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A few days in Bilbao & San Sebastian

turbowine | Jun 10, 201804:20 PM    

Had the chance to hop the water from London to Bilbao for a few days recently. Arrived on a Monday morning. Unfortunately, a lot of fining dining is closed on Monday, but we discovered Eneko Bilbao was open. It’s a relatively new place, but owned by the same team that has Eneko and Azurmendi which are both just outside of town. Anyway, sounded like a good place to try. It’s too new to have any stars or much of a reputation, but with that team behind it, should be good, right? Only a short walk from the Guggenheim part of town, where our hotel was.

ENEKO Bilbao
They are located on the third floor of their building, which gives them a decent view of the area. Was cloudy when we were there, but still nice. They have an ala carte menu, and 4 course and 7 course tasting menus. Decided to go for the big one, all 7. They start you with bread with sheep's milk and mushroom butter. Both were good but the mushroom butter stood out, with real intense mushroom flavor. This was followed by three amuse bouche items. All were quite tasty. Substitutions were allowed on the tasting menu, which is always nice. We don't like raw oysters so I substituted a cooked oyster dish and my wife a beet "tartar" dish for the first course. Second course was 3 different "creams" layered like Irish coffee. A sausage cream, a black bean creme and a cauliflower cream. Then there was a dish of wheat kernels in a red pepper sauce with an egg yolk. Suckling pig followed that, which in turn was followed by lobster and what they called an "interiors" fritter (the waiter referred to it as "entrails"). We don't know what it was but it did tasty "fishy". Never heard of seafood offal before, but maybe it is a thing? (Shellfish offal?) The highlight of the meal was the roast duck. Very tasty! This was followed by a walnut ice cream (gelato?) dessert with pecans and "hazelnut" chocolates in chocolate sauce. Wonderful stuff. Overall many courses were very rich. Heavy sauce based items, or just fatty meat in the case of the pork dish. It was a bit overpowering. If I was the chef I might mix it up a bit more have some different textures and mouthfeels. Maybe a palate cleansing intermezzo between the rich courses would have helped as well. But the duck was wonderful, as I said. Oh yes, there were three candies that came with coffee, a little after dinner treat. For wine we had the 2004 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Blanco Reserva. A rich and creamy white Rioja. Considering the richness of the food, in hindsight a white with more acidity might have been better, like a sharp Albarino. But this is a damn fine wine. With the duck we went with a glass of 1996 Roda II Gran Reserva Rioja Tinto. Very nice wine and a great match. Note, they have a Coravin system. While their normal by-the-glass wines are listed on the wine list, the sommelier said "If you want something else by the glass, just ask, since we have the Coravin, I might be able to do it." Which is how we got the Roda II without having to get a whole bottle. (Though part of me wished that we did, it was tasty.) With the walnut ice cream we got the 1987 Don PX Gran Reserva Pedro Ximenez (by the glass). Tasty and black & thick like used motor oil, just like it should be. As we were obviously into wine, the sommelier then threw us a glass of Madeira on the house. Service was fantastic, though not everybody was all that great with English, even so they were very attentive. Ambiance is very chic modern. I think that they are too new to have a Michelin star yet, but I bet they will in the future. FYI: There is no real obvious sign of the restaurant from the street. You need to walk into the building courtyard area (I guess you would call it that) and you will finally see a sign for the restaurant near the elevator, back behind the ticket window (there is a theater of some kind in the building). Overall a nice experience to stumble upon.

Next up was planned, with reservations in advance.

This was our second visit in as many years. This place is just amazing. Amazing food, amazing service, beautiful views (just ignore the factory/warehouse in the foreground). My only criticism is that the wine list doesn't show wines by the glass (you have to ask) and there are very few half bottles available and they are hard to find in the list. Also, and perhaps because I asked to see the wine list right away, they never offered us the wine pairing option. I know they have one, but it was never offered to us, which was odd, frankly, considering the level of service they have. (Which I would have declined anyway.) But other than that, this lunch was perfect. 14 different Amuse Bouche while touring the facility! (Some theater here.) Four in the lobby (the picnic basket which also comes with a glass of Albarino too); 2 in the kitchen while you see that amazing space; four more in the “garden” room; and then finally four more at your table. Then you begin your 12+ course meal! Followed by a large selection of petit fours with your after dinner coffee. Truly amazing! There are two menus to choose from and you can mix and match different courses between the two if there is something you prefer on one but not the other.

We accompanied this feast with a 1995 La Alta Rioja 904 for a red and along a white of 2009 Pazo de Senorans Albarino. Heck, we were there for 4 hours, so we figured we could tackle 2 bottles with that much time. We also had a 1931 Don PX Gran Reserva Pedro Ximenez (by the glass) before our coffee & tea. Just incredible, can't say that enough. Just go! (Also my wife says it's the best coffee she's ever had.)

Martin Berasategui
Next day was another feast (no surprises here, right?). A little driving involved, up to San Sebastian, but always well worth it. Ditto on the advance reservations.

This was our third time here in two+ years or so. Another truly amazing place. Food is phenomenal and the service is absolutely the best. Great wine list and with plenty of wines in the affordable yet high quality range I like (100-200 – why do so many restaurants ignore this price range?). Staff is simply the best and they always treat you like you are at home and can essentially have whatever you want. For example, to begin with it is always neat to me that they notice your arrival, and are there watching your approach, opening the door for you at the precise right moment. From there, you are presented with a choice of ala carte or the 15 course tasting menu. If there is anything on the tasting menu that you don’t like, they are happy to switch it out. There were two of the “appetizer” courses we didn’t like. We switched out one of them with a different appetizer, and for the other they allowed us to switch it to an additional “main” course. I thought this was interesting as the “mains” might be bigger or more expensive than the apps and therefore not a one-to-one switch. But even if so, they let us do it! On top of that they let us swap one of the desserts as well. Here is something interesting: In picking which dessert to drop to make room for the one we really wanted, the waiter mentioned that we had the first dessert last time we were in, so he suggested that would be the one to drop. Now, mind you, it had been a full year!

On to the wine. The wine list is a book, of course, and I prefer to pick my own rather than do pairings. Once again we wanted a bottle of white and a bottle of red. In looking over the list with the sommelier she remarked about how we had “such-and-such” wine the last time we were in, so we should try something different. Again, after a year! My wife and I concluded that they must keep records of what people order and then review them before you arrive when they see you are a repeat customer. I’ve never seen that before, and it’s pretty awesome.

For wines we decided upon a 2011 Remelluri Rioja Blanco which the sommelier said was a very interesting field blend of around a dozen grapes. Our red was also from Rioja, the 2000 Artadi Pagos Viejos.

As we always do here, we started the meal with their Iberico ham on crystal bread. Love that ham and this is a great way to eat it. (I’ve seen it in tapas bars too – thin, crispy bread with a thin smear of crushed tomato with a piece of ham.) And of course, when all over, there were plenty of sweet treats with your coffee too. One other interesting thing about the menu is that they date each item with the first year that particular item was served. Gives you a little sense of history. The food isn’t edgy or extremely innovative, it’s just good, solid, tasty food, very well made. If you like High End Fine Dining, you must try this place.

ENEKO Bilbao
Azurmendi jatetxea
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