Dining in Spain: Azurmendi***

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Azurmendi is a restaurant in a futuristic building by the freeway near Bilbao in the Basque country in Spain. The restaurant of chef Eneko Atxa has three Michelin stars and ranks highly on the World’s 50 best restaurants and Opinionated about dining. As we were visiting the Basque country, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to eat here. The restaurant is mostly open for lunch (which in Spain starts late, around 1:30pm) and you can only make a reservation two months in advance.

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From the restaurant you have a great view on the valley below, or as in our case, on our RV in the parking lot below.

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A visit to Azurmendi starts with the welcoming picnic in the greenhouse/garden entrance of the restaurant.

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It includes a garden vegetables cake, smoked eel sandwich, and a caipirinha-inspired sphere filled with the local white wine txakoli. A glass of the latter was served with this.

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This is followed by a visit to the kitchen, where all the kitchen staff greet the guest.

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The kitchen is bustling with organized activity.

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In the kitchen we got ‘hazelnuts’ with chocolate and a hibiscus infusion.

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Then we continued to the greenhouse, where the first thing to sample was morokil, a local drink made from corn with a magnificent corn flavor.

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Next were herb cookies and cheese…

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…followed by asparagus ‘cotton’. The cotton was coated with white asparagus powder.

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The final ‘amuse bouche’ in the greenhouse was a mushroom leaf, crispy with an intense flavor of dried porcini mushrooms.

The amuse bouche were all very nice and this was a nice way of serving them. 10/10

In the restaurant we had the choice between two menus, Erroak with 11 classic dishes (145 euros), or Adarrak with 14 seasonal dishes (175 euros). We opted for the first one; as it was our first visit it made sense to try the classics. No real wine pairing is offered, but wines by the glass are suggested that go reasonably well with the dishes (2 white, 1 red, 1 sweet).

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The menu starts with frozen olive and vermouth. The ‘olive’ has an outstanding olive flavor.

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Next is egg from the restaurant’s hens, cooked inside out and truffled. A nice explosion of flavors. 9/10

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One of the best dishes of the menu: spider crab with emulsion and infusion of the same. An amazing strong crab flavor, without overdoing it. 10/10

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Cauliflower with fried eggs and truffle. Different textures of cauliflower: roasted, a very smooth puree, spheres, and as ‘caviar’. Very nice, especially if you like cauliflower. 10/10

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Roasted lobster with herbs oil and chives. The combination of lobster and chives works very well. The lobster had a nice but of roasted flavor without being overcooked. 9/10

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Slightly spicy fried pork with three basque cheeses in different textures: this was one of the best dishes of the menu. The pork was so tender with a wonderful crispy crust and you can’t go wrong with cheese (at least not with us). 10/10

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Monkfish in iberian crust and garlic mushrooms. Monkfish wrapped in prosciutto (jamón iberico) is a classic, but it was nice to add the garlic mushrooms and the paté of monkfish liver. The monkfish itself didn’t have a lot of flavor, but was perfectly cooked. 9/10

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Roasted duck with stewed wheat, apple, and granité of arugula. The ‘radish’ was the best part of this dish, and it was actually a duck foie gras ‘bon bon’. The granité worked very well to balance the heavy flavor of the duck, which was served with a hefty sauce (with soy sauce?). The duck wasn’t cooked perfectly and not as tender as I’d expect — it won’t surprise you that I’d recommend to cook it sous-vide instead. 8/10

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The first dessert of yogurt, honey and five spices was nice and worked well with a late harvest txakoli (the local white grape). It had great balance of flavors and textures. 9/10

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The second dessert of chocolate, peanuts and licorice was nice but not very original. 8/10

When we pointed out to the waiter that the late harvest txakoli wouldn’t work with this, he quickly came up with a Capricho de Goya (which was an excellent combination).

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The menu ended with petit fours that were nice.

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At the end of the meal the chef came around to all the tables, which is always a nice gesture.

The price/quality ratio of Azurmendi is fantastic. Because the wines by the glass are only 6 to 7 euros per glass, we ended up paying little over 400 euros for 2 including 6 glasses of wine each as well as coffee. The food is creative, beautifully presented, and delicious. 9.5/10 for the food.

The service was fine, very attentive but a bit formal. 8.5/10

I am not scoring the wine as no proper wine pairing (with a different wine for each dish) was offered. The wines by the glass that were suggested were a good compromise (a dry white txakoli made by the chef, an oaked chardonnay from Navarra, a tempranillo, cabernet and syrah blend from Ribera del Duero, and a late harvest txakoli, to which on our initiative a fortified moscatel was added) and great value.

Azurmendi is definitely worth the high rankings and well worth visiting.

 

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17 thoughts on “Dining in Spain: Azurmendi***

  1. Sorry! I thought of ‘wow’ also by the time I was just half way down the page! What an experience . . . even getting to your table being quite a journey!! A bit ‘theatrical in places but why not . . . Having learned the importance of plating years ago in Japan, really appreciate most of the plates and bowls . . . and I don’t think you have ever parted with so many ’10’s before! Totally worth the money . . .

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  2. You’ve taken us to many fine restaurants, Stefan, but this one is really impressive. From start to finish, it seems like one delightful experience after another. It must have been a truly fantastic evening.

