Kitchen Monkey has returned to the U.S., and now that he's back in the states (with access to english-style keyboards) there will at long last be some posts that do justice to the amazing dining experiences in France and Spain.
Let's start, or resume, with San Sebastian. San Sebastian must be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and is certainly one of the greatest meccas for foodies. The above picture is the view from the Monte Urgul, looking toward Monte Igueldo, the two mountains that stand as sentries to the port of San Sebastian (along with the small island you see between them, graced with a light house). From the top of either mountain you can see the city of San Sebastian spread out to the south, and the Bay of Biscay to the north. A hike to the top of Monte Urgul will bring you to Castillo de la Mota, a fortress built by Napoleon's army to guard the city (after they had taken it). Here is Kitchen Monkey checking out one of the original cannons still at the fort.
For those of you who don't know, San Sebastian is in the Basque country, which envelops both southwestern France and northern Spain. The Basque identity is particularly strong in Spain, where a small but very vocal minority of Basques support separation from Spain, and while most of them don't support the terrorist tactics of ETA, there is plentiful evidence of the Basque effort to maintain their identity. The face of one building that bore a large Spanish flag had been splattered with red and yellow paint.
Below is the tapas menu, or pintxos if you're Basque (pronounced "peen-choes,") at La Cuchara de San Telmo, which my friend Liz, who grew up in San Sebastian, swears is the best tapas place in town. Between myself and my two companions, we tried almost everything, and some of the items, especially the lamb paté croquetas, were nothing short of amazing. Also good was the roasted rabbit slices and the duck with pato asado (I don't remember what pato asado means).
Liz had been going on about how good fried fresh anchovies were, but that they weren't currently available because of overfishing (if I remember correctly). However, the next day we found a great restaurant, La Cepa, which had them on the menu. For my first course I had a very creamy crab mousse (pastel de txangurrol) served with a delicious home made mayonnaise. The anchovies (antxoas fritas) were fried in little more than garlic and olive oil, and bore almost no resemblance in flavor to the canned salty affair that occasionally adorns American pizzas. So tasty.
Finally, on my last night in San Sebastian, Liz's father took us out to dinner at a fantastic restaurant called Aita Mari (which means Father Mari in Basque). We all shared a couple bottles of delicious regional wine, some succulent jamon iberica that far outdid any prosciutto I've ever had, and for the main course I had the angler fish, also very good. But what really excited me about the meal was a complimentary starter, a very small but unbelievably rich and tasty nettle bisque. I've never cooked with nettles before, but I'm determined to locate some and find a recipe so that I can try (and, I assume, fail) to replicate what is really probably the best soup I've ever had.
If you're lucky enough to ever go to San Sebastian, I reccomend all three places, especially La Cuchara. Also, if you eat at Aita Mari, try to get a table with a view of the port. Tomorrow, a bit about Montpellier & Avignon.
La Cuchara de San Telmo
C/31 Abosto, 28 Bajos, (Trasera)
San Sebastian, Spain 20003
Bar La Cepa
31 de Agosto, 7-9, Parte Vieja
San Sebastián-Guipúzcoa, Spain 20003
C/ Puerto 21-23
San Sebastian, Spain 20003