Arzak (San Sebastián-Donostia, Spain)

Three Michelin Stars.  #8 restaurant in the world.

In the past two years, I have had the opportunity to eat at restaurants with a combined Michelin total of 28 stars. It is an expensive hobby, or passion, if you will.  But as I have said many times before, I cherish every meal, from the deli chicken and cheese sandwich with potato chips I had while writing this to the wonderful dinner at Arzak.

The Michelin guide defines three starred restaurants as follows: "Three stars reward exceptional cuisine where diners eat extremely well, often superbly. Distinctive dishes are precisely executed, using superlative ingredients. Worth a special journey."  Le Bernadin, Per Se and Arzak clearly meet that qualification.  And in a way, ranking the upper echelons of restaurants is meaningless.  I loathe to compare fine dining to art, but is a Rothko better than Picasso better than Warhol better than Pollock?  They are all great, in their own unique way.  Similarly, Per Se or Le Bernadin or Arzak?  While one may have certain preferences, it is simply not possible to rank them.

Nonetheless.  I am biased against Le Bernadin because I am not a big fan of fish.  Even if it is damn good fish.  Per Se, the food was a bit better overall than Arzak.  Though the ambiance at Arzak was easily my favorite.

The Menu

To drink: Billecart Salmon Blanc de Blanc

Appetizers

Kabrarroka pudding with kataifi

Red codfish

Chorizo with tonic

Beans, bacon and chestnut

Sunflower seeds with arriatxiki

Cromlech, manioc and huitlacoche

Crispy manioc hydrated with huitlacoche stuffed with a preparation of onion, green tea and foie gras

Hemp, mustard and lobster

Sautéed lobster served with crispy hemp bread and mustard vinaigrette

Ovo-lacto

Egg with semi-crunchy shell and baobab accompanied by "lactic leaves" and curds

Monkfish with green witch

Monkfish served wit crispy green balloon

Duck with soy

Roasted mallard duck serviced with several varieties of soy

The cocoa forest

Chocolate log with fruits and licorice

Playing marbles with chocolate

Marbles of chocolate served with amaranth and oregano sauce

Black apple

Sautéed apple finalized with the aspect of a truffle and apricot

The food, clearly exquisite.  Even more impressive - the tasting menu had choices.  We could change any dish we did not like, and if we had any taste preferences they would adjust for them.  One of my dining companions had some dietary limitations due to religion, and they remade dishes for him to adjust. In a way, they were overly accommodating on food preferences.   And it was very refreshing.

Lastly, both Elena & Juan Mari Arzak greeted us at the table.  They were wonderful.  Genuine, funny, gracious.  I would go back just to speak with them again.  They reminded me of Texans. No overly arrogant chefs.  Just, great.