I recently made a week-long trip to Spain in order to expand my culinary experience. In Europe, probably the only country that matches France in terms of quality and depth of restaurants is Spain, which boasts countless Michelin stars and numerous accolades for its restaurants. One of the areas in the country where outstanding restaurants are particularly concentrated is the Basque region, and one restaurant has long been on my list is Asador Etxebarri, an institution from chef Victor Arguinzoniz who has showcased the beauty of grilled food at an in-the-middle-of-nowhere dining space 30 minutes from Bilbao. The discovery of fire has greatly enhanced the quality of human diet, and I was looking forward to exploring how the grilling technique is employed to give further delight to fresh meat, seafood and vegetable ingredients. I didn’t expect this restaurant, however, to be the ALL-TIME BEST restaurant on my KenScale list thus far. Almost everything at this restaurant just screamed perfection, from impeccable texture to modest flavor that further enhances rather than overwhelms the texture.
The restaurant offers only one tasting menu at 125 euros, which feels more like a unprecedented bargain than a splurge once the meal is over. Contrary to our popular preconception of equating grilled food with every single meat, there is only one large meat dish, with the rest consisting of vegetables and seafood. When the bread came with goat’s milk cheese and fresh cheese of buffalo honey and hazelnut, I already knew something was up. The cheese was one of the best ever I had had, and butter was not far behind.
Next came an array of vegetable dishes that were so fresh that you could think they were plucked straight from the garden, from the silky smooth tomato to pumpkin stick. The grilling at Extebarri is so subtle yet so elegant that the balance of flavor and texture is just heavenly. Seafood is not heavily grilled yet retains all the delicate, chewy feel that blew my mind. I don’t even know what sort of magic was put on the prawn but it was definitely the best I had ever tasted in my life. Baby squid with caramelized onion and its ink looks deceptively simple, but yet so sophisticated. All the ingredients together were creating a beautiful harmony that shows you don’t even need to play any tricks to have perfect squid. King bolete mushroom with aubergine was just as fantastic; again, lightly touched yet fully displaying the textural excellence. Horse mackerel and red pepper was another revelation that kept me dreaming about it to this day.
Ironically, the only slight (but not that much) letdown was the beef chop. It was just perfectly cooked, but unlike the previous dishes the seasoning was somewhat on the stronger side, making me wonder what the dish would’ve been like with a tad less salt. In any event, it is still one of the best beef dishes I’ve tasted my whole life. After a series of savory courses came desserts, which were just as splendid. My dining companion couldn’t stop raving about the reduced milk ice cream with beetroot juice that was so rich yet so fresh (and I couldn’t agree more). The final fig dessert was also subtle yet elegant as well, not overly sweet to my liking.
What really made the dining experience even more special was the wine/beer pairing, which you can get at 38 euros. The selection of Spain’s wine and homemade beer hit all the right notes and worked so well with the dishes (perfect timing as well) that what was already an outstanding meal became an all-time best quickly. The restaurant is located on a hill and getting there may not be easy unless you have an GPS. When I was driving there, my GPS directed me to unpaved roads for like 30 minutes that I was wondering whether I would ever get to this restaurant (fortunately I did and it was totally worth it!). Getting a reservation at this restaurant can be quite challenging, so I suggest booking way in advance. I was very lucky to get off the waitlist, and while I had been generally lucky with eating at restaurants in high demand, that was the best luck of my culinary experience. I liked the modest yet charming dining space inside a cozy townhouse that further enhanced my experience here. If you’re in the Basque region for a trip to Spain, Asador Etxebarri is a must-go. Trust me, you’ll not regret it!
- Creativity: 9.0/10
- Execution: 10.0/10
- Ingredients: 10.0/10
- Flavor: 9.5/10
- Texture: 10.0/10
Address: Plaza de San Juan, 1, 48291 Atxondo, Bizkaia, Spain