HAMBAR, Montreal – This meal was perhaps too pricey for what was on offer

Click here for a recap of  my picks of all Montreal’s top fine dining & best Montreal’s bistrots. 
Also: My  3 and 2 Star Michelin restaurant review web site
Most recent reviews: Maison Boulud, Café Sardine, Restaurant Helena, Brasserie Central, Restaurant Mezcla, Hotel Herman, Lawrence,
Park, Kazu .

HAMBAR is one of the latest big entries on the Montreal restaurant scene.  The restaurant is situated inside the trendy Vieux Port’s boutique hotel St-Paul. It  has a pretty modern hip bistro feel, with no tablecloths, beautiful  use of wood and glass and a nice long bar right in the middle of the room. 

It was extremely busy on this thursday evening, which added to the lovely electric  ambience (For those in search of a hip 5 to 7 place, the happening is here on thursdays) I experienced during this meal, but the wait staff explained that this was a particularly busy night.

Food: I picked their star item, the charcuterie platter, along with a fluke ceviche, grilled octopus and a beef tartare.
Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7), just Ok (6)

The charcuterie platter consisted of a  poultry liver mousse (stunning for both its remarkable palatability and fantastic texture), cauliflower, local ham (ok), prosciutto di parma (ok, although it does not help that I still have, freshly in mind, its far better version sampled at Salumeria Garibaldi in Parma this past June), okra, Iberian cheese (ok), sausage (ok). This is one Ok charcuterie plate (at the exceprion of the poultry liver mousse, an exceptional item on this evening), with perhaps the one at Comptoir charcuteries et Vins appealing a bit more to me. The components seemed, to me, as good as any ordinary restaurant charcuterie in town. A matter of personal taste, as usual.  7/10

 Fluke ceviche came with a cream of avocado, jalapeno, lime emulsion, crème fraiche and puffed rice.  I appreciate the efforts. They try hard as obviously observed by the thoughts put in their dishes and obvious determination to be creative. I just found it unfortunate that the results did not blow me away:  I mean, it is a good riff on the ceviche, and I can’t remember many tables being able to pull out such appealing intensity of acidity (either the citrus was an exceptional one or an exceptional palate was behind that brilliant ceviche marinade), but the overall was just decent to me. Pleasant enough ceviche yes, but alas, unremarkable as far as I am concerned. 6/10

 Beef tartare  came with home made chips (Jerusalem artichoke, parsnip; among the better home made chips I have sampled at a restaurant in Mtl), a topping of sunny side up egg, and horseradish. A decent tartare, imo. Simple dish   like a tartare has no other choice but to be stellar in order to be noteworthy, which means stunning ‘beefy’ flavor, remarkable work of the texture,etc. Which I failed to experience with this beef tartare. Again, pleasant enough but not great, and I found this pretty much frustrating for them…yep, not even for me, the paying customer.. ..but for them…given the amount of efforts they have invested (plenty of accompaniments, logical touches to elevate the tartare such as the addition of the egg, etc).     6.5/10

Grilled octopus – The octopus was tender, but overwhelmed by a puttanesca vinaigrette that was way too thick. The octopus was mixed with that vinaigrette, and that did not help the seafood at all. In this particular case,  the puttanesca  would have been a better idea as a side dipping to the octopus. I know, the idea is to mix it with the seafood..and I had far better ones made with just that theme of mixing the puttanesca with the octopus…but on this occasion,  it just took the appeal of appreciating the octopus away.   The octopus also lacked enough heat to be  enjoyed  at its best, especially since it is  grilled. A world away from the octopus dishes I had recently at Kazu, or  Lawrence in September. 3/10

Service was really cool with perfect attitude from young and fun wait staff, although  I should note that I did not appreciate that the priciest wine glass offering appeared to be the one which bottle was not presented to me.
 
