If there is one truly special culinary experience that the Basque Country offers, it is the sagardotegi or cider house, of which Petritegi is a prime example. As one of the region’s oldest traditional beverages, cider is often produced and consumed all on the same grounds. Once the apples are grown, harvested and pressed, the product is barreled in large drums. It is then shot from the spout directly into a serving glass at a meter’s distance, heightening the drink’s fruity aromas. Surrounded by apple orchards in the heart of cider country, Petritegi offers visitors the true sagardotegi experience. It is set within a dining room featuring wood beamed ceilings, long dining hall style benches, antique wrought iron chandeliers, and massive cider barrels spanning the walls. The establishment has been producing cider in its old farmhouse since the 16th century, and tours of the larger premises are available to visitors. Cider at Petritegi is enjoyed alongside an indulgent, traditionally Basque meal featuring cod omelette, fried cod with peppers, t-bone steak, and a desert of cheese, quince jelly, walnuts, and biscuits.
Sidrería Zelaia is a family-run operation, with owner José Antonio Gaincerain’s wife Nati producing the hearty T-bone steaks in a charcoal grill and daughter Oihana acting as hostess. The Gaincerain family keeps up to date with contemporary cider production practices, but continues to preserve the classic cider house experience. A particularly charming detail is the use of a peg rather than the more modern tap to halt and and release the flow of cider from the barrels, or kupelas, when serving to diners. Rich cherry-colored woods dominate an interior presided over by a charming beamed ceiling, while the complete absence of chairs encourages guests to mingle.
Currently in its fourth generation of management by a single family, records suggest that the Altzueta Sagardotegia has been distributing its fine natural cider since at least 1876. Guests to the cider house convene in a typical Basque farmhouse which, although renovated in recent years, maintains a character that speaks to its layered history. Altzueta opens for dinner following the autumn harvest for the spigot or txotx season, which begins in January and runs through April. During this period the kitchen serves up the classic cider house menu with coal fired steaks, cod omelettes, fried cod as well as nuts, cheeses and quince, while groups stand around the kupelas sampling the year’s finest ciders. For the remainder of the year, Altzueta sells only bottled cider.
What tapas are to the rest of Spain, pintxos are to the Basque region. These small plates are celebrated as a vital part of the local culture and are typically consumed in bars or taverns accompanied by a locally produced white wine or a small bottle of beer. Literally translating as ‘to pierce’, pintxos are often held together with a toothpick, but as Basque cuisine has evolved, these small plates take on more varied forms. San Sebastian is the most famous Basque city for pintxos, and diners will typically embark on a pintxos crawl, visiting several bars in a single evening. Bar Ganbara is one popular stop. Located in the Parte Vieja neighborhood, Bar Ganbara takes typical Basque ingredients such as cod, anchovies, peppers and jabugo ham and elevates them to new heights. At prime pintxos time, from early to late evening, the bar’s counters are piled high with a fabulous display of fresh dishes, among which are the popular hot-out-of-the-oven croissants with jamón.
Antonio Bar gives top priority to the freshness of its pintxos, preparing the dishes as they are ordered rather than in bulk. In addition, the restaurant has established a strong relationship with its trusted suppliers and creates its dishes according to the seasons, using only the highest quality products. Just as Antonio Bar values its rapport with its business partners, so too does it place a great amount of importance on creating a welcoming atmosphere for its clients. Friendly service is considered among its top assets. Sauteed mushrooms with egg yolks and foie and wagyu carpaccio with parmesan and truffle oil are some of the specialities to be found here.
In the 1970s Basque Country underwent a culinary revolution when chefs responded to the innovation of French chefs by creating their own form of nouvelle cuisine Basque. The dishes created under this new radical approach are highly original and comparatively delicate, yet continue to take advantage of the age old flavors of the Basque region. As one of the pioneering establishments of this new approach to cooking, Arzak is an absolute legend of Basque dining. The restaurant is run by father-daughter team Juan Mari Arzak and Arzak Espina, who was voted World’s Best Female Chef in 2012. Although diners here can also order a la carte, the restaurant is most famous for its tasting menu. Surprising combinations such as the marinated sardine with strawberry, a savory cone of yucca plant filled with foie gras mousse, or chocolate with citrus and basil ice cream will be sure to entertain.
Andra Mari Restaurant is a rustic Basque farmhouse establishment with a sense of refinement which sits perfectly within the natural landscape of Bizkaia-Galdakao. Established in 1964, the restaurant was opened in the lower part of the Asua family home, while keeping the basement open as a local tavern. Andra Mari has since come to be recognized as a prime example of high-end Basque cuisine. Dishes are prepared using the finest and freshest of seasonal produce, meat and fish in order to create the most true-to-tradition dishes. Roasted young pigeon on fruits compote with anisette and stewed polenta and roasted monkfish with octopus, potato and paprika sautee are two of the excellently prepared choices on offer here.
Martín Berasategui is a Michelin star chef who is completely immersed in his one true passion. According to Berasategui, it is not terribly complicated to produce excellent food, you just need to understand how to best take advantage of the products at your disposal. Unsatisfied with anything less than the perfect combination of ingredients, the chef has been creating extraordinary dishes for the past 35 years. Items such as sautéed black garlic with beet ceviche, ice radish and raifort cream or roast pigeon and onion with Iberian pig’s snout, ginger juice and caper can be found on the tasting menu. They are all accompanied by a listing of the year in which it was first featured. Set in the midst of the idyllic countryside, large floor-to-ceiling windows in the dining room provide guests with a serene environment in which to enjoy their meal.
Restaurant Abarka is just as concerned with the dining ambience as it is with the quality of its cooking. Committed to engaging all five of the senses, guests can enjoy the pleasant aromas and delicious flavors of contemporary Basque cuisine while sitting comfortably in the cozy country farmhouse for an all around pleasant experience. The chefs at Abarka enjoy shopping for their seasonal products at the local market, which they do on a daily basis. Taking advantage of the Basque Country’s position between the sea and the mountains, the restaurant serves up high quality meat and fish in equal proportion.
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