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Restaurants & Bars 13

Spain Trip Report - Madrid, Barcelona, San Sebastian, Bilbao

kickerconspiracy | Jan 21, 201710:37 PM

My wife and I were on our honeymoon, and had a three week trip in Spain where we tried to hit as many culinary highlights in the cities we visited as possible. Here's a run down:

Madrid:
DiverXO - infuriating reservation process - you follow Chef Dabiz on Twitter and then pretty much wait for him to announce the reservations for the next several months. Fortunately, I started early and I think we got our September res in May or June. The restaurant itself was pretty great though the presentation was overly theatrical. Seafood heavy menu - everything was excellent, the desserts most of all.

Shout out to our hotel, Hotel Orfila, who gave us a free bottle of champagne in our room, and had a jamon iberico buffet tray at the hotel breakfast. So good.

Barcelona:

Tickets - unbelievable on every level. We have a handful of the Jose Andres restaurants in our backyard (Baazar, e, etc), but this was another level. So many great dishes. Air baguette, smoked oysters, octopus, and of course the liquid olives. We ended up booking the "Tickets Experience" instead of waiting through the reservation process and I don't think it was really that much more expensive than if we ordered a la carte.

Tapas 24 - We had lunch reservations at Disfrutar but I think overslept them. This was not a Michelin rated place but this was around the corner from our hotel and was excellent. I especially liked their take on ceviche which was plated on individual crisps. Wife liked the mussels a lot. We should have gone back a second time.

Celler De Can Roca - was able to get reservations by emailing them (admittedly a year in advance) after I was unable to book during their open reservations window. 3 months later they contacted me saying they had a date in late September available and we pretty much planned our whole trip around this reservation. It was exquisite - I don't know how much more can be said. Every part of the experience was great. We were a little early so we had complimentary cava from the Roca brothers private label on their patio (which looks a lot like the French Laundry, I wonder if it was modeled after it). Once seated, every course was fantastic. My most vivid memory was of a mid-meal bite that was olive sorbet. Also one of the courses is scallops in albarino foam. My wife liked a dessert "orange colorology" which was a golden sugar sphere when cracked had freeze dried ice cream.

Vila Viniteca - ham paradise. It's like a Spanish Dean and Deluca. We had them hand carve some jamon iberico bellota for us and they vacuum sealed some we brought back for friends and family. Definitely worth hunting down.

Also, don't sleep on Sagrada Familia. I'm not religious and it was nevertheless incredible. Probably the highlight of the trip.

San Sebastian

My wife's favorite. Its kind of sleepy - reminded me of the Carmel/Pebble Beach area. We had a really great bike tour, I think through Viator, where you ride all over the city and they tell you all the history. It was pretty fantastic.

Pinxtos - We also had a Pinxtos tour put on by our hotel (Maria Cristina). The tour took us through 7 or 8 of the curated Pinxtos bars and we had 2 or 3 things at each along with drinks at each bar. Reserved seating/service at each - I think it was about $100/each. It was great. We revisited a lot of our favorites the next several days. Atari (octopus) and Bar Sport (calamari) were my favorites. My wife liked La Vina where they had incredible cheesecake and we were taught the local tradition of ordering a port and soaking it. We also made it over to Gros which all the places there were just as good.

Mugaritz - the only place where we were disappointed. Though the food was technically crazy - they have 40 chefs in 3 kitchens, no table has the same exact courses, it felt cold and clinical. Felt like it was a triumph of style over substance. We were impressed, but not satisfied. I think I went out to the Pixto bars after while my wife stayed in.

Ibai - this place was fantastic. Recommended from Chowhound I think. Its a hole in the wall. We had to get our concierge to call for reservations for us. They only take cash and speak virtually no English, but everything we had was phenomenal. One of the early courses was cochles which were recommended by the next table and were unusual and exquisite. Also, the wine is not marked up at all. One of the bottles we had was Alion from Ribero del Duero, and it's more expensive to buy it online than we paid at the restaurant.

Martinez - this is up on Mt. Montjuic. Worth a trip if you are already headed that way. We had oysters, paella, and super good sangria.

Also, Hotel Maria Cristina is the truth. The most comfortable bed in which I've ever slept. Expensive but worth it.

Bilbao

Asador Extebarri - the most extraordinary of all the restaurants, made even more incredible that everything is grilled and Chef Victor Arguinzoniz touches virtually every dish. He's not some globetrotting jackass with designs on opening up a restaurant empire, If he's not there, the restaurant is not open. Really beyond comparison. Grilled oysters with smoked caviar, and squid were the standouts. The steak and salad (the final savory course - its a giant Tomahawk steak) was also fantastic. We were able to meet the Chef and he couldn't have been more humble. If you are at all waffling on trying to fit Extebarri in, definitely go for it.

Azurmendi - this was my wife's favorite. The location and the staging of the meal is especially awesome. You meet in the lobby for small bites, then head to this dreamlike 'greenhouse' to continue (I want to say one of the courses there was savory cotton candy - I wish there was more of it), and then finally to the dining room perched high above the street in an all glass shell for the meal. My favorite was this tomato salad that also arrived with tomato sorbet which was incredible. There was also a course that was lobster in lobster emulsion with lobster "glass" that was both showy and super yummy.

That's it - for more photos check out my instagram at @guest_informant

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