Pros: A focused palate won’t fail to find the touch of acidity of that ceviche memorable. Alas, that touch never elevated that ceviche to what my palate and all other senses would have perceived as a great ceviche. This was also the case of that stunning poultry liver mousse, almost close to the better ones one would enjoy in France,  but again…not enough to save the rest of my evening’s charcuterie platter from passing as  just Ok , as far as I am concerned. Then there was the effort put in each dish, the very nice homemade chips,  the hip ambience.
Cons: I found this meal way too pricey for what was on offer. My meals at Lawrence, some of the finest I had at Bistro Cocagne or Kitchen Galerie on Jean-Talon were certainly not cheap, but I never mentioned prices because the food made the price an afterthought. In contrast, on this evening here, none of the 4 food items of this meal was remarkable, whereas the bill …was!  This evening’s meal of mine lacked better work of textures, it lacked mouthfuls of succulent bliss.

Overall food rating: 4/10 From what I am accustomed to at equivalent eatery in Montreal (charcuterie-based Modern Intl bistrot cuisine in this case). To me, this evening’s meal (I judge my meals, not restaurants)  was nothing more than  just some Ok food. In the genre, charcuterie-based eatery offering their takes on International modern bistro food, Comptoir Charcuteries & Vins fared better to me on the aspect of food.

Conclusion: I know Montreal is generally ridiculously pricey when it comes to food at restaurant, and yet I still found this meal overpriced for what I was enjoying on this evening. As a comparison, solo dining meals (I was dining solo there, on this evening)  with equal quantity of food items and wine by the glass   at restaurants that are among this city’s very best like Bouillon Bilk, Lawrence and Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon  cost me less than what I have just paid.  Yes, I do understand that I did splurge, but that was equally the case at the other mentioned restaurants. And just in case I did not make myself enoughly clear: even  without splurging (so no wines, just tap water), and at whatever price, I still would have found this meal too pricey for what I was having on this evening.

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER: When you have cooked for so long (which is my case), you are confident about certain things, others not. Of course, it happened that I stumbled upon average meals and had no doubt that the same brigade of cooks could surprise me with better meals on  subsequent visits (for example: Maison Boulud in Montreal gave me that impression. I had an initial overall average meal there, but I knew the next meals would be better, And I was right.  but in the case of Hambar, deep inside of me, with the same cooks that have cooked that meal, I doubt there could be a radical improvement. Still,  the beauty with  cooking is that you can indeed be a better cook. You need to find out how, though. I won’t return to Hambar because I do not believe in it, but see for yourself. Who knows, they are probably proving me wrong. Which I hope, for them. But I’ll tell you right off the bat: I am not going to find out and i just could not care less!
 

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My Postal Card from Donostia-San Sebastian, Pais Vasco

Skipped the Michelin-star tables – Although Spain is at the forefront of world gastronomy, only two michelin-starred spanish restaurants do catch my attention at this moment: El Celler de Can Roca (Girona) and Quique Da Costa (Denia). I regrettably missed both  due to a lack of time. As to San Sebastian’s multiple Michelin Star tables (3* Martin Berasategui, 3* Arzak, 3* Akelarre, 2*  Mugaritz), I gathered enough intelligence on them to decide on choosing none. Michelin star tables in Spain are affordable, especially compared to those of France. And I heard that the service is not stiff, star Chefs are more accessible, the overall dining experience more pleasant at most of the best tables of Spain. I was seduced by reports about the amazing service at Mugaritz, the charming and friendly Chef Berasategui, the mesmerizing view from the large glass windows of Akelare. But when it comes to 2* and 3* Michelin star restaurants, I have my own personal preferences. At the highest Michelin star level I am more oriented toward France’s haute cuisine: my style is more Roellinger, Michel Bras, Briffard, Piège when he cooks haute cuisine, Christophe Moret, Guerard. This comes at a price, I know…but I’d rather save enough $$$ for what I really want rather than sitting at a Michelin star table just for the sake of it!

One last notice about Spanish Michelin-starred dinings: the price you pay  at those  3*  restaurants is a fraction of what one would pay in Paris or New York at most 2* or 3*  ventures. Spain is definitely where you should go if you want to experience Michelin star meals whilst not emptying your pocket.

