new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Asador Etxebarri: Grilled to Perfection (And I Mean It)

Monday, August 03, 2009

Asador Etxebarri: Grilled to Perfection (And I Mean It)

The entry-way.

Asador Etxebarri has received an incredible amount of accolade in the food community of late, inspiring rapturous prose from food writers and food professionals. It's reputation stems, at least in part, from how unusual it is: at Etxebarri, everything is grilled,using a complex and unique grill system chef Victor Arguinzoniz has engineered. With his wife, Patricia, Arguinzoniz renovated the 18th century stone cottage and turned it into the culinary powerhouse it is today.

The lovely little village of Axpe around the restaurant.

Victor is self-taught and has engineered his unique all-grilled cuisine himself, developing his own techniques and tools to create flavors found nowhere else. The charcoal used in these unique grills is entirely produced at the restaurant: a variety of woods are harvested from the area, calibrated to perfectly complement the meat or fish that's being prepared. The in-house concept extends to the food: the kitchen produces its own salami, butter, cheese, black pudding, ice creams, and smoked salmon, among other treats. Local cows are selected for their beef, and fresh seafood comes from the Basque coastline, where the kitchen has commissioned a fishing boat.

The old farmhouse that houses the restaurant.

Just getting to the restaurant is an adventure. Roughly 20 minutes outside of Bilbao, the drive winds through mountainous passes and through cobble-stoned and elderly Basque villages, finally ending at Axpe, the tiny village Etxebarri calls home. Located beneath a picturesque foothill peak, the asador sits on an attractive square - a good place to sit before the restaurant's official opening.

The dining room.

It's rumored that the Michelin organization hasn't given Extabarri any recognition because of its rustic locale, but "rustic" isn't the first word that comes to mind in the attractive and contemporary dining room, affording excellent views of the peaks. We were seated at the best table in the house, right next to the window, and quickly introduced to the Australian sous chef. We had decided to abscond with the ala-carte menu and pursue a tasting, and he discussed what we loved and what we did not with us in order to tailor-make our experience. (Crabs are in and well, pretty much nothing is out. We're not exactly a tough crowd).

My mom commented on how much the Spanish enjoy eating baby animals, recalling the little piglets in Segovia and the head-on lambs that are served throughout Castile and Leon. Lennox shrugged. "Here in Spain, I guess they like to eat their babies." This is perhaps an element of the national psyche that has not been entirely explored.

Our first course was a few simple rounds of local salami. This was pleasantly smoky with a good, robust flavor, although not more special then other salamis I've tasted.

Smoked butter with calcified salt. This is one of the asador's signature yet incredibly simple dishes - butter smoked and served with excellent, chewy local bread. The flavor seems almost embarassingly simple at first pass but becomes sublime when added to bread, a smoky, rich, and fatty experience unlike anything I've had before. I believe they could make a killing by packaging this stuff in tubs. (Just an idea).

These are crabs imported from Galicia, kept alive in Hong-Kong esque tanks in the restaurants kitchen. The fire-engine red crustaceans were carefully grilled and served up in the Spanish tradition - essentially as-is.

These were excellent, with plenty of ultra-sweet and tender meat, full of yellow and delectable fat. I got somewhat misty eyed and effusive about my affection for crabs when describing my preferences to Lennox. Which meant I got a whole entire crab.

A seemingly simple grilled gamba, but oh my sweet Jesus. The best prawns I've ever had, these magnificent little beasts were simply perfect: when the head is cracked off the body, a sumptuous rush of juices and fat comes out of the shrimp's head cavity, right into your mouth. According to one of the sous chefs, these prawns are fished at deep depths in Galicia. These particular prawns, were, apparantly, gravid, or filled with juicy delicious eggs.

When they are raised to the surface, they turn from their native grey to pink. And their brains explode. Which is why they taste like everything good and virtuous in the universe. (Gastronomy is a curious mistress, dependent on biology and zoology and human creativity in about equal measures. I wanted to be a zoologist and study hyenas on the African serengeti when I was small, now I write about food. How much has changed and how much has stayed the same?)

I devoured the whole thing. All that was left was a tiny and pathetic little spindle of a leg. The chef's wife was serving us, and she smiled at me with evident pride as she took away the plate. Adios, little gamba, you have made my life happier.

