day 5 :
wednesday, 30 may
We woke up to the sound of jackhammers, drills, and pounding this morning. Our hotel apparently only occupied the first five floors of our building, and the floors above the hotel were being remodeled, so there wasn't much we could do besides get up and go out for the day. We walked to old town in search of breakfast, walked by several bakeries, and then ran across one that had a line out the door. Ah, this must be a good one!
After walking around for a bit, we had a light lunch at a couple of tapas bars. The last time we were in San Sebastián, we looked for one highly-recommended (and hard-to-find) bar over the course of several days but didn't find it until our last day in town. Unfortunately, it was closed that day, so we put it on our list of things to do the next time we're in San Sebastián. Our luck was better this time – we knew where to go, and La Cuchara de San Telmo was open this time. Their tapas tend to be more "modern" than most other bars in town, using classic Basque ingredients but preparing them in new ways. The results are excellent, and this quickly became our favorite tapas bar in town. Their pulpo (octopus) dish was very tender and flavorful, as was the canelones filled with morcilla sausage. Second lunch was down the street at Bar Goiz, where we had the house specialty of brochetas con gambas (grilled bread with prawns). And, of course, we sampled txakolí wine at each bar, where the bartender pours the wine into a short glass from several feet above the bar to aerate it and make it sparkling.
If you are looking for La Cuchara de San Telmo yourself, it's in the very back part of Parte Vieja, hidden away in the tiny Plaza de Valle Lersundi. This plaza is about midway down C/ 31 de Agosto, on the north side. The restaurant is tucked away on the back NE corner of the plaza. For those with a GPS, you'll find it at: 43 deg 19’ 26” N latitude, 1 deg 59’ 7” W longitude.
We got our exercise today by walking all over town; Dawn's pedometer read over 16,000 steps by the end of the day. Along our way, we saw some local art students drawing and sketching architecture features around a large square. Next was a walk around the base of Mount Urgull, which has an expansive view of the Bay of Biscay. When we reached the furthest point out, the weather looked rather gloomy, and we were pretty sure we were going to get rained on. Of course we had no coats or umbrella with us. But, as we reached the harbor and saw fishermen stretching out huge nets on the deck of a ship, we encountered just a sprinkle.
Back at our room, we got together our pool clothes, and walked down the street to La Perla, the thalassotherapy circuit that we liked so much last time we were in town. Dawn had been looking forward to La Perla ever since we had decided to return to San Sebastián. Our good luck from lunchtime was used up, however, because La Perla was closed! They were apparently undergoing a huge renovation, and wouldn't be open for a few weeks. This was a huge disappointment.
We walked close to three kilometers to go to dinner at Arzak, one of Spain's best-known restaurants. We enjoyed our meal here immensely last time, so we were really looking forward to trying it again. When we arrived, we were escorted past the ground floor dining room to our table upstairs. The ground floor is completely changed from when we dined there last time, and is quite modern now, whereas the dining area upstairs reflects the more classic Arzak that we remember. Elena Arzak, daughter of founding chef Juan Mari Arzak and now the head chef at the restaurant, amazingly recognized us from our last visit, and took our dinner order. She said she'd like to prepare a special meal for us, and asked us questions about what we liked. In response to her asking if we liked chocolate, Eric said, "Por supuesto!" (which means "of course"). After taking an order for the table of four people next to us, Elena came back to tell us that they, too, were from Seattle, and that she doesn't think she's ever had two tables from Seattle on the same night.
Next, we spoke with the sommelier, and asked for a recommendation for an older wine from the nearby Rioja region. He brought out a terrific bottle, a CVNE Imperial Rioja Gran Reserva 1996, which paired nicely with our meal. We were each served nine courses, and we traded plates to make sure we each got to try a little of everything. It's not hard to see why this restaurant has had 3 Michelin stars since 1989 – the experience is simply outstanding, with perfectly-prepared food that is inventive, but not to the point where it sacrifices taste. Unlike most of the other restaurants in this class, which are wonderful to visit once or twice for the unique experience, we'd love to go back to Arzak regularly because the food is simply so good, and is the key to their success.
We were among the last diners to leave the restaurant tonight, catching our taxi well after midnight.