Stopping at the first pintxos place we saw was the first thing we did in San Sebastian. It wasn't memorable. Then we stumbled upon Beti-Jai, where every morsel of food we got off the table was tasty. B also ordered the gambas ajillo (garlic prawns), which was so good that we would eventually come back again for another round.
Ibon and fengshui
Pension Iturriza was in the perfect location for exploring San Sebastian's pintxo bars. The room was nice and quite spacious, and the shower very powerful and drained fast. Apparently, everything in the apartment was designed around fengshui principles.
When Ibon, the proprietor, gave us a list of places to eat - there was even a recommendation on what to order at each place - we were overjoyed. Immediately, we set off on a pintxo bar hunt and were rewarded with some very good food at Gambarias, Gambara and Tamboril.
Over the coming days, we were to experience more great food.
At La Cuchara de San Telmo, the costilla (ribs), carrillera (cheeks), fua (liver, as in foie) and pulpo were sublime. We were expecting nothing less, as the chef used to train with Ferran Adria of El Bulli fame.
A Fuego Negro was fun, interesting, and clever. Give the 'paloma, tiro, pum!' a go (it translates to dove, shot, pum!). I think the meat is pigeon but whatever it was, it tasted great. The humorous presentation was a bonus. B loved the 'y una huevo', a foamy egg with mushroom and jamon bits.
For a good txuleta (steak), Nestor is the place to go. According to Ibon, he used to go there with his grandfather, and the place hasn't changed one bit. All the waiters were very friendly.
The txuleta was served very rare, which is the way I prefer my steaks but B doesn't like her food bloody so she didn't enjoy it very much. A pair of Colombians standing beside us later showed us how we could 'un-bloody' the meat by cooking it on the hot plate so it wasn't so red, but it was already too late - our plate had gone cold.
"I could live like that," I said, as we stood outside by the bar window eating the txuleta and tomates.
"Me too," said B.
I ended up eating most of the 800-gram steak on my own and by the time I'd finished, most of the other bars were closing. B wasn't very happy about that as she'd been wanting to have gambas all night.
...and more eating
If it sounds like this trip was all about eating, that's because it was. The next day after checking out, we resumed our bar-hopping straight away. First, squid and prawn fritters at Paco Bueno, which always looked closed to us, even when it was open. Next, some pimientos at La Cueva, then to Beti-Jai again where B's craving for gambas from the night before was finally satiated.
We also made a stop at Borda Berri, where we asked for 'bomba rice', but the waiter didn't know what we were talking about.
At La Viña there was an award winning dish, canutillo de queso y antxoa. This was a creamy cheese and anchovy wrap. It was a taste of heaven. B also had the revuelto de hongos, essentially scrambled eggs with mushrooms, but like no scrambled eggs we've had before.
We were very full after all that food, so we had a last walk around the town before heading off for our bus ride to Bilbao.
During the two-and-a-half days we'd been in San Sebastian, we had visited 11 pintxo bars in all, some of them more than once. Needless to say, we were a bit sad to leave all that fabulous food behind.
If you haven't had the good fortune of meeting Ibon, here's his list of recommended pintxo bars:
In Parte Vieja (old town)
- Txepetxa (c/ Pescaderia no. 5) - antxoas, pintxo de txangurro
- Zeruko (c/ Pescaderia no. 10)
- La Cuchara de San Telmo (c/ 31 de Agosto no. 28) - foie, carrillera, costilla)
- Borda Berri (c/ Fermin Calbeton no. 12) - foie, carrillera, risotto
- A Fuego Negro (c/ 31 de Agosto no. 31)
- Gandaria (c/ 31 de Agosto no. 23) - txuleta, cordero, pescado, brocheta de gambas
- La Viña (c/ 31 de Agosto no 3) - pastel de queso, canutillo
- Tamboril (c/ Pescaderia no 2) - pimiento relleno
- La Cueva (c/ 31 de Agosto no. 42) - guindillas fritas
- Bide Bide (c/ 31 de Agosto no. 22)
- Gambara (c/ San Jeronimo no. 19)
- Nestor (c/ Pescaderia no. 11) - txuleta, tomate, guindillas, Ibericos, queso
- Bernardo (c/ Puerto no. 7) - pescados, mariscos
- Iturrioz (c/ Alabar no. 12)
- Meson Martin (c/ Elcano no. 7)
- Paco Bueno (c/ Mayor no. 6) - gambas, calamares, tortillas
In Gros (new town)
- El Lagar (c/ Zabaleta no. 55) - gran variedad de vinos, huevos estrellados, ensaladas templadas
- Mil Catas (c/ Zabaleta no. 55) - gran variedad de vinos, ensalada de txangurro
- La Bodeguilla (c/ Peña y Goñi no. 13) - gilda, jamon
- Bergara (c/ General Arteche no. 8)
- Patio de Ramuntxo (c/ Peña y Goñi no. 10)
- Casa Senra (c/ San Francisco no. 32) - tabla de quesos, tabla de Ibericos, pescado