This, dear readers, is a sea cucumber. When Lennox mentioned sea cucumber to us, we were suspicious. "Don't bring the sea cucumber," my mom said. "They taste horrible."
"One squirted me in the eye," I offered.
Lennox scoffed. "These are different sea cucumbers. You've had the preserved ones at Korean restaurants, right? These are much better."
Still deeply suspicious, we agreed to give them a try. The right choice.

Fresh sea cucumber tastes like a marvelous combination of lobster, squid, and oyster. The flavor is most similar to a really good, firm bit of lobster, but the texture is what sets it apart - squidgy and slightly stringy in the mouth, appealingly juicy. The sea cucumber had a nice charred flavor on top of its natural sweetness, and was served with an almost ethereal preparation of cooked and aquatic seaweed. Marvelous.

These are the ugliest things I have ever eaten. These are percebes or goose barnacles, one of Spain's more esoteric treats. Commonly harvested in Galicia, these dinosaur-foot esque beasts develop a marvelous flavor by virtue of their dogged attachment to ocean rocks: their battle to stay attached despite the onslaught of the waves makes their foot muscles more succulent.

Here's a closeup of the little alien beast.

Note the vibrant orange juice.

Eating a barnacle requires some finesse. They must be twisted apart in a specific fashion for the little orange meaty bit to be accessible for eating. The flavor? Like the best mussel you've ever had, tender, juicy, and (as with all things at Etxebarri) ever so slightly smoky.

This is a simple grilled oyster, served with a tiny bit of kelp (?) and a bit of subtle, oceanic sea foam. We Northern Californians are accustomed to grilled oysters in the shell, but this took the concept much further. I doubt very much that they are cooked in the shell here, but instead applied directly to the flame in one of the chef's various grilling contraptions, grates, and boxes. This produces an all-around smoked and charred flavor, which, when combined with the always sexy and musky flavor of oyster - well, excellent.

These are chipirones, tiny and delicate little baby squid. These tasted as if they had ever so delicately been exposed to the flame, leaving their firm yet tender little bodies lusciously oily. These were served with one of Etxebarri's few sauces, with just a whisper of garlic and a tiny bit of kale.

Pulp, Spain's mainstay of tiny baby octopi, were grilled and served with some delicately grilled shallot confit and a flavorful yet light reduction of a sauce. Squid have a slightly more delicate consistency then squid and a richer, more exuberant flavor. Excellent (and adorable, but cute things are shown no mercy or quarter in Spain).

The stacking-up of the squid and octopus courses proved to be the only misstep of the meal: they were two very similar dishes, with similar flavors. As both were excellent, it was a fairly minor complaint.

As we were working our way up to the steak course, grilled tuna was an entirely natural progression. These fine slabs of tuna were seared just a little bit, then seasoned with some excellent and high quality salt.


One of Etxebarri's strengths is it's perfect hand with salt - not too much, not too little, providing a little savory crunch. The combination of meaty tuna, sweet grilled tomato, and crisp bits of salt was very nice.

And now onward to the steak course, which Etxebarri is justly proud of, an extremely large slab of cow that fills the diner with a tiny bit of trepidation when it is ushered out to the table. For you have already conquered a number of courses, and then you realize you will now be expected to do justice to a steak - and not just any steak, but a veritable princess among steaks, all ruby-red in the interior and charred with an artist's hand on the outside. You'll have to tuck in or you will probably be committing some sort of spiritual crime. So we did.

The, well, money-shot.

This was the best steak we'd ever had. Simply char-grilled to perfection, the smoky and perfectly salty crust gave way to a rich, super-rare, and decadently beef-fat infused interior. Served with a simple salad with vinegar and fine olive oil, it was an incredible treat. The beef comes from local cattle and is aged for the restaurant: the result is about the epitome of what a good steak is.

A luscious slice of meat.

Our savories were finally spent, and now it was time for dessert. In true Etxebarri style, the grill played an integral role in the sweet courses as well. This was a truly unique smoked ice cream, prepared by carefully smoking local milk and hand churning it in house. The perfectly smooth vanilla ice cream had a bizarre and excellent flavor - like nothing I'd tasted before, and very appealing.

