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Restaurants & Bars 8

Basque Country Trip ( with Rioja too )

turbowine | May 31, 201508:44 PM

This is a continuation of our trip that started in the Dordogne and wound through French Basque country and then crossed the border into Spain.

You can find the French components here:

Again, don't have a lot of notes, but thought I'd post the restaurants we enjoyed, in case it helps somebody, someday. I must admit that I found it interesting that the Spanish Basque country didn't look as distinctive as on the French side. Yet, the Basque language was dominant on the signs, while in France, French dominated. And while my guidebooks say Rioja is in Basque country, you wouldn't know by looking, which is why I listed it explicitly in the title of this post. Perhaps because it is on the southern extreme. Anyway, to the food!

Casa Ursola
San Sebastian
Wonderful lunch, lots of locals, which (usually) is a good sign. We were upstairs in the restaurant, not in the bar. I'm told it's great for tapas too, but we never did try them.

San Sebastian
Dinner. This is a Michelin three star, so excellence was expected. A bit out of downtown (about 15 min by cab). Nice ocean views before sunset. Very popular. When we were waiting for the cab at our hotel, we were standing next to another group of Americans, also waiting for a cab. Two cabs showed up. We all got in them, and departed. About 5 minutes into the trip we noticed the other cab had not turned off, was still going our way. 10 minutes later, both cabs pulled into the driveway of the restaurant and we all shared a good laugh. Funny coincidence. And, they crammed 4 people into a small car while we had an extra seat. If only we'd known. Anyway, the food and wine were great. Though, truth be told, this style may be a bit too edgy for me, pushing things a bit too far to the extreme. Also, a bargain, price wise, compared to 3 stars in France.

El Gordo
Lunch. This was a working person's place. We were certainly the only tourists, and probably the only people not going back to work after lunch. But it was crowded. Limited three course menu. Our mains were roast chicken. Simple but delicious. This was truly local.
A nice change from touristy places.

Restaurante Iruna
Dinner. Not a tapas place, despite being on the main drag for tapas bars. A good change for when you don't feel like tapas.

Venta Moncalvillo
Daroca de Rioja
Dinner. This is a Michelin 1 star. Again, excellence was expected. About a 20 minute cab ride from Logrono, in a small country town. We really enjoyed it. Didn't have the polished service of the other starred restaurants of the trip, but the food and wine was fantastic!

Hospederia de Los Parajes
Lunch. This is a terrific little town for strolling around. We found this restaurant on the main street, but after walking by several other restaurants that were closer to the main gate, main entrance into the old town. It was "less touristy" in feel that those were. Felt more authentic. If you know this town, you know it is small, so I'm talking 60 seconds of extra walking to get deeper into the heart of the village. Not very far, and worth it.

Dinner. Wandering the pedestrian zones on a Monday night, when almost all of the Michelin starred restaurants are closed, and the ones that are not are all booked up. (Make your plans in advance!) We were on a wait list, but it never came to be. So just looking around for something interesting. Bumped into this, the menu look good and different too. Once we got inside, sat down, ordered drinks etc, we realized everybody was speaking Italian. I guess that is why the menu looked different! Only complaint is that the employees would smoke right in front of the door and the smoke would blow into the dining area.

There was one lunch in Sos del Rey Católico, where I didn't get the name of the restaurant, because we were not impressed. (Of course, I now realize I should have anyway.) It was the first restaurant we saw after parking the car. It was not in the old town, we hadn't walked into the pedestrian part of town yet. (Mistake!) But, it was packed with locals eating lunch. Incredibly busy, seemed like a good sign. But as I say, we were disappointed. We both ordered duck, and it came out over cooked, dry and tough. Very disappointing. Our only bad meal in Spain. Lesson is to always walk around, check out the options. Don't let your hunger dictate a hasty decision, and I just prefer to gamble on more out of the way places -- they have to be good to get people in.

We also ate tapas in San Sebastian and in Logrono. Didn't note which bars, though I did decide there is no reason to follow advice either. Tried to hit the places the guidebooks recommended. Ultimately realized that there is no need to follow a book around. Just look at menus, see what people are eating, and try it. It's a lot of fun. Order a glass of wine and a single tapas at each place and then move on to the next one. Repeat at 5, 8, 10 bars (depending on your stamina). It's a good evening.

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