Etxebarri…Round 2

No trip in northern Spain would be complete without a visit to Asador Etxebarri in the tiny leafy village of Axpe, about 45 minutes west out of San Sebastian (en route to Bilbao). You might recall a first visit on my behalf, a couple of months ago. I remember being wowed in the cold winter weather, warming myself by the chimney and smokey food.

This time around though, the sun was shining and summer officially started. A second visit to see Masterchef Victor Arguinzoniz on the grills was imminent. The trip to Asador Etxebarri is an experience on itself. I remember I would have to pass by mountains and forests but forgot how narrow the roads were to the 70 people village of Axpe. Right in the main square between a church and a playground, you will find one of the world’s 50 best restaurants’ number 31 this year, ahead by 19 spots compared to last year.

With this new ranking, I decided to pay a visit with friends to see how more amazing the food could be. Could or would it beat my first visit? Different setting, different ingredients, different service, all seemed more modern than the last time I was there but what remained authentic is his highly skilled technique of cooking on burning woods.

The degustation…

There’s also a daily ingredients menu from where you can choose lobster to clams, to shrimp salad (all smoked of course), aside from the menu. We just could not resist.

Jugo de guisantes (Pea juice)

It appeared fairly unamusing, as one would imagine pea juice to be, but one sip from this glass and bam! Wow…freshness, smokiness, drinking fresh peas. Simple and beautiful

Chorizo

Home-made. No complaints here. Smooth with some spices. But, nothing out of the ordinary Basque tradition.

Mozzarella de Bufala (Mozzarella cheese)

I am not a fan of cheese, and am proud to say it but this might have been the best mozzarella cheese I have ever tasted. A little watery on the inside, but soft like marshmallow and a strong taste of freshly made mozzarella. 

Mantequilla de Cabra (Goat’s butter) – off the menu

This came early on in the meal. A thick slab of smoked goat butter with fresh mushroom shavings, ash salt and on grilled bread. How simplicity is decadent. What a texture melting in your mouth, echoing lard on a toast. Pure beauty.

Percebes (Goose Barnacles)


I only became familiar with them the week before in a pintxo bar in San Sebastian but the experience I had eating them the first time could not even compare to this experience. These prehistoric-looking shellfish were smokey and fresh, taste of pure sea.

Ostra (Oyster)

Great colored oyster

Smooth as butter

Gambas de Palamos (Palamos prawns, arguably the best in the world)

Large Palamós prawns, kissed by the fire and generously salted. The flesh melted in your mouth, the juices sucked from the head of the prawn were intensely flavored. Hands down, the best. Better than last time?

Anchoas a la salazon (Salt-cured anchovies) – off the menu

Very salty and strong, just as a cured anchovy would taste like. Great intensity.

Pulpitos (Baby Octopus)

Baby octopus, not as strong flavored as the prawns but with the speck of squid ink painted on the plate, were delicious on their own.

Revuelto de Zizas (Mushroom and eggs)

I thought I would get an omelette but found myself in front of a creamy grilled egg yolk oozing at the prick of my fork and served with delicious mushrooms.

Guisantes (Peas)

More? Yes more….This one much stronger with smokey and crunchy peas.

Mero (Grouper)

Txuleta (Galician beef chop grilled to the bone)

Wait…there’s more? At this point, I could not get out of my seat but when I saw this juicy looking piece of meat before my eyes, I obviously had to grab a bite..or two..and perhaps naw on the bone a bit. Served with a small side of salad and sharp vinaigrette. Got to have your vegetables!

Helado de leche reducida (Reduced sheep’s milk ice-cream)

Also one of the best ice creams I have ever had. Sitting on a berry infusion, it was silky smooth and a palate cleanser.

Fresas a la brasa con helado de savia de abeto (Grilled strawberries with sap-fir ice-cream)

Fresh-looking strawberries that turned out to be warm and smoked. Sap fir ice-cream? This was definitely a first. 

The crisp and chilled wine to accompany the fantastic meal…

Muffin for the road…

The dishes feature one or very few components, letting their freshness, natural taste shine in smokey texture and smell. Amazing. Definitely better than my first visit. Absolutely memorable and happy times with great friends.

A traditional method of cooking resulting in a high-class experience. Definitely worth the detour from the San Sebastian-Bilbao route.

Asador Etxebarri

Address: Plaza San Juan 1, 48291 Axpe-Marzana, Atxondo-Bizkaia, Spain
Telephone: +34 9465 83042
 
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