***A lot from  Paris, a bit from Bruxelles and Rome – There’s no secret that some parts of SSB could remind you of Paris (they were clearly inspired by France’s architectures), but did you know that the small streets of Parte Vieija could remind of Rome? And look at this:
It’s their plaza de la constitucion. Once a bullring. Nowadays, just a plaza with terraces. At night, a remote feel of Bruxelles in the air ;p And last but not the least, I do not see many complaining about a piece of Nice’s ”’La promenade des Anglais”’ in SB: the long walk along Playa La Concha

 

A romantic feel  – If I can say of a city that it has sensuality and a distinctive romance  feel, then SSB would qualify to the designation. Here are three elements that do not fail as a romantic call:
-The gardens in front of city hall late at night:

The charm of the small streets of Parte Vieija, at night (like a little version of Rome):

Their long walk by the seaside:

Or take the long walk by the sea, along Paseo Nuevo, right behind Monte Urgull:

San Sebastian-Donostia - At the back of Monte Urgull (This is one of the scenic seaside views you will get from the back of Monte Urgull, along Paseo Nuevo, in the direction of Paseo de Muelle). I did personally did not enjoy going up on Monte Urgull, but this is a question of personal taste. I’d still suggest you try Mount Urgull since the views from up there could appeal to some, I’m sure. 

A fuego Negro – Indeed, one hot pintxo bar which cult I am embracing. I usually I tend to stay away from the big advertised places, but I have to give it to AFN:
the bar, the pintxo, the staff  and the spot are super cool, modern, well thought. They have the sense of pleasing  and  you just feel good there. There was my introduction to txakoli, the iconic white wine of the Spanish Basques. This wine surprised me: really pleasant, light, enjoyable in mouth  (could pass as a remote version of a champagne. It is NOT a  Champagne, but gets somehow close to it). 1-0 for AFN (I am seduced!)

Bar Zeruko 

Update on March 24th 2011: Just learned that the fact that they had to close was due to an urgent last minute event. I am therefore removing my words of unsatisfaction and do offer my apologies for the misunderstanding. 

Bar Martinez, 31 de Agosto, 13. Tel 943 424 965 (closed on Thurs, Fridays):
the surprising spanish omelette – With Bar Zeruko closed, we decided to hit two of their current most popular pintxo (tapas)  spots. First Bar Martinez on Calle de Agosto 31. The thing here is to come around 8:00-8:30 if you want to avoid the crowd.  Mission accomplished: barely no one in a bar that was going to get full later around 9:00. Here, I picked some ‘croquettes’ of cheese: tasty.  Croquettes of ham and asparagus: tasty. I am writing ‘tasty’ because they were, but I am quickly getting the ‘buzz’ about those spanish pintxo  spots: they do indeed make those ”croquettes” way better than most of the best restaurants around the world. Yep, that’s what surprised me the most. But wait till you read about what I’ve experienced at La Cucachara de San Telmo (next paragraph). In the meantime, I had to try their Spanish omelette. I love those simple things that barely attract attention to the most. This is exactly where I do play attention at your creation…
this is where I do tag you as a hero or a zero! This Spanish omelette is basically made of potato, tomato, chives, eggs. Its deliciousness was unexpected: omelette redefined! And I am not talking about redefinition of texture or whatsoever un-natural aspect of it (which  I usually call ”pure BS”  btw)…nah, I am talking about the main purpose of an omelette: its TASTYNESS! We could argue forever with possibilities  like ‘it is just a different omelette that I have never tasted before’.  Regardless, it is superior to whatever omelette I have yet sampled all around Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia and it stands as as my new reference  as far as omelettes go!  Bar Martinez: 9/10! Pratical note: Bar Martinez has tables where you can sit down.

