Culinary Kismet

Posted on Monday, September 28th, 2009 at 11:29 pm

Haizea in San Sebastian Pintxo at Haizea in San Sebastian

Pintxo at Haizea in San SebastianPintxo at Haizea in San Sebastian

It was Sunday afternoon when I arrived in San Sebastian.  After finding Pension Balerdi, I turned my thoughts to finding food.  One week earlier, it had been nearly impossible to find a meal on Sunday in Valencia.

Amazingly, across the square from the pension and open, was Haizea (Calle Aldamar 8).  I recognized the sign from No Reservations.  Chef Juan Mari Arzak and Chef Elena Arzak had taken Anthony Bourdain to this place for pinxtos, the Basque equivalent of tapas.  I’d googled Haizea before my trip, but I’d only found a comment from a traveler who hadn’t been able to find it.

Moments later, standing at its doorway, I could see that the area around the bar was crowded.  The place looked dirty to me; I was surprised to see that the floor was littered with paper.  (I discovered that this is the habit in San Sebastian.  It is normal to throw your used napkins on the floor of the bar!)  I went inside anyway, trusting it must be good if both Chef Arzaks go there.

I ordered txocali, a very green, highly acidic wine, that is poured from high to create bubbles in your glass.  I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the pintxos.  They were beautiful, all sitting on platters, just waiting to be chosen.  I saw others help themselves so I asked for a plate and chose a skewer of grilled vegetables and jamon.  I started to pick up another that was alone on a plate, but the bartender stopped me.  She called back to the kitchen; I realized the one was just a showpiece.  When mine arrived, I was blown away.  A circle of bread was topped with a round of grilled goat cheese which was then topped with pear puree.  On the side, there were sweet pieces of cooked pear and carrot.  It was astoundingly delicious.  My appetite was satisfied, but I had to try one more… a large mountain of something that looked like custard, sitting atop a comparatively minuscule triangle of toast.  I asked the bartender and she told me it was “gambas,” which are shrimp.  Given it’s green color, I couldn’t imagine shrimp, but I took one anyway.  It was creamy and sweet, but I knew there must be some vegetable in it.  I went back and forth with the bartender and discovered that it was a custard of egg, gambas, and leek!  Amazing.  I was totally blown away but the creativity of the pinxtos at Haizea.  I couldn’t believe that the place was across the square from my pension, visible from my little bedroom window!

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