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    Infinite Jest
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    i'm marti.

    Thanks for coming. This is me —what I'm doing, loving, and, most importantly, eating. I hope you enjoy.

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    Thursday
    Nov272014

    A Clandestine Dinner with Iñaki Aizpitarte

    There’s an ancient Asian legend in which, when you are born, the gods tie a red thread to your ankle or around your pinky finger. Then, these matchmaking gods tie the other end to your soulmate, the person you are meant to cross paths with, to find before you can find yourself. The thread can tangle, stretch, and go on for eternities, but it never breaks.

     I would like to propose the existence of a culinary equivalent….maybe a spaghetti noodle. In this version, a cursory glance at the World’s Top 50 restaurants plants a seed in the form of a name, a French name. A visit to Paris and a well-chosen Airbnb apartment that just happens to be a block from this unassuming restaurant’s facade.  A lightbulb moment…the last table available during the visit reserved…and an incredible meal at Le Chateaubriand….and before you know it, a weird link is formed between my taste memories and Iñaki Aizpitarte.  


    So of course I was doing the proverbial eye rubbing when I saw that Iñaki was coming to San Sebastián, and not for any highbrow gastronomic conference or press junket, but for an inexpensive, exclusive, sort-of-secret dinner that would explore the role of border smugglers in the bygone era of dictatorship in Basque Country.

    Perched above the old part of San Sebastián, in the Gastronomika dining society, me and 50 other people sat back and allowed him to cook for us in that txoko I know so well.


     

     

    The first dish was introduced by an old mugalari,  or "border person" in Basque, who used to smuggle foodstuffs (and who knows what else) across country lines.  Iñaki himself is an ideal chef to take on this theme, as his family is from Eibar and migrated to France, where he was raised and currently lives.  The dish was earthy, with an impressive number of both vegetables and textures, from mushroom to strange root vegetable.

    In Iñaki's cooking, both at the dinner and in his restaurant, you can see the adoption of new/international/modern techniques, but with a constant connection to his roots and his location. Enter a cooling ceviche type dish but with a straightforward green, citrus flavor.

    The meal ended with a very rustic dish, which we ate with remnants of the carcass literally staring us in the face.  Porchetta and beans, beans that had all the locals freaking out. In Basque Country, there is one bean (the Tolosa bean) and it is simply stewed, with not enough salt, in the local alkaline water.  These were THREE KINDS of beans on ONE plate (already mind blowing), and they appeared to have been picked up in loads of butter with what must have been a bushel of finely chopped herbs. I keep forgetting to make this at home. Yum.

    The whole event was put together by espacio reflex, a unique initiative in Donosti meant to promote culture and the intermingling across genres. At least, I think that's what they're meant to do...the roster of events is so varied and the site so oblique that it's hard to tell. But sign me up for all of them.

    And it would be fine if every night ended with crispy cream.

     

    Read More about Iñaki:

    How Iñaki Aizpitarte Does Lunch at Home 

    A NOWNESS video about Iñaki

    HiP Paris Review of Le Chateaubriand

    Tuesday
    Nov252014

    pintxo astearteak (tapa tuesdays)

     

    kenji:::gyozka frita (fried asian dumplings)

    Calle Mayor 4 ::Donostia-San Sebastián

    Kenji is a great spot for when you are all mayo and parsley-ed out.  An outstanding selection of pintxos and sushi, with a kind (if painfully slow) staff.

    Tuesday
    Nov112014

    pintxo astearteak (tapa tuesdays)

    rekalde taberna:::croqueta de espinacas (spinach croquette)

    Aldamar Kalea, 1 ::Donostia-San Sebastián

    Maybe I'm going a little croqueta crazy...but it's always a pleasure to find a slightly different, supremely delicious one. Especially in one of the most agreeable, authentic bars in the city.

    Tuesday
    Oct282014

    Juanito Kojua : The Parte Vieja Classic

    Do you ever just have that feeling where you are like, 'I need a break from all these pintxos, and honestly, I just want some emulsified fish fat and a value bottle of Rioja' ?

    Oh, that's not normal? Oops.

    Well, if that feeling should ever strike you, then Juanito Kojua is a great place to head.  This is an Old Town classic in San Sebastián, the kind of place that always comes up in discussions about where to sit down and dine in the old part.  From the decor of the dining room, the kind of stuff hipster garage sale dreams are made of, to the honest, parsley-driven sauces on each dish, this place is authentic. I give you example A, our off-the-menu and off-the-chain dish of hongos.

    I had never been to Juanito Kojua, a gaping hole in my culinary knowledge of San Sebastián, until my brother (look for his upcoming memoir, How To Live in a Van) came for a visit. We were wandering the streets of the Old Part, during this unseasonably warm fall, looking for a dinner place.

    On a Tuesday. And unless you are a drrrty rapper with a BFF named Drake, nothing much gets cooked on a Tuesday.  We were stuck between Juanito and Gandarias, another standard, albeit one I knew too well. Juanito it was.

    The beauty of this place is, essentially, that it follows the rules. I love light, molecular, or Frenchified touches as much as the next person. Give me a well-made vinaigrette with thyme and shallots, give me foam, give me spices.  But if you are in town to find out how the real game of Basque cuisine is played, the name of the game is Juanito.

    The cook at the helm, Juan Iturralde, is an examplary Donostiarra who took over the restaurant in the 1950s and made it a lunch spot focusing on fresh, seasonal produce and honest cooking.  And, may I point out perhaps the most glaringly real fact here? You don't stay open for 70 years in San Sebastián, through winters and summers, if locals don't frequent your restaurant.

     

    We ordered the cogote de merluza, or fish head, and it was incredibly moist and perfect, served in its sofrito of garlic.  Our waitress dutifully reminded us, eyeing her two foreign diners with suspicion, that this was a HEAD of a FISH. Yep, we know, bring it on.

    We finished the meal of with some lamb chops, checking the box off for a spot that I had heard so much about.  You pay for quality, and the best way to go is with some idea of what the specialties are.  In this case, I would keep my eye out for anything off-the-menu, as well as the kokotxas and the cogote. At which point, I would sit back and revel in the sheer Basque-ness.

    Tuesday
    Oct282014

    pintxo astearteak (tapa tuesdays)

    la espiga:::la delicia (anchovies, hard-boiled egg, mayo, parsley-onion-garlic vinaigrette)

    San Martzial Kalea, 48::Donostia-San Sebastián

    This is not just any pintxo.  This is a classic among locals of Donosti, and all the more interesting because its fame is in no way expressed on any menu or any blog. Except the yearlong exploration of Spain's best food cities, 365, by the same kind friends who took me to try it for the first time.