We have a whirlwind gourmet trip in Spain in September and we're glad we did the trip despite Covid-19 threat.
1) Extebarri--3rd visit, we managed to score a seat 3 days before our visit and the restaurant is still full. It was the best restaurant on this trip and likely my top 3 restaurant in Spain. The baby squid is in season which is magnificent. The dessert has also improved a lot , including the fame reduced smoked ice cream and the surprisingly good soufflé. We are the only foreigner in the restaurant despite it was a full house when we went. The meal had returned to it's glory and principle when i first tried back in 2018., i.e. let the ingredient shine. We have been returning to this restaurant annually.
2) Ibai-- 3rd visit, another must do for us in San Sebastian, and we have been coming here annually. The ingredient here is superb and cooking is simple yet the flavor is complex. Once again our top 3 restaurant in Spain. Highlight are chistorra, goose barnacle, and grilled baby squid.
3) La Vina pintxos--1st-visit, we finally got to try their famous basque burnt cheesecake as it was closed during our last trip. It was overall good but subpar when compare to the Japanese version of Basque cheesecake I had in Japan.
4) Txepetxa pintos- 1st visit, same as above finally get to try the famous anchovy temple that was closed on last trip. Due to covid-19, all pintxos /tapas guest has to be seated either at the bar or at the table, and applied to all other area we travelled in spain. We tried their spider crab anchovy and anchovy a la jardinera--which were good but the best anchovy we had was at Estimar in barcelona. Recommended visit.
5) Bar Ganbarra--1st visit same as above . We get to try their fame mixed mushroom a la plancha--which was great and with good aroma, and we also try their famed spider crab tart and bresse hen croquetas , which in our opinion was so so. Still a recommended visit.
6) La Chucara de San Telmo--2nd visit, our most favourites pintxos on our last trip and hence we decided to revisit, but the food quality had slipped significantly and the atmosphere is not as lively, not sure if it's due to Covid-19. We had the sea scallops and foie gras but the scallop was mushy and foie gras was bland , what a let down.
Before I continued on to other city, I must say the pintxos in san sebastian is affected much more heavily than other restaurant /bar in other spain city but the starred restaurant isn't affected as much, it was still full house for Ibai and Extebarri and 100% local customer anywhere we go except in barcelona. We can't help to notice that san sebastian pintxos is the only place where we felt pressured and unwelcome to dine in as local keep staring at us and some even left their table to stay away from us despite we wearing mask all the time and follow good hygeine protocol which dented the whole experience.
7) Bar FM( Granada)--1st visit, what a local gem despite it' away from the city centre. A family run seafood tapas bar that we absolutely love especially after a sunset visit tto Alhambra palace. Their olives is to die for and are meaty. We have local quisquillas- which is so sweet and fresh, the gamba rojas is as good as extabarri and quiqe dacosta, the tiniest local baby squid that resembles hotaru ika from Japan, the house famous deep fried aubergine and local tomatoes. The cooking is simple and they let the ingredient shine, which is top notch quality and fresh. Totally recommend
8) Piripi ( Alicante)--1st visit, initially was planning to visit L'escaleta but it was full on the day we wanted to go and ended up to this tapas place that was highly recommended by fellow chowhound on this board. After the great experince at Bar FM, the night before, we can't help to compare the two. Although, it was also famous for their seafood tapas, it's just not on par in terms of quality when comparing to the Ibai, Extebarri, Estimar and the like. We have the gamba rojas, mussels, toritila, and local fish that i had forgotten the name . We would rank it as decent and not a must visit.
9) Quiqe Dacosta ( Denia) --1st visit, the only 3 star restaurant that we tried on this trip. We went for lunch and the weather was great. Blue sky with a temperature at 25c with nice easy breeze. There was only one menu to choose. It was a wonderful experience. The atmosphere is relax and service is very attentive. The highlight dish was the corn nougat, enoki mushroom noodles, sun dried tomato, denia gambas roja ,ganouja of carob. It was the best 3 star restaurant I had tried so far in spain, better than El Celler de Can Roca or Martin Bersagui. A must visit if one is in the region.
10) Casa Carmela( Valencia)--- 1st visit, never had proper paella in spain and hence decided to give this place a try which is recommended by Maribel and other fellow chowhound. Our paella option is restricted since we arrive on Monday. We skipped the valenciana paella as we preferred seafood. We ordered seafood paella with spiny lobster and had baby squid as appetizers. The rice was tasty with good soccarat. The baby squid is so so but the dipping olive oil sauce was amazing. The portion was quite large for two of us. The rice texture was very different from the paella we had with smoked eels at Quiqe dacosta. Overall, an enjoyable lunch.
11) Estimar ( Barcelona)--1st visit I don't know why this restaurant is not recommended by a lot of fellow chowhound on this board, but it was the best restaurant we experience (food wise) in Barcelona and yes even better than Disfrutar. The seafood quality is top notch even the included anchovy appetizer which is amazing. One of the best dish we had in this trip was the crayfish carpaccio with caramelized onion ( an tribute to El bulli restaurant) . The only downside is it' very expensive since the portion is quite small. Highly recommended if you like seafood as we did, and would certainly return.
12) Brugarol ( Barcelona)--1st visit and also last visit. We were sorely disappointed despite rave review from Belkisw. We can now affirm that we have very different taste bud than Belkisw as what he recommended as being the best was the total opposite experience ( no offence to Belkisw) We were initially planned for ticket or enigma restaurant but they remained closed during our trip. We like Japanese cuisine and we travel 5 times per year to Japan for the last 2 decade until covid 19 and hence we have a huge craving for anything Japanese. As we read from both Belkisw review and their own website, that they are inspired and try to incorporate Japanese element to their tapas, we have decided to give it a try. We didn't try their tasting menu but order a la carte instead which consisted most dish on the tasting menu. There was only one flavour profile to all dish, which is sweet and sour , the chef is from south africa , and i had better tapas from South africa . The meal was just awful, the ingredient is average, the dish is not creative and sometimes, I think is just plain stupid, i could make better one at home than their chef, i really don't think the chef know what Japanese cuisine is made of. We were the only guest at lunch from start to finish whereas all other restaurant we had been to were either full house or at least 70% full. Worst meal of the trip and what a waste of the precious lunch slot.
13) Disfrutar ( Barcelona)-1st visit,and the main purpose of this trip to Spain. We got the disfrutar classic menu which consisted of 25 signature dish at Disfrutar. It was once again wonderful dining experience, the wine recommended by the sommelier was superb, ( Acusp 2017) . In terms of flavor, some hit the notes and some doesn't but we gave them 100 point in term of creativeness. One of the best molecluar cuisine we had in spain and yes, it's better than mugaritz. The opening first few dish did get us excited but then thing just get stale for the main dish before it became interesting again for the dessert. i had high expectation for one of their signature dish which is the foie gras with corn, which looks amazing but the taste profile is not what we expected , we actually preferred the corn nougat we had at quiqe dacosta. We were however wowed by the brioche with creamy caviar, walnut candy, smoked cider, tarta al whisky. We would certainly return to try out their festival menu as I think it's an exciting restaurant and things continue to evolve.
Overall, we had an amazing gourmet trip to Spain and the overall experience is much better than what we had in Paris which we also spent a few day before heading to Spain. YMMV
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