La Cuchara de San Telmo, Calle 31 de Agosto 28 Bajos, Tel: 647 787 444 – Our second stop after Bar Martinez. Largely the most advertised pintxo place along with A Fuego Negro.  In other corners of the world, the buzz is pure BS in the hands of those who can capt the attention of the media or of the Public relationship fake  drama.  You surely know what I mean. Here  in SSB, they obviously apply themselves to back buzz by real genius. Both la Cuchara de San Telmo and A Fuego Negro proved, on my visits at their establishments, that they are simply the best at what they do…perhaps even more than that!  Anyways, let’s get to the fact:
(1) A risotto, in its “pintxo version. I do not know how to write this, but I am bold, and there’s no way I’ll try to find words or BS descriptions  to come to the point: this risotto they served to me was simply a new reference, a creation that was way superior in both taste,  appreciation, and cooking mastery than any of the best risotto I ever sampled at 3*, 2*, 1* Michelin starred tables. Let alone at  the rest.
Again, forget about the fact that I’ve never been to SSB before and that this may have been the effect of novelty. Thinking that way would be  simply naive. The fact is that their risotto is stunning, way superior than most of the best risottos on offer out there, and we need to face it. Basta!
A 10 over 10
(2) The pan seared foie gras – Those folks do a superior pan seared foie than even my world’s favourite ones (sorry Eau a la Bouche, Sorry Bistro Cocagne,
I love your pan seared foie…but la Cucachara makes it twice better). The depth of taste of their foie, the mastery of its cooking is way beyond expectation, and then you have the sour/sweet puree accompaniments that were simply un-matched.   In two bites, La Cucachara did way better than the best 3* I could think about (without the decorum perhaps, but all I care about is the superiority of  the food!). Simply the best of the pintxo places  I have tried in SSB (just remember that there are no tables there. It’s a tiny place.
Once you enter the place, just head to the bar on your right, stand up there and just order your pintxos off the small board that’s on the bar’s wall. Just 6 to 8 items, written in spanish and easy to read. Stand up and eat. Not that big of a drama since this is not  a big meal, remember…but just samplings of food –aka tapas / pintxos).
Before I forget: I read here and there that this place is hard to fine. I agree: you can miss it easily…because it is not really on 31 de Agosto.. or it it? Lol..once you get there, you will better understand what I mean. For now, keep this in mind:  once you are on calle 31 de Agosto, it is at the corner of Valle Lersundi Plaza. Carefully look afar and you will see a yellow sign “Keler”.  It’s right there (looks like a street that goes nowhere –in between Bar Martinez and La Cepa on 31 de Agosto–, but stick to that path).

Come here in summer – It’s a small seaside city
with perhaps more interests  than just the sea and the food (pintxos of course, plenty of seafood), but visit San Sebastian in summer if that’s a place you’re planning to visit. I came here this time in March for personal reasons, but summer would have surely been better. I was afraid that San Sebastian would be just another of those oversold touristic places. SB is touristic, there is no doubt about this. But at least, I find, it has some interesting things to bring: the city itself is charming (the seaside part worths a visit on its own. Perhaps not the perfect caribbean type of beach, but scenic enough and the beach is in good condition (where I’ll rate the best beaches of the Caribbean with a 9 to 9.5 over 10, those of the Atlantic side of Mediterranea with a 6 over 10,  I’ve got to rate SB’s beaches with a 7 over 10 – The water is relatively clear and the sand, although not white but light brown — think of the desert — is soft and nice). The city is romantic (taking a walk at the back of Monte Urgull, on Pasealeku berria / walk at night by La Concha beach, etc), with plenty of fun bars and eateries on top of being a city-beach resort. Can’t fail to seduce as far as I am concerned.

Fish from trouble waters
… tend to generally taste better. That is why their fish is quite tastier (please do not go there with un-realistic expectations towards their fish. It is among the tastiest ones, point blank). Ironically, my palate has a softer spot for their tropical cousins: the fishes of warm and quiet tropical seas (sometimes packed with less upfront depth of taste — compared to those I’ve sampled in SSB —  but I find their taste more enticing, almost ‘nutty-er’ especially in my preferred way of cooking fish: grilling). 

