Similar in size to Santa Barbara (population 250,000), San Sebastian is a small city on the beach located in the Basque region of northern Spain. Despite its small size, it is home to a remarkable number of world-class restaurants. There are three 3- Michelin star restaurants, one 2-star, and five 1-stars. To put that in perspective, consider the fact that there are 10 3-star restaurants in the entire US. Pretty impressive. We chose to go to Kokotxa, a small one-star restaurant located in San Sebastian’s Parte Vieja (old town).
Julian: Going into this meal at Kokotxa, I was really excited to get an innovative take on Basque cuisine. I spent 8 weeks in San Sebastian in high school, eating the every day-type food that locals eat. Iberico ham sandwiches, espelette peppers, Idiazabal cheese, Pamplona chorizo, white asparagus–so many special and unique products. I hoped this meal would capture all those flavors.
Jesse: Boooooooo. I’m currently questioning the validity of Michelin stars. I was disappointed with both the food and the service. I can make an exception for the service because the majority of their patrons were English speakers, and there was not a single employee that spoke fluent English, which I imagine would make it incredibly difficult to deliver excellent service.
Julian: Yeah, not so good. One thing that annoyed me was how they prioritized plating and prettiness of food over flavor, functionality, and authenticity. Take the bread, that they served at the beginning of the meal, for instance (which we later discovered they charged us for). The bread itself was served on a nice little wooden board. However, the piece of bread was too big for the plate. Crumbs got all over the place. And the olive oil they served with the bread was on this modern, wavy dish. Looked cool, I guess, but it was difficult to dip the bread into it. This may seem nit-picky, but it is just an example of how a lot of things went with the whole meal. Annoying.
Jesse: I think we would have been fine with how hard they were trying to make the food “art” if the food had been delicious, but it was nothing special. My ox plate was pretty to look at but the dish itself was mediocre at best. They had made a foam that was completely tasteless (one of our biggest pet peeves is doing fancy things for no reason), and shredded pistachios over the plate. But if they had not told us it was pistachio, we wouldn’t have have been able to tell what it was. Not to mention the ox was one of by far the worst-cooked piece of meat I’ve had on this trip. The crust on the outside was excellent, but there was a centimeter of gray, dry, almost chalky meat around the whole outside, while the center was almost raw. Fully chewing each bite was quite a task once all that was left in my mouth was dry chewy ox.
Julian: Lots of stupid foams, gelees, and crap like that. And the food really didn’t remind me of Basque flavors. Their menu listed a bunch of local specialties, but they didn’t really showcase those flavors. And the setting didn’t really work for me. Too quiet, no energy, not a fun place. They took themselves too seriously. One positive was the wine. We had Rioja white wine from a nearby vineyard which was really interesting. But in general, I would have rather gone to the place that our hostel-mates went for dinner, which was a much more casual place.
Foie Terrine. Food as art…but not easy to eat.
Beautifully plated octopus.
ox dish. Blah