This is a flan, again prepared with the smoked milk. This was magnificent, with a slightly cheesy, smoky flavor, almost like a combination between a classic Spanish flan and a beautiful cheesecake. I find the texture of flan rather unpleasant, and this dessert bridged the gap, with a texture more akin to a cream then a firm flan. I am not very fond of super-sweet desserts and found the addition of smoky flavor - usually associated with meat - to be truly interesting in a dessert context. Lovely. The pink liquid around the edge tasted of acidic citrus, which was a nice counterpoint to the sweet and smoky flavor of the flan.

With the bill came these tiny little muffins - a nice caramelized tasting exterior and a sweet interior. These were the only thing we consumed, insofar as I am aware, that was NOT grilled, unless they've managed to grill muffins TOO in which case I just don't know anymore.

We were finished, after three straight hours of eating some of the best food of our lives. Despite the quantity of the meal, we didn't feel over-full - the food was clean and utterly simple, and doesn't leave you with the queasy feeling a butter-rich French or American meal can. One of the best aspects of Etxebarri is its friendliness.

Unlike other restaurants of its caliber, the service style and the general ambiance was very laid back and friendly. Families with small and well behaved kids were eating around us - one child had brought along a few naked Barbie dolls. Our server, who I believe was the chef's wife, was also very sweet - she was kind enough to demonstrate proper barnacle consumption procedures to us. The combination of amazing food, a beautiful dining room, and a gorgeous view produces an incredibly pleasant dining experience.

The individual bars of the grate come out for easy cleaning.

After the meal, we asked to go see the kitchen, and they kindly assented. One of the young sous chefs was still there (it was getting on after 5:00,) and he answered our questions and showed us the grilling equipment, the seafood tanks, and the stacks of wood that are used to produce the charcoal.

The wood-pile. Different kinds of wood are used for different foods - grape vine is considered excellent for red meat and steak.

The profusion of racks, grates, and equipment Victor Arguinzoniz has created or sourced allows him to grill just about anything - including caviar and angulas, Basque country's beloved and exceedingly expensive baby river eels.

Etxebarri entirely lived up to its formidable reputation. The combination of innovative grilling techniques, magnificent ingredients, and a truly pleasant dining room produced probably the best meal of my (admittedly short) life. I'm certain I'll be looking back on this meal and my time in Euskadi for a long time.


Faith Chihil said...

I plan to have vaguely erotic dreams about that steak for a long, long time.

ChuckEats said...

That's an excellent report. It looks like the food is getting *slightly* more sophisticated, perhaps in a quest for that missing star (or two.) The seaweed garnishes were not in my meal but they are a nice touch; the butter presentation is definitely more "Spain-like" now.

Matt Kantor said...

very similar to the meal I had - extraordinary.

Anonymous said...

Hello !.
might , perhaps curious to know how one can reach 2000 per day of income .
There is no initial capital needed You may start earning with as small sum of money as 20-100 dollars.

AimTrust is what you haven`t ever dreamt of such a chance to become rich
The company incorporates an offshore structure with advanced asset management technologies in production and delivery of pipes for oil and gas.

Its head office is in Panama with offices everywhere: In USA, Canada, Cyprus.
Do you want to become a happy investor?
That`s your chance That`s what you really need!

I feel good, I began to take up income with the help of this company,
and I invite you to do the same. If it gets down to choose a correct partner utilizes your funds in a right way - that`s the AimTrust!.
I take now up to 2G every day, and what I started with was a funny sum of 500 bucks!
It`s easy to get involved , just click this link
and lucky you`re! Let`s take our chance together to become rich

Anonymous said...

Hi !.
might , probably curious to know how one can reach 2000 per day of income .
There is no initial capital needed You may commense earning with as small sum of money as 20-100 dollars.

AimTrust is what you need
AimTrust incorporates an offshore structure with advanced asset management technologies in production and delivery of pipes for oil and gas.

Its head office is in Panama with offices everywhere: In USA, Canada, Cyprus.
Do you want to become a happy investor?
That`s your chance That`s what you wish in the long run!

I`m happy and lucky, I started to get income with the help of this company,
and I invite you to do the same. It`s all about how to select a correct partner utilizes your savings in a right way - that`s AimTrust!.
I make 2G daily, and my first investment was 500 dollars only!
It`s easy to join , just click this link
and lucky you`re! Let`s take our chance together to feel the smell of real money

Anonymous said...