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  3. wow I have missed so much on your blog Stefan, sorry i haven’t been to visit more often. How Dutch, travelling by RV :)! I’ve always wanted to try that, then again, a nice hotel is also not bad. Looks like you had an excellent meal. Love the crockery too, really nice. Happy Tuesday Poli

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  4. Stefan, I love your blog, and became a follower just now! Azurmendi is one of the best, we went there several years ago, and it is in my top three of all time, followed by Trois Gros in Roane and Benu In San Francisco. Your passion for Italy is similar to our passion for Japan. My blog is only one year old, and I envy your longevity. Here is our blog: https://lospansionistas.wordpress.com/. It would be an honor if you were to follow me.
    I am also writing to ask you your advice on our itinerary for our trip to Italy in June. We have already gone to Milan, Parma, Padua, Modena, Bologna, Venice and Florence in the past, where we ate at amazing places like Enoteca Pinchiori, Osteria Francescana, Le Calandre, Antica Corte Pallavicina. However, on this trip we plan on doing Rome to Naples, then to Amalfi, and ending our trip with a week in Sicily. Your journey through Italy was the most similar to the one we are planning, in my internet searches, and it looked amazing, I loved your pictures and descriptions. In Rome we plan on going to La Pergola, Da Felice Trattatoria, then we have a free night, no lunches planned, hoping to get advice from others on places to go. In Naples we only are doing Da Michele for pizza, then visiting Di Prisco winery in Fontanarosa for the Taurasi wine, and wanted to get a tour. It is one of my favorite lesser known Italian reds. Then in Sorrento we were thinking Terraza Bosquet, in Eque, Torre del Saraceno, followed by Don Alfonso on our third night. I wondered if Quattro Passi was too celebrity driven, so I have only as a back up. In Sicily, I only have one night scheduled for La Madia, which I read about in your blog. The rest of the time we are being referred by a Sicilian ex-pat who was a pastry chef in Europe, and now has a successful gelato shop in Los Angeles.
    I was hoping that in your free time you could maybe review our itinerary and either tell us to avoid certain places, or maybe try others that might be on our route I know you don’t even know me, but after reviewing your posts I feel that we share similar passions and tastes, and you seem to have excellent taste not only in wine, but food. Thanks for your time, and I look forward to your response!
    Paul and Erika

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    • Hi Paul and Erika,
      Sounds like you are going to have a wonderful trip.
      Definitely go to Torre del Saracino, it is one of my favorites, certainly in Italy but even in the world.
      As a general piece of advice I can recommend the restaurant guide by Gambero Rosso, also available as an app. If they give three forks for a restaurant or three shrimp for a trattoria, you can be sure it’s great.
      Near Rome (at the coast) Gambero Rosso has awarded 3 forks to Pascucci al Porticciolo. I haven’t been, but it may be worth checking out.
      In Sicily if you have time I’d say go to Tischi Toschi in Taormina. A very different experience (no Michelin stars), but amazing food (review on my blog, back then it was in Messina but it has relocated).
      Did you just want suggestions for your itinerary in terms of restaurants, or also sights?
      I’ve never been to Pinchiorri and haven’t decided whether I want to spend so much. I love wine and that is what Pinchiorri is all about, but if you do get the nice wines it gets much more expensive than other places. Do you think I should go?
      Stefan

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      • Hi Stefan. I just noticed all your messages! I’m so glad you replied. Thank you so much for your detailed response and your suggestions for Rome and Siciliy. I had heard of Gambero Rosso, but the app was in Italian, and the English version looked out of date. I could not get the English version no matter how I tried. I will look more into this though. We last went to Italy in 2012 if I recall. Pinchiorri was great, in the fact that they have the cellar to be able to do 2 or 3 levels of grand cru burg pairings at different price points, and some seriously old stuff. I was in my fancy camera phase at that time and unfortunately iphones were not what they are today, so I have yet to transfer those old Italy pics on my memory card to my laptop. I did take a picture of some of the vintages, but I have no idea what they were off the top of my head, but it was served in the big fat Grand Cru Burg glasses, etc. This was right before Burg prices skyrocketted, or bought up by Chinese consumers, so I am not sure if they still do Grand Cru wine pairings, but I was told at that time that they had the greatest cellar in Europe. The scene in there was quite hilarious, 90 year old man with two young escorts being spoon fed at dinner, different echelon of society. Entertaining never the less. I will put in my errand list to drag out some of my old Pinchiorro photos just for you. To be continued. I will respond to each post as I read.

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        • Even if the GR app is in Italian, you will still be able to use it. Or just use a list of “tre forchette” and “tre gamberi” restaurants from the “Ristoranti d’Italia 2017” that you can find online (I’ll e-mail it to you if you like). I’m very glad though that I did learn Italian.

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          • Yes, I just logged on, and I can look for the icons of forks and shrimps as I plug in the names. Thanks so much. I think, I was just intimidated at first, but I can always copy text in the screen and plug into google translate, just an added step. My wife and I speak Spanish fluently so we can generally make sense of the words, but we need to learn Italian as we will be coming back for years to come. This will only be our second time.

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            • There is so much to discover in Italy. It can actually be more interesting to go to “3 gamberi” restaurants (trattorie) than “3 forchette” or Michelin starred restaurants, because that is where you find the original “grandmother’s” recipes. Most of my Italian followers appreciate that more, as what we get in Michelin starred restaurants isn’t “real food” according to them. I certainly don’t agree with that, but I do really enjoy the authentic Italian recipes as well and that is what I prepare mostly at home.

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              • I agree. We are looking to get more of that experience in Sicily, as we are there for a week. The only one I wanted to really do for sure was La Pergola and Torre, for curiosity, foodie status, blog fodder, but I am open to hole in the wall porcetta places in Rome, or delis in Naples, trattatorias all over the place, etc

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