For shopping: look around carefully. There are bargains amidst expensive stores. And they are everywhere to be found: Alameda  del boulevard, Calle Urbieta, in the small streets of Parte Vieja, etc. My “coup de coeur” went for a small boutique for women accessories and shoes / clothes called “Koima” on Idiakez Kalea, corner of gipuzkoa plaza. This was first discovered by my mum, the only person I trust for opinions on best value  buyings. She told me that I should go there to find interesting women accessories and shoes for my wife. She was right:  The price there are ridiculously low and the items varied, creatively assembled. A true small little gem found out of nowhere and a great way to boot your shopping spree in a city of great shopping opportunities (If you look around carefully, jewelries, women accessories, shoes and men suits are insanely cheap compared to the rest of the world).

Affordable eats: Since all infos on the web have covered virtually all eateries of SSB, I will cover those that were left behind but worth a detour if you want to save money in food spendings. You can do better than the average eur 20 “menus del dia” that most restaurants do offer. My best locations for cheap but good food are:
(1) Ricky Pollo in la Bretxea cinema/commercial centre – Rotisserie, pastas. Great cheap food with better service than  at a bunch of top restaurants! 
(2) La Cueva del Pollo — a cheap but great rotisserie. Both are close to each other. 

Their ham worths indeed the detour. I regret of not having spent more times discovering them as much as I would have liked, but the care, the aging, the taste of their ham is memorable. You might be shocked at times by the price of some of their superior hams, but if like me you are passionate about this, I’d recommend to give them a try.

Lodged at:  

Pension Bellas Artes. An excellent pension (absolutely no complain) with excellent hosts who work hard and work well. It is a small pension, with a very personalized service, so do not draw comparisons to a standard hotel. Leire, the owner, did everything to make our stay enjoyable and what a honest person. From her pension, you walk straight on Calle Urbieta and within 10 mins, you are already at the jonction of Playa La Concha’s seaside walk and the town hall/Parte Vieja.
Bottom line: San Sebastian is my type of place -> varied architectures and sceneries. Lots of fun little eateries and bars. A seaside that entices,  and somehow a multi-cultural city opened to the outside (people were mostly really  welcoming to me, and that is right there a remarquable proof of open-mindness / tolerance, believe me, Rfaol! Please do not abuse of their kindness).  For the food, stick to their seafood.  They are great at it. For their pintxos, start with the current leading spots: La cucachara de San Telmo, A fuegro Negro and from there try the rest:  la Cepa, bar Martinez, etc.  They are all very close to each other, and since the ritual is to sample 1 or 2 bites here and there, just go from one place  to another. It is cheap (2-3 euros for 1 pintxo). 
If you want to discover SSB through a romantic angle, I will recommend you do this:
(1)Book a table at restaurant La Perla, Playa la Concha for when the sun goes down. You will thank me ;p
(2)Take your sweet half  to a night / or late afternoon  walk along Playa la Concha or at the back of Monte Urgull (on Pasealeku Berria)
It is perhaps no Tuscany, Rfaol…but it can trade couple of punches with the earlier Italian star when it comes to romantic opportunities.  Personally, it brings me even more enjoyment than Tuscany to many respects (they are different, of course. Just try them both to make up your own  opinion). 

Off to the next adventure. Miss you Montreal!
Thanks for reading.

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My Postal Card from Donostia-San Sebastian, Pais Vasco

Skipped the Michelin-star tables – Although Spain is at the forefront of world gastronomy, only two michelin-starred spanish restaurants do catch my attention at this moment: El Celler de Can Roca (Girona) and Quique Da Costa (Denia). I regrettably missed both  due to a lack of time. As to San Sebastian’s multiple Michelin Star tables (3* Martin Berasategui, 3* Arzak, 3* Akelarre, 2*  Mugaritz), I gathered enough intelligence on them to decide on choosing none. Michelin star tables in Spain are affordable, especially compared to those of France. And I heard that the service is not stiff, star Chefs are more accessible, the overall dining experience more pleasant at most of the best tables of Spain. I was seduced by reports about the amazing service at Mugaritz, the charming and friendly Chef Berasategui, the mesmerizing view from the large glass windows of Akelare. But when it comes to 2* and 3* Michelin star restaurants, I have my own personal preferences. At the highest Michelin star level I am more oriented toward France’s haute cuisine: my style is more Roellinger, Michel Bras, Briffard, Piège when he cooks haute cuisine, Christophe Moret, Guerard. This comes at a price, I know…but I’d rather save enough $$$ for what I really want rather than sitting at a Michelin star table just for the sake of it!

One last notice about Spanish Michelin-starred dinings: the price you pay  at those  3*  restaurants is a fraction of what one would pay in Paris or New York at most 2* or 3*  ventures. Spain is definitely where you should go if you want to experience Michelin star meals whilst not emptying your pocket.

***A lot from  Paris, a bit from Bruxelles and Rome – There’s no secret that some parts of SSB could remind you of Paris (they were clearly inspired by France’s architectures), but did you know that the small streets of Parte Vieija could remind of Rome? And look at this:
It’s their plaza de la constitucion. Once a bullring. Nowadays, just a plaza with terraces. At night, a remote feel of Bruxelles in the air ;p And last but not the least, I do not see many complaining about a piece of Nice’s ”’La promenade des Anglais”’ in SB: the long walk along Playa La Concha

 

A romantic feel  – If I can say of a city that it has sensuality and a distinctive romance  feel, then SSB would qualify to the designation. Here are three elements that do not fail as a romantic call:
-The gardens in front of city hall late at night:

The charm of the small streets of Parte Vieija, at night (like a little version of Rome):

Their long walk by the seaside:

Or take the long walk by the sea, along Paseo Nuevo, right behind Monte Urgull:

San Sebastian-Donostia - At the back of Monte Urgull (This is one of the scenic seaside views you will get from the back of Monte Urgull, along Paseo Nuevo, in the direction of Paseo de Muelle). I did personally did not enjoy going up on Monte Urgull, but this is a question of personal taste. I’d still suggest you try Mount Urgull since the views from up there could appeal to some, I’m sure. 

A fuego Negro – Indeed, one hot pintxo bar which cult I am embracing. I usually I tend to stay away from the big advertised places, but I have to give it to AFN:
the bar, the pintxo, the staff  and the spot are super cool, modern, well thought. They have the sense of pleasing  and  you just feel good there. There was my introduction to txakoli, the iconic white wine of the Spanish Basques. This wine surprised me: really pleasant, light, enjoyable in mouth  (could pass as a remote version of a champagne. It is NOT a  Champagne, but gets somehow close to it). 1-0 for AFN (I am seduced!)

Bar Zeruko 

Update on March 24th 2011: Just learned that the fact that they had to close was due to an urgent last minute event. I am therefore removing my words of unsatisfaction and do offer my apologies for the misunderstanding. 

Bar Martinez, 31 de Agosto, 13. Tel 943 424 965 (closed on Thurs, Fridays):
the surprising spanish omelette – With Bar Zeruko closed, we decided to hit two of their current most popular pintxo (tapas)  spots. First Bar Martinez on Calle de Agosto 31. The thing here is to come around 8:00-8:30 if you want to avoid the crowd.  Mission accomplished: barely no one in a bar that was going to get full later around 9:00. Here, I picked some ‘croquettes’ of cheese: tasty.  Croquettes of ham and asparagus: tasty. I am writing ‘tasty’ because they were, but I am quickly getting the ‘buzz’ about those spanish pintxo  spots: they do indeed make those ”croquettes” way better than most of the best restaurants around the world. Yep, that’s what surprised me the most. But wait till you read about what I’ve experienced at La Cucachara de San Telmo (next paragraph). In the meantime, I had to try their Spanish omelette. I love those simple things that barely attract attention to the most. This is exactly where I do play attention at your creation…
this is where I do tag you as a hero or a zero! This Spanish omelette is basically made of potato, tomato, chives, eggs. Its deliciousness was unexpected: omelette redefined! And I am not talking about redefinition of texture or whatsoever un-natural aspect of it (which  I usually call ”pure BS”  btw)…nah, I am talking about the main purpose of an omelette: its TASTYNESS! We could argue forever with possibilities  like ‘it is just a different omelette that I have never tasted before’.  Regardless, it is superior to whatever omelette I have yet sampled all around Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia and it stands as as my new reference  as far as omelettes go!  Bar Martinez: 9/10! Pratical note: Bar Martinez has tables where you can sit down.