Hello everyone!
I would like to burn a theme at this forum. There is such a thing, called HYIP, or High Yield Investment Program. It reminds of financial piramyde, but in rare cases one may happen to meet a company that really pays up to 2% daily not on invested money, but from real profits.

For quite a long time, I make money with the help of these programs.
I'm with no money problems now, but there are heights that must be conquered . I get now up to 2G a day , and I started with funny 500 bucks.
Right now, I'm very close at catching at last a guaranteed variant to make a sharp rise . Turn to my blog to get additional info.

[url=] Online investment blog[/url]

Anonymous said...

You may probably be very interested to know how one can make real money on investments.
There is no need to invest much at first.
You may commense to get income with a money that usually goes
for daily food, that's 20-100 dollars.
I have been participating in one company's work for several years,
and I'll be glad to let you know my secrets at my blog.

Please visit blog and send me private message to get the info.

P.S. I earn 1000-2000 per day now. [url=]Online Investment Blog[/url]

Anonymous said...

dating columbia [url=]best online dating tips[/url] adult dating midlands biker singles

Anonymous said...

Good day!

We are not acquainted yet? It’s easy to fix,
my name is Peter.
Generally I’m a venturesome gambler. for a long time I’m keen on online-casino and poker.
Not long time ago I started my own blog, where I describe my virtual adventures.
Probably, it will be interesting for you to read my travel notes and reports about winnings and losses on this way.
Please visit my diary. I’ll be glad would you find time to leave your comments.

Anonymous said...
[url=]eckardt drug store[/url] drug receptor binding [url=]anafranil effects[/url]
check drug interaction
[url=]how to persuade teens from doing drugs[/url] how to past drug tests [url=]ditropan flomax side effects[/url]
date rape drug spotter
[url=]which street drug causes seizures[/url] drug fexofenadine [url=]requip dosage schedule[/url] mexican drug trade cartel [url=]methocarbamol effects[/url]

Anonymous said...

yellowstone travel guide wikopedia washington travel newspapers
[url=]travel lodge mascot[/url] santa clause travel [url=]romantic hotel spain[/url]
government and airforce travel
[url=]train travel from xian to wudangshan[/url] co2 emissions air travel environmental reporting defra [url=]cruises 2008 europe[/url]
modricks travel travel conditions for saturday december 29 oregon to california [url=]country inn suites grand rapids south[/url]

Anonymous said...

medieval doctor clothes room designer for teens preview and view the room design [url=]designer alarm clocks[/url] lauren bernat ralph lauren polo discount code [url=]joe klein real estate tallman ny[/url]

Anonymous said...

amateur pornh
[url=]adult video stores gatineau[/url] black pussy sitting dildo [url=]sample vids ftv girl orgasm big ten[/url]
transformers adult sex fanfictions
[url=]gun cleaning lubricants dry[/url] big booty anal chicks [url=]should gay marriage be legalised[/url]
amateur ex wives
[url=]marta peterson sexy pics[/url] i caught my friend watching gay porn [url=]gay video[/url]
tampabay porn
[url=]pictures of adult austrailian terriers[/url] lubricant salesman [url=]busty mature bottoms[/url]

Anonymous said...

indian adult forum
[url=]free full length wmv hentai[/url] adult ed online courses [url=]nude ass[/url]
hentai porn vidio samples
[url=]silicic acid sodium silicate fuel lubricant[/url] twins humoron anal taylor [url=]misty may treanor ass[/url]
naruto hentai and dragon ball z
[url=]free amateur porn video blog[/url] hentai manga email daily [url=]filipina orgy[/url]
amateur footjobs
[url=]flash free game hentai xxx[/url] adult vido sharing [url=]oral b triumph professional care 9910[/url]

Anonymous said...

chaco shoes resole designer puppies schnauzer yorkie [url=]pedini dance shoes[/url] fashion words jimmy choo shoes [url=]getting gas smell out of clothes[/url]

Anonymous said...

basketball shoes teamsales bridget hall and polo and ralph lauren [url=]wide shoes for females[/url] marbury shoes old fashioned microphones [url=]lesbian clothes[/url]

Anonymous said...

