Among the 50 Best Restaurants in the World, the “Mecca” of upscale asadores is Etxebarri, in Atxondo-Axpe, near the larger town of Durango, half way between Bilbao and San Sebastian, in Spain. There, the timid but exceptionally knowledgeable Victor Arguinzoniz, the renowned owner and true grill master, creates the most delicious simple dishes where the ingredients play the most important role. However, he has many secrets and none, but the obvious is he willing to share.
I have been to Etxebarri half a dozen times, and always loose my way. I mean, I get lost finding it, but once there, the aromas of the wood grill welcomes us to this most magical mountain spot in the Basque Country, where I find my most memorable tastes time after time. Review our curated selection of international cuisine and luxury restaurants.
First on my list of favorites is the lusciously fatty fresh hand carved Etxebarri’s chorizo, three slices overlapping on a long piece of fresh baked bread. Served at room temperature, the full flavor melts like butter as soon as its warmed by our palate. This is the “Foie Gras of Chorizos” in Spain!
Hearty fresh baked breads arrive accompanied by a house made Smoked Butter (smoked under the coals) with an unexpected butter flavor, which can be topped—in season—with shavings of fresh Black Truffles.
Two bright red Gambas de Palamos, fresh from he Costa Brava, are perfectly grilled with nothing more than a little salt to enhance the full sweet flavor of a barely undercooked langoustine. It would be a crime to fully cook or overcook this delicacy.
A plate of soft and creamy Iberian Ham Croquetas are irresistible. These bear a nice crunch and an oozing filling, one of the best anywhere. It’s hard to have just one order, so we often have a second.
The preparation of the incredibly plumb and sweet Grilled Mussels is unexpected. To our surprise, ours came in a fresh carrot sauce with Pimenton Choricero, a mild but smoky pepper. If you think you’ve tasted mussels, wait till you savor these puffy ones bursting with the flavors of sea and hearth.
Nothing less than “fabulous” is the Grilled Egg Yolk cooked over coals with White Truffles and purple potato chips. Eggs are one of the main ingredients of Basque Cuisine, and they are well put to use in anything from pedestrian scrambles to more complex and sophisticated preparations, like Etxebarri’s Grilled and Truffle rendition.
” (vegetables) can become a whole meal if prepared and presented like they do here. Each amazing garden-picked vegetable is individually cooked to a level of perfection, and artistically served with creams, foams, micro greens and tiny edible flowers—a vegetarian dream come true!
Etxebarri’s “Plates de Resistance” (in addition to his famous Grilled Galician Beef on the Bone and its Grilled Baby Eels) is his Grilled Salted Cod. Rustic, still bearing the briny aftertaste of having being salted and dried, this reconstituted cod is for Spanish palates “simply perfection”. For others it bears and unusual texture and taste. A very delicate version of the Basque Pil Pil sauce (an emulsion made from the gelatin of fish bones, fresh garlic and olive oil) accompanies the dish.
Last but not least, we had to have the outstanding “Cabrito”. Though we were ready to explode when it arrived, we just had to eat least have half of the baby goat. It was so tender and delicious we still managed to devoured it all.
For dessert, a good ending to a full meal like this calls for something like the infused fresh berries with fresh goat cheese ice cream. But their unique Cheese Flan (a cross between a flan and a cheesecake, was something we had to have. Someone ordered the apple “Tarte Tatin,” which came with an incredible “Grilled Milk” ice cream! Yes, the milk is impregnated with the aromas of the hot coals and used to make a sumptuous ice cream that tastes like sweet cream with a smoky grilled kick! ■