San Sebastián | Hotel María Cristina

This is one of the main reasons I want to go back to San Sebastián.

I went for a walk along Playa de La Concha our first day in San Sebastián, and there’s a point along the bay where you get the most amazing view of Hotel María Cristina. It’s beautiful in the day…

…but I like better at night when the sky is pitch black and the hotel is all lit up.

They named it after the queen of Spain and the hotel opened in 1912 during the Belle Époque. It’s opulent, but in an understated, elegant style. Currently it’s part of the Starwood-owned Luxury Collection Hotels (like

The original architect was Charles Mewès…he’s also the guy behind other Ritz hotels in Europe including the ones in Paris and Madrid.

For their 100th anniversary, the hotel received a $25M renovation (the strategy behind the Luxury Collection brand is to restore iconic hotels). And with the María Cristina they focused on enhancing all the feminine aspects of the property. Think curves, silk curtains, and marble floors.

The colors remind me of one perfect box of via]

San Sebastián | Pinxtos Gandarias and Astelena | Foie Gras a la Plancha, Foie Gras and Magret de Canard Ravioli

How beautiful is this? I would have been content sitting at one of the cafe seats (after they opened, that is ;) with endless glasses of txakoli and good conversation. Sadly there was not enough time for that sort of leisure, but I hope to return again soon.

Till then, pinxtos!

We received several recommendations for pinxtos, but wound up visiting the ones suggested to us by the owner of local travel bookstore (I’ll try dig up the name of this bookshop – so charming). There was a solo trip to Casa Urola on the first day…

…and then Gandarias and Astelena with fellow writers the second day.

Here’s the menu of hot dishes at Gandarias, all made to order.

The cold pinxtos are laid out along the bar. This one was fried cod and peppers with sautéed onions.

We ate that along with these super tender beef cheeks and peppers…

…and foie gras a la plancha. I mean, how could you not? ^_^ There was apple compote tucked underneath the foie gras and a bit of balsamic over the top.

And then it was off to Astelena.

Here all the hot dishes are displayed uncooked.

Point to the ones you want, and they whisk it off to the kitchen for a quick deep-fry.

Pistachio and potato croquettes…

…shrimp, asparagus, and jamon, wrapped and fried…

…a mix of fresh mushrooms.

The frog legs were my favorite dish of the afternoon. Here’s the before…

…and after.

And every time I see foie gras on the menu, I just *have* to have it. So! One more order of foie gras a la plancha. These guys served the baguette on the side.

And this! A giant ravioli stuffed with foie gras and . Mushroom sauce (more like a gravy) on top. Best combo ever. Not much of a looker but delicious, decadent. We also attempted to order a dish of pig’s foot stuffed with foie gras, but they ran out of the foot. All the more reason to plan a return trip.

San Sebastián | Casa Urola Jatetxea

Slipped away for a few pintxos this afternoon ^_^

We just arrived in San Sebastián and my first thought wasahhh must take a nap. I can never sleep on the plane and we had a roundabout flight that involved transfers in Munich. Jetlag, exhausted, everything. But then I realized this was my only free afternoon in the city, so off I went to Casa Urola Jatetxea in Parte Vieja.

The walk along Playa de La Concha was beautiful…perfect for some alone time.

Just a few bites to tide me over before dinner. I wish I got a photo of the bar where all the pintxos were arranged. So picturesque. My high school-level Spanish completely failed me, so it was a game of pick and smile. Each one was about 2-3€, and now that I’m looking at these photos, I regret not ordering double of everything!

Two types of anchovies (boquerones if you’re going to be picky ;), browned onions, and marinated red pepper on toast with plenty of olive oil.

Crab, shrimp, salmon, octopus…and ikura. The woman helping me called this a “seafood salad” but it was so much more.

Marinated tuna, olive, and pimentos.

Toast topped with anchovies, a quail egg, mayonaise, shrimp, and grated egg yolk.

Spain | Basque Country

I tore this article on San Sebastián from an issue of CN Traveler earlier this year.

Instead of keeping a list of destinations I hope to visit, I have a basket (it looks more like a trashcan shoved under my desk) of magazine and newspaper tear-outs and clippings. It’s good to have goals in the form of destinations. So when the Basque region of Spain asked if I wanted to cover a food and wine exhibition in San Sebastián next week the answer was an immediate, definite, yes, yes!

Am leaving this weekend, so excited. In addition to the exhibit we’re visiting several wineries, fishermen, and cheese makers. Going to stock up on idiazábal ^_^

Txomin Etxaniz and The Best Anchovies in the World

Now these are truly the best anchovies in the world.

They are not for sale. But all you have to do is make an appointment to visit Txomin Etxaniz (D.O. Txakoli) winery. The winery is located in Getaria (where Cristóbal Balenciaga is from! They even have a museum devoted to his fashion designs), a 30-minute drive from San Sebastián.

Their txakoli is easy to love. Light, slightly bubbly and on the dry side, we’ve been drinking it with every meal…breakfast included! But the anchovies.

Oh man.

After touring the winery, you can do a tasting of the wines and that’s when they pull out the anchovies. I eat plenty of anchovies on a regular basis (salad dressings, pasta sauces, and straight out of the tin), but these are in a league of their own.

They’re cured by the owner’s aunt. She makes a gigantic batch from fresh anchovies every spring which lasts throughout the year. It’s served to guests simply because they pair so well with the wine. The owner pulls the anchovies out one by one from this big plastic box, plates them, drizzles on extra olive oil and finishes it with pressed garlic. HEAVEN. They’re so meaty (canned anchovies, even the “good stuff” can often be on the mushy side). You wouldn’t call them salty, but savory and that bit of raw garlic really puts it over the time. I nearly cleared out this plate by myself.

With plenty of baguette ^_^