vintage gucci bags lauren zamerilla [url=]jim st laurent[/url] clothespin stories aim buddy ims fashion music bigger interactive learn lovers smarter [url=]eastland women shoes[/url]

Anonymous said...

designer replica handbags woman shirt tie fashion photos [url=]gucci only[/url] preeti fashion tirupur rockport shoes [url=]fashion panties[/url]

Anonymous said...

online road trip travel planners disney land travel package
[url=]travel requirement egypt[/url] over sixties rail travel [url=]airline tickets to adelaide january 2009[/url]
gold pond cruffs travel
[url=]best creditcard plan for caribbean travel[/url] travel assignments healthcare [url=]plane tickets[/url]
las vegas travel coupon codes travel to the north pole [url=]royal comfort motel in los angeles[/url]

Anonymous said...

powerpoints for bingo games bingo 0c7e2xe
[url=]playtech no deposit casinos[/url] custom invitations playing cards [url=]blackjack deal[/url]
sept 25 2007 lottery winner mega
[url=]printable bingo grid[/url] free bonus baccarat casino online [url=]las vegas blackjack pictures[/url]
casino gambling in ohio free green card lottery application [url=]casinos with coin operated slots midwest[/url]

Anonymous said...

shawshank redemption free movie download [url=]curious george[/url] movie theatres kingsport tn movie release date 6 6 06
movie women ugly big feet [url=]interception[/url] the movie the hood soldiers movie analysis i robot
movie ratings perfect stranger [url=]merlin 70[/url] cast of the movie lucky you
west orange movie theatre [url=]mirror mirror iv reflection[/url] new haol movie coming out news articles bee movie
ticklish movie stars [url=]the gunfighter[/url] movie quote self confidence the movie toots 68125 68125

Anonymous said...

name of boy in titanic movie [url=]the sun also rises[/url] frankenstein movie the new movie dragonwizards
futanari movie sample [url=]the road to war[/url] robert redford mountain man movie windows movie maker effects and transitions
movie monologues female [url=]dazed and confused[/url] downloads free movie
premiere of disney movie fantasia [url=]club dread[/url] national treassure the movie summary american movie classic channel
free quicktime porn movie [url=]self control[/url] what does a movie producer do saw movie info

Anonymous said...

"Sorry, delete my topic!"

Anonymous said...

[url=]for women Cheap FML Medication. FML Drug and pregnancy Louisiana || Order FML Purchase[/url]
, Hurry up to buy best quality medications at half price! This offer is time-limited!
, [url=]Discount How to buy Flomax Medication. facts Flomax Drug No Script Utah || Flomax Where to buy[/url]
, This month we provide the majority of our regular customers with top quality medications!
,[url=] Where to buy Flexeril Medication. facts Flexeril Drug and children Utah || Order Flexeril Order[/url]
, It is an awful statistics that 30% of women live in depression. Time to take serious measures.
,[url=]review Buy Female RX Plus Liquid Medication. Cheap Order Female RX Plus Liquid Drug Virginia || Purchase Female RX Plus Liquid Cheap Order[/url]
, Don't let some random disease spoil your whole life. Buy only most trusted drugs we offer!
,[url=]and children Cheap Order Female Rx Plus Oil Medication. Cheap Female Rx Plus Oil Drug Discount Maryland || Cheap Buy Female Rx Plus Oil Cheap Buy[/url]
, Absolutely new medication for effective indoor and outdoor allergy symptoms treatment!
,[url=]Cheap Online Where to buy ExtenZe Medication. facts ExtenZe Drug Hawaii || Purchase ExtenZe Cheap Order[/url]
, We have never sold any of our medications cheaper than we sell this amazing antibiotic now!
,[url=]Online Cheap Female Pink Viagra Medication. How to buy Female Pink Viagra Drug NY || Cheap Buy Female Pink Viagra How to buy[/url]
, Throughout long years of our practice we have gathered unmatched experience in pharmacy!

Anonymous said...

[url=]Augmentin IV[/url]
, Among numerous benefits our pharmacy offers its clients, we could name money saving!
, [url=]Avalide[/url]
, We don't want you to lose the belief in contemporary medicine. Have a look at our discounts!
, Use our month of unbelievable discounts to keep yourself and your family healthy and happy!
, More than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies or an related diseases, like asthma.
, Year after year our environmental conditions worsen and it contributes to allergy prevalence!
, Mild depression can be differentiated from clinical depression, which requires real treatment.
, We do not sell medications; we sell cheap solutions for perfect health and ultimate longevity!

