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Akelare - File Under: Cute

Sidebar: taking a cab up to the restaurant, I asked the cab driver (a gentleman in his 60's or so) if he was from the area. He said, "Yes." I asked him Basque or Spanish? He said, "Both, I am Basque and we are in Spain. It's like flowers, they may look a little different and smell a little different, but they're all flowers." One person's take on the issue of Basque identity.

Akelