A Basque word for tapas, the pintxo is everywhere to be found in stunning San Sebastian. I was fortunate enough to stumble upon Zeruko on calle Pesqueria in the old part of town. A rather hip spot that offers a generous variety of fresh samplings of some of the best in Basque cuisine.
Order a glass of wine or beer and delight yourself with exquisite bites of fresh fish, seafood and meat that are hard to resist. Slices of Spanish bread gingerly topped with different delicacies spread across the busy counter,waiting to be snatched by hungry patrons who have a hard time deciding what to choose first. A rather fun way to eat!
I couldn’t resist the pintxo de morcilla de arroz con huevo de codorniz, a slice of grilled rice filled blood pudding topped with a tiny fried quail egg, rich to say the least but absolutely delightful!
The pintxo de sardina con gelatina agridulce de cítricos was a tangy tasteful bite of fresh sardine topped with a dollop of citric sweet and sour gelatin. Quite an unusual yet delicious combination!
A more traditional one was the pintxo de melón con jamón , melon with Iberian ham topped with pine nuts ingeniously meant to resemble the fruit’s seeds. Overall, Zeruko is a fabulous fusion of contemporary creativity and old fashioned favorites!
Madrid is a mecca for great food. With a tapas’ bar on almost every corner, it’s not hard to find a good place to eat. In recent years, new restaurants have been turning up, straying from traditional Spanish cuisine and betting on lighter and more avantguard ways of preparing and presenting it, without losing an ounce of its true essence. I was very fortunate to stumble upon one of these great food sanctuaries: Marcano, specializing in Basque cuisine, located in the centric neighborhood of El Retiro, away from crowds and tour
Right behind the bar stands an open kitchen where young chef David Marcano toils, day and night, working on his craft like Merlin on his magic. So I decided to let myself fall under his “culinary”spell. Smart move!
This seemingly modern and spartan eatery was a sharp contrast to its deliciously intricate menu and warm and friendly service. A nicely priced wine list made for a rather welcoming move: a great selection of reds from Rioja, Ribera del Duero and great whites like Albarinho, Rias Baixas and Ruedas were listed for 2 and 3 euros a glass or an average of 17 euros per bottle.
As soon as you’re served a glass, a lovely tapa comes your way. Not just any tapa but something Marcano, who’s worked with renowned chef Arzak, concocts that very same day. I chose a glass of red wine: Tamaral Roble form Ribera del Duero and along came some gazpacho topped with a shrimp. Confused, I asked myself “Did I order this?” It didn’t matter, it looked so delicious that I couldn’t turn it down, a bowl of silky goodness that came totally unexpected. Soon after, the waitress brought me a small serving of aceitunas marinadas (olives seasoned with paprika) followed by some hearty white beans topped with a sardine. I was in tapas heaven!
I could’ve easily been satisfied with this experience and called it a day. But the lovely atmosphere and the choices of appetizers and entrées were highly tempting. I opted for the tuna tartare, freshly diced tuna marinated in a light soy sauce complemented with creamy avocado and dainty dollops of caviar. I also had to try the croquetas, small croquettes made with rich bechamel and nutty boletus mushrooms. As an entrée I had one of the main staples of high Basque cuisine: Merluza braseada con guiso de cocochas, braised melt in your mouth hake fillet served in a light broth with cocochas: small morsels of the most tender part of this fish: its cheeks. Absolutely exquisite!
Marcano treats his food with the same grace and respect as he treats his clients. Impeccably presented orders are served diligently and carefully, cutlery is replaced with every dish and as far as table linens go, no detail is spared.
Right before I finished my entrée, I looked up and noticed how he tirelessly works behind the counter immersed in his own world , raising his head only to make sure everyone is content. He sees we are and gives us a big smile in return. It’s like eating at home, only with a much more exciting menu than that of your mother’s.
After this delectable feast, I dared to go for something sweet: the Milhojas de naranja y frambuesas which turned out to be as light as it promised. Thin layers of homemade phyllo dough covered with an orange crème anglaise and fresh raspberries. That was all I needed but someone recommended I take a bite of the Flan de Queso which was no less delightful. A velvety custard made with fresh cream cheese in a light syrup. To top it off, I accepted a small glass of Patxarán, a rather sweet Basque digestif made with sloe berries which proved to be the perfect ending to an exceptionally perfect meal.