La Cuchara de San Telmo, Calle 31 de Agosto 28 Bajos, Tel: 647 787 444 – Our second stop after Bar Martinez. Largely the most advertised pintxo place along with A Fuego Negro.  In other corners of the world, the buzz is pure BS in the hands of those who can capt the attention of the media or of the Public relationship fake  drama.  You surely know what I mean. Here  in SSB, they obviously apply themselves to back buzz by real genius. Both la Cuchara de San Telmo and A Fuego Negro proved, on my visits at their establishments, that they are simply the best at what they do…perhaps even more than that!  Anyways, let’s get to the fact:
(1) A risotto, in its “pintxo version. I do not know how to write this, but I am bold, and there’s no way I’ll try to find words or BS descriptions  to come to the point: this risotto they served to me was simply a new reference, a creation that was way superior in both taste,  appreciation, and cooking mastery than any of the best risotto I ever sampled at 3*, 2*, 1* Michelin starred tables. Let alone at  the rest.
Again, forget about the fact that I’ve never been to SSB before and that this may have been the effect of novelty. Thinking that way would be  simply naive. The fact is that their risotto is stunning, way superior than most of the best risottos on offer out there, and we need to face it. Basta!
A 10 over 10
(2) The pan seared foie gras – Those folks do a superior pan seared foie than even my world’s favourite ones (sorry Eau a la Bouche, Sorry Bistro Cocagne,
I love your pan seared foie…but la Cucachara makes it twice better). The depth of taste of their foie, the mastery of its cooking is way beyond expectation, and then you have the sour/sweet puree accompaniments that were simply un-matched.   In two bites, La Cucachara did way better than the best 3* I could think about (without the decorum perhaps, but all I care about is the superiority of  the food!). Simply the best of the pintxo places  I have tried in SSB (just remember that there are no tables there. It’s a tiny place.
Once you enter the place, just head to the bar on your right, stand up there and just order your pintxos off the small board that’s on the bar’s wall. Just 6 to 8 items, written in spanish and easy to read. Stand up and eat. Not that big of a drama since this is not  a big meal, remember…but just samplings of food –aka tapas / pintxos).
Before I forget: I read here and there that this place is hard to fine. I agree: you can miss it easily…because it is not really on 31 de Agosto.. or it it? Lol..once you get there, you will better understand what I mean. For now, keep this in mind:  once you are on calle 31 de Agosto, it is at the corner of Valle Lersundi Plaza. Carefully look afar and you will see a yellow sign “Keler”.  It’s right there (looks like a street that goes nowhere –in between Bar Martinez and La Cepa on 31 de Agosto–, but stick to that path).

Come here in summer – It’s a small seaside city
with perhaps more interests  than just the sea and the food (pintxos of course, plenty of seafood), but visit San Sebastian in summer if that’s a place you’re planning to visit. I came here this time in March for personal reasons, but summer would have surely been better. I was afraid that San Sebastian would be just another of those oversold touristic places. SB is touristic, there is no doubt about this. But at least, I find, it has some interesting things to bring: the city itself is charming (the seaside part worths a visit on its own. Perhaps not the perfect caribbean type of beach, but scenic enough and the beach is in good condition (where I’ll rate the best beaches of the Caribbean with a 9 to 9.5 over 10, those of the Atlantic side of Mediterranea with a 6 over 10,  I’ve got to rate SB’s beaches with a 7 over 10 – The water is relatively clear and the sand, although not white but light brown — think of the desert — is soft and nice). The city is romantic (taking a walk at the back of Monte Urgull, on Pasealeku berria / walk at night by La Concha beach, etc), with plenty of fun bars and eateries on top of being a city-beach resort. Can’t fail to seduce as far as I am concerned.

Fish from trouble waters
… tend to generally taste better. That is why their fish is quite tastier (please do not go there with un-realistic expectations towards their fish. It is among the tastiest ones, point blank). Ironically, my palate has a softer spot for their tropical cousins: the fishes of warm and quiet tropical seas (sometimes packed with less upfront depth of taste — compared to those I’ve sampled in SSB —  but I find their taste more enticing, almost ‘nutty-er’ especially in my preferred way of cooking fish: grilling). 

For shopping: look around carefully. There are bargains amidst expensive stores. And they are everywhere to be found: Alameda  del boulevard, Calle Urbieta, in the small streets of Parte Vieja, etc. My “coup de coeur” went for a small boutique for women accessories and shoes / clothes called “Koima” on Idiakez Kalea, corner of gipuzkoa plaza. This was first discovered by my mum, the only person I trust for opinions on best value  buyings. She told me that I should go there to find interesting women accessories and shoes for my wife. She was right:  The price there are ridiculously low and the items varied, creatively assembled. A true small little gem found out of nowhere and a great way to boot your shopping spree in a city of great shopping opportunities (If you look around carefully, jewelries, women accessories, shoes and men suits are insanely cheap compared to the rest of the world).

Affordable eats: Since all infos on the web have covered virtually all eateries of SSB, I will cover those that were left behind but worth a detour if you want to save money in food spendings. You can do better than the average eur 20 “menus del dia” that most restaurants do offer. My best locations for cheap but good food are:
(1) Ricky Pollo in la Bretxea cinema/commercial centre – Rotisserie, pastas. Great cheap food with better service than  at a bunch of top restaurants! 
(2) La Cueva del Pollo — a cheap but great rotisserie. Both are close to each other. 

Their ham worths indeed the detour. I regret of not having spent more times discovering them as much as I would have liked, but the care, the aging, the taste of their ham is memorable. You might be shocked at times by the price of some of their superior hams, but if like me you are passionate about this, I’d recommend to give them a try.

Lodged at:  

Pension Bellas Artes. An excellent pension (absolutely no complain) with excellent hosts who work hard and work well. It is a small pension, with a very personalized service, so do not draw comparisons to a standard hotel. Leire, the owner, did everything to make our stay enjoyable and what a honest person. From her pension, you walk straight on Calle Urbieta and within 10 mins, you are already at the jonction of Playa La Concha’s seaside walk and the town hall/Parte Vieja.
Bottom line: San Sebastian is my type of place -> varied architectures and sceneries. Lots of fun little eateries and bars. A seaside that entices,  and somehow a multi-cultural city opened to the outside (people were mostly really  welcoming to me, and that is right there a remarquable proof of open-mindness / tolerance, believe me, Rfaol! Please do not abuse of their kindness).  For the food, stick to their seafood.  They are great at it. For their pintxos, start with the current leading spots: La cucachara de San Telmo, A fuegro Negro and from there try the rest:  la Cepa, bar Martinez, etc.  They are all very close to each other, and since the ritual is to sample 1 or 2 bites here and there, just go from one place  to another. It is cheap (2-3 euros for 1 pintxo). 
If you want to discover SSB through a romantic angle, I will recommend you do this:
(1)Book a table at restaurant La Perla, Playa la Concha for when the sun goes down. You will thank me ;p
(2)Take your sweet half  to a night / or late afternoon  walk along Playa la Concha or at the back of Monte Urgull (on Pasealeku Berria)
It is perhaps no Tuscany, Rfaol…but it can trade couple of punches with the earlier Italian star when it comes to romantic opportunities.  Personally, it brings me even more enjoyment than Tuscany to many respects (they are different, of course. Just try them both to make up your own  opinion). 

Off to the next adventure. Miss you Montreal!
Thanks for reading.

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