We are in the middle of a visit to San Sebastián, having just worked our way through two of four planned major meals, arranged with the help of the extraordinary concierge staff at the Hotel Maria Christina. This time we have taken a pass on the upper end of the city's Michelin star constellation, opting instead for local restaurants, grazing the pintxos bars and higher end meals at Elkano in Getaria and Asador Etxebarri an hour away in the direction of Bilbao.
For our first meal, we took the concierge's suggestion to try Emebe Garrote, a lovely restaurant housed in what appears to be a former winery. We liked the room, the staff and especially the food, which, while traditional, was light and driven by the market. The restaurant encourages sharing and at least half the plates could be ordered in both large and small portions. Highlights of our meal included a delicate cannelloni filled with minced pigs trotter, then sauced with mushrooms and the house baked rice, which turned out to be an intensely flavored seafood paella served at the table in a cast iron pot. Our dessert, a chocolate soufflé with house made ice cream was also delicious and there were nice touches like amuse bouche and good friandises.
The next day we ventured to Asador Etxebarri for lunch. This was our second meal at the restaurant and every bit as good as our first. As do most customers, we ordered the tasting menu, which consists of some fifteen small plates. Everything is made at least in part on the grill and there are quite literally no flaws. Some plates are standard throughout the year, including a rib steak and grilled prawns, while others are seasonal. Among the latter this time were a cup of exquisite spring peas and another of roasted white asparagus. Two seasonal seafood items also were especially good: baby scallops cooked on the grill and little pastry cones filled with minced spider crab.
A meal at Etxebarri takes three or four hours. Service and wine service is efficient and friendly. The setting, a glorious, airy room in what might have been an old mill is charming. Don't miss Etxebarri if you plan to be in San Sebastián.