One hour from San Sebastian in the tiny village of Axpe, nestled in the scenic landscape of the Basque Country, there is a simple stone and timber building that is Asador Etxebarri. To some the name of the chef, Victor Arguinoniz, is enough for the conversation to begin.  It’s on every foodie’s bucket list, has a Michelin star and been on The World’s 50 Best Restaurant List numerous times.  Anthony Bourdain said in the NY Times he’d like to die here. I challenge you to look at the photo gallery on their website and not be charmed.We went for lunch on our way from San Sebastian to Rioja, arriving around one and astonishingly leaving after six. It’s not often lunch turns into a day trip, but it’s not often you get to eat at Etxebarri.

Tripper Tips:

Make sure you reserve well in advance—either by calling +34 946 58 30 42 or emailing Reservations

Etxebarri is open for lunch Tuesday-Sunday from 1:00-3:30, and dinner only on Saturday nights from 8:30-10:30.

The restaurant is closed all of August.

Etxebarri is only thirty minutes from Bilbao, one hour from San Sebastian and approximately an hour and a half from Lograno in Rioja.

Eat: First thing to know is everything is grilled. The chef uses his own techniques of grilling using different kinds of wood all from the neighboring trees. He makes his own charcoal. The grills are custom designed. This is not char marked BBQ you’re used to, but subtle, simple, unadorned food with a touch of smoke.  The quality of the ingredients and the care in cooking creates incredible flavor, you taste the pure essence of each ingredient. We ordered the 12-course prix-fixe, because if you travel thousands of miles you kind of have to, no? Who knew goats milk butter with black salt could be so good!  Then homemade chorizo on wood fired bread, baby octopus with caramelized onions, and the best prawns I’ve ever tasted from Palamos. The pace of the meal was perfect-tiny small plates leading to the main event --a whole Sea Bream and a huge T-bone steak.  The menu is seasonal and since it was the beginning of spring we enjoyed the sweetest baby peas, white asparagus, and prehistoric looking goose barnacles.  (Once I got over what they looked like they were delicious)

Explore: I had read that the chef is always in the kitchen cooking. That is amazing in this day and age of celebrity chefs. My friend, fluent in Spanish, mentioned we were all avid home cooks and would be thrilled if we could meet the chef and tour the kitchen.  After one last dish of smoked ice cream off we went. The kitchen was small and spotless. Done for the day (Etxebarri only serves dinner on Saturday nights.) the three young sous chefs were prepping for the next day, shucking baby peas and working on the labor-intensive goat butter. Two of the chefs were Americans on a stint working under Chef Arguinoniz. (It says a lot that they were willing to spend 6 months to a year in the middle of nowhere.) Unfortunately, the Chef had already retired from the kitchen.

Savor: Out on the terrace sipping brandy and cigars, we started a conversation with the only other sole survivors of the once full house. Turns out they were professional chefs, Rafa Penya and his two chefs from Gresca in Barcelona, a noteworthy restaurant of its own (next trip). There was much talk about each dish and what was everyone’s favorite. They were equally awed. My friend slipped away and I saw her in conversation with the waitress again. In a few minutes she came back and led me into the restaurant. There was Victor Argunoniz. Shy, modest with a sweet smile we talked for a few minutes, translating back and forth about the food, about his visit to New York the previous year, and thanking him for one of the best meals and food experiences we had ever had. It was the perfect way to end what was an exceptional day.

- A Daytripper itinerary 10.16.14

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