Anonymous said...

, Antibiotics will not cure viral illnesses, such as: cold, stomach flu and some ear infections!
, [url=]Elidel Cream[/url]
, Pollen is already here! It's time to close your windows and doors or: take a pill & enjoy life!
, Addiction to painkillers is increasing very fast and the number of victim's gradually increasing.
, Save 10% off each 2nd drug you buy at our trusted pharmacy! Save your money and time!
, More than half of all people believe depression is a personal weakness. Are you one of them?
, Probably all your health problems are connected with buying low quality ineffective drugs!
,[url=]Estrace Vaginal Cream[/url]
, Obesity is a disease that affects 34 percent of adults age 20 and over in the United States.

Anonymous said...

[url=]Augmentin IV[/url]
, Men make up 96 % of the world prison population. It is often caused by potency problems.
, [url=]Avalide[/url]
, We sell revolutionary depression treatment at half price! Hurry up to buy while sales is on!
, Stomach upset, nausea, and diarrhea are the most common side effects of antibiotic treatment.
,[url=]Ayur Slim Weight Regulator[/url]
, Whether you decide to have weight loss surgery or not, understanding your condition is vital.
, Improper use of antibiotics can be more harmful than helpful. Be very attentive taking it!
, This wonderful medication is something that you have been looking for for many painful years!
, This month we announce a competition among our regular customers! Find out more!

Anonymous said...

[url=]Fusidic Acid[/url]
, The number of overweight and obese Americans has increased continuously since year 1960.
, [url=]Galantamine[/url]
, Studies show that men between the ages of 40 and 70 face severe problems with potency.
, Some antibiotics are effective against certain types of bacteria; others can fight many bacteria.
, Antihistamines can cause sleepiness, so never take one any time safety requires you to be alert.
, Men should seek medical advice & treatment if impotence occurs more than 50 % of the time.
, I have read in a medical survey that half of all cases of hypertension are attributed to obesity.
, Truly clever customers choose our pharmacy because it's the best of all similar services!

Anonymous said...

, Chronic alcoholism, vascular disease, multiple sclerosis, atherosclerosis can cause impotence.
, [url=]Desyrel[/url]
, Bicycle riding, in moderation, does not affect erectile functioning. But it's not absolutely safe.
, An estimated 97 million Americans suffer - 59 million are overweight & 38 million are obese.
, Seasonal allergy is something that I can not hear about any more. Just gimme the new drug!
, Men suffering from depression are more likely to be given custodial sentences than women.
, Expensive & revolutionary allergy treatment! Our regular customers have to pay only 70%.
,[url=]Diet Maxx[/url]
, Most common painkillers describe the common side effects on their labels. Read it carefully!

Anonymous said...

, Painkillers are cheap and they cost nothing compared to that of cocaine or heroin. So what?
, [url=]Diltiazem Cream[/url]
, No matter how bright and interesting your life is, depression can take you all by surprise, man.
,[url=]Diltiazem HCI[/url]
, Look at that vanilla cake! Does it really looks that tasty? Is it worth your nice slim figure?
, Even if you have a lot of money, wasting them on fake medications is not a good idea!
, Get the utmost of our clearance spring sale! buy most effective medications at a discount!
, Learn about other mental health problems that may co-exist with depression, including anxiety.
, We want our pharmacy to become even better so that we could provide more quality drugs!

Anonymous said...

, I'm not going to discuss the basics of allergy treatment. A reasonable person already knows it!
, [url=]Cleocin[/url]
, Look for ways that you might be distracting yourself during sexual activity. Attention matters!
,[url=]Clindamycin Gel[/url]
, Obesity increases your risk of developing gallbladder disease, type 2 diabetes & heart disease.
, Avoiding allergic people does not save you from allergens - they are everywhere, watch out!
, At our online pharmacy you will find not only discount prices, but really effective drugs!
, Antibiotics are not recommended for a cold or flu, as this infections are caused by viruses.
, Asthma often results from air pollution. But there is a trusted way to say Good bye to asthma!