Etxebarri: Less is More

**Apologies in advance for the lack of quality in the pictures. I had taken the pictures with my camera but lost the memory card and could only rely on the low-quality camera functions of a phone.

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Less is More, I believe that’s the secret to success of this little institution. Every time I come here, I feel there’s one word that fits my meal. An experience, that’s what I’d call it. An experience that never ceases to amaze me.

Just to get here, the day starts early. I got up at around 10.30am (ok maybe not so early) and had to gage around 1 hour and a half worth of drive (time being lost included). I knew this was going to be an interesting drive, GPS obviously in hand. Up the winding road we went, lost in the hills of what seemed to be a never-ending drive. This was my third time at this institution in the last 2 years and was happy to share another experience with my mother. Axpe, the town in which the restaurant is located; is a sleepy almost ghost-like town bounded by a church, a playground and what seems as your run-in-the-mill restaurant all located in the middle of a valley of mountains. You find the sign for Etxebarri, park your car, walk across the parking lot and feel that apart from you, there is no one else there. Where did the people go?

Enter the doors of the stone-built house and you find yourself in the middle of what seems a party, a party attended by various people, who know each other from what seems as years and years. Grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers, mothers, children, cousins, friends, the like, all huddled around the bar, chewing on chorizo and bread, perhaps some cured anchovies too. The elders chatting to each other over a martini rojo on ice with a orange slice. “I’m in the wrong place”, I told myself. Though I knew I wasn’t, since I have been here before. I guess it never ceases to amaze me, how local Etxebarri is. The waitress, watching me from a distance knows I’m from not around here and guides me upstairs. Perhaps no foreigner has never stayed downstairs mingling with the locals, and instead asks for the ‘real’ Etxebarri upstairs. Though is it the real one? That’s another debate for another time.

Escorted upstairs, the environment, the air changes. It is quiet and not rowdy, the room is brightly lit, the crisp white linens of the table are perfectly ironed and you are now sitting among the 10 tables that will be enjoying the meal today.

We had only picked one bottle of white wine to accompany the meal, something light, dry as it was quite hot that day – which we found quite fitting to the meal. There was again the degustation menu of the day or the a la carte pick, but opted for the degustation menu at the low-price 125 euros.

With a unique craft of la brasa (grill), the menu showcases seasonal and fresh ingredients all coming in contact with local oakwood before it hits the plate. The remoteness of the restaurant also enhances the experience – both remote and adventurous with Mount Anboto lying in the background.

The courses start off light and crisp and the flavours and produce enhance in grade, and intensity as the meal continues on.

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Starting with a Cepe mushroom tart which seemed fairly simple, almost cleansing your palate before you start the meal and exuding just a touch of contact with the oak.

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Next, a few slices of house-cured chorizo, smoked goat’s butter with black salt and a huge chunk of home-made bread, smoked home-made mozzarella that melted in your mouth and an anchovy-spread open on toast.

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The flavors stronger, fattier, saltier – just the right combination and just a tease to what is to come.

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All these snacks are served almost simultaneously, giving the guest a feeling of likeable discontrol of where to dig in next. A bit of goat’s butter here, how about an anchovy toast, and let’s get back to that chorizo! The meal then hits a pause, paving way to the entrees.

A seasonal dish that came next was a dish I only tried one other time in my life, and it was in this same place where I tried it and it was better than the first time: goose barnacles.

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I remember, a few years back, seeing them in a french market and not knowing what it was, I decided to call them dinosaur feet. Fitting, I know but hey, that was my means to an end. I only ever tried them a year and a half ago, eating at Etxebarri for the 1st time and absolutely fell in love. I think I fell in love once more. I like working on the product to get to the food, the part where you most enjoy and eating goose barnacles is exactly that.  We had to peel off a gray layer of interlocking fibers resembling fabric, which squirted orange ocean-flavored juice onto our tablem leaving an embarassing mess but, exposing the delicious neck of the crustacean.

A smoked oyster arrives on a plate molded by an oyster as well.

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Open sesame, the smell of smoked algae whiffs your nose and with that first bite, the soft buttery texture melts in your mouth, and the fattyness is dissipated by the clean seaweed broth.

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The next dish that comes was a dish I was looking forward to and knew was going to come up on the menu fairly early….Gambas de Palamos, heralded to be the best prawns in the world; I dirty my index and thumbs just ripping the juicy heads off and suck the brains out (this is the best part),  before indulging on their sweet yet smokey flesh. This dish itself is an experience and you can notice the pleasure from all guests from this dish. Oohs and aahs are heard across the room.

The next dish was quite surprising to me, it is something that I grew up eating and never thought it would hit the table in Spain here. Espardena con habitas (Sea cucumber with green beans).

What an odd combination I thought to myself. But here, nothing is random, all is specifically picked for the meal and wow did this surprise me. Tasting more like a scallop, but meatier, this one was grilled and served with baby fava beans and a fava flower.

Next, pulpito a plancha (baby squid with caramelized onions). I loved how they serve it whole, with both head and tentacles.

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They were not  chewy and very strong in seafood flavor but was lightened by the sweetness of the onions. Just right.

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Such a strong intensity of flavor was going to be hard to beat but we got a palate cleanser of seasonal mushrooms and a green pea soup.

ImageCrunchy, popping in your mouth yet, lightly cooked and served in a fresh and clean broth, all the fattiness and smokeyness were wiped right off the palate. A good change to the usual granite.

We were suppose to have Bacalao (or codfish) on the menu but were proposed something more delectable from the sommelier. Kokotxas, Cod cheek, a traditional dish in basque country, one of the best I have had.

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The last savoury food was the most anticipated and the most filling – chuleta steak, lightly grilled on the fire and accompanied by a onion and greens salad. I couldn’t eat another bite but chowed down a few and left some sort of space for dessert.

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A smoked strawberry-like smoothie, an elderberry yoghurt, the notable smoked milk ice-cream and some petit fours ended the meal. Though, to be honest, they weren’t the most memorable of the meal – apart from the all-time favorite smoked milk’s ice-cream, you can never go wrong there.

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All of which were very light compared to the produce and flavor-rich meal and something I ever much appreciated and wished for.

It was pure, simple yet simply delicious and yet again an unforgettable meal. Made by a chef who doesn’t mind the ever-changing dining crowd, Arguinzoniz sticks to his own, to what he knows and loves and continues to produce in food some of the greatest and strongest flavours I will ever have tasted in my lifetime. It’s all about the produce….it’s really all about the produce.

And now, for the drive home….soul replenished, gut-filled and happy.

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Comments
One Response to “Etxebarri: Less is More”
  1. DG18 says:

    Fantastic

    Sent from my iPad

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