintxo bar etiquette – step up to the bar, order the house specialty with Albarino white wine, throw your napkin on the floor and move on to the next bar. Each Pintxos bar serves many items but usually specializes in one or two. Cold items sitting on the bar are self serve, but hot items must be ordered. Remember, the idea is to visit multiple Pintxo bars so don’t order too much at each bar.
Here is a rundown of our favorites:
Bar: Bodega Donostiarra Order: Gilda (pickled peppers, olive and anchovy), Tortilla Espanola (Spanish omelette)
Bar: Ramuntxo Berri Order: Risotto, Brocheta
Parte Vieja (Old Town)
Bar: Casa Urola Order: Gilda, Pintxo de vainas (green beans w/Codfish and potato cream)
Bar: Borda Berri Order: Pintxo de Merluza (grilled Hake fish), Ravioli de gambas (Prawn and bacon ravioli)
Bar: Gandarias Order: Pintxo solomillo (bite size sirloin steak), Pimientos de piquillo (Piquillo red slow roasted peppers)
Bar: Atari Order: Carrilera (beef cheeks), Pintxo de atun (grilled Tuna), Arron de temporada (Black calamari and prawns rice.
Bar: La Vina Order: Tarta de queso (cheesecake)
If you’re not feeling up to braving the Pintxo bars on your own – a food tour is a good alternative. We did both. On our second night in San Sebastian we took the MIMO Pintxo Tasting Dinner Tour. The meeting point is the MIMO San Sebastian Cooking School at the rear entrance of Hotel Maria Christina. It is a 3 hour dinner tour, which includes up to 6 Pintxo bars (all food and wine), at a cost of 110 Euros per person. Our group consisted of mostly Americans and our tour guide spoke perfect English. This tour is a great introduction to the San Sebastian Pintxo scene.
Tip: The MIMO Gourmet Shop at the front entrance of Hotel Maria Christina is definitely worth a visit.