We had a great tasting menu meal with a bottle of wine. It amazed us that the chef was able to coax such flavors out of the various items he grilled over wood charcoal. There were many fish courses, all grilled to a certain extent, some with more of a wood smoke flavor than the others. The large shrimp, the sea cucumber, the shellfish dishes, all were superb.
They don't speak a whole lot of English up in this part of Basque Country, but that was no barrier to making ourselves understood, and from interfering with the experience. The servers went out of their way to be helpful, and to make sure our wine selection paired up nicely. It did. (We had a young (jovenes) Rioja red that paired up nicely with both the fish courses as well as the steak).
As mentioned by others, this restaurant is off the beaten path. The town is halway up the mountains, and the dining room has a spectacular view out onto those mountains. The dining room is simple and spare, with lots of room among tables. I believe there are only twleve or so tables in the whole restaurant, so you are definitely going to get attention of the wait staff and the chef. We went for a lunch on a Sunday (and didn't get lost once driving up the fairly narrow roads with a few left and right turns thrown in), and when we arrived around 12:45 before our 1 pm reservation, church in the very small town had let out recently, and the donwstairs bar area of the restaurant was filled with a raucous crowd of locals, drinking and eating tapas for lunch.
It was a fun crowd, very animated, watching soccer on the TV and debating the value of the EU (near as I could tell). I could not figure out exactly where we were supposed to eat, but in my broken Spanish, I was able to learn from the bartendress that the dining room was not open yet, and would I like a glass of wine. So my wife and I joined in with the locals, siting in the pretty little square outside the restaurant, and waited for our reservation time to tick down.
And sure enough, at 1pm or thereabouts, when we went back in to the bar, they turned on the lights upstairs and those of us with reservations were lead upstairs to the simple, rustic, but clean and spare dining room. At 1 pm, the other 5 tables of diners were all American or Brits, but as time wore on through the afternoon, the remaining six tables filled up, mostly with Spanish people.
As I mentioned, each fish dish was great - the large heads-on shrimp and the sea cucumber stand out in my mind as extra good as were the grilled oysters. We also had a lovely piece of hake (merluza), and then an absolutely delicious, perfectly grilled (medium rare) t-bone type steak (I'm sure it wasn't an American style cut of T-bone, but it looked vaguely like that.
The only food disappointment were the two desserts which, in my book, were just average and not up to the same level as all that preceded.
It was interesting - the foodies are on to this place. A Hong Kong couple staying in Bordeaux had driven down for the day and were driving back to Bordeaux after their lunch. And a couple from London had flown down to San Sebastian for the weekend, partly to eat as Etxebari. All I can say is, it was worth our trip out from San Sebastian (about an hour and 15 minutes drive), and it was unlike any other sort of dining experience I've had. It was expensive, but not over-the-top expensive, and well-worth the cost and the drive.
- Also Known As:
- Asador Etxebarri Spain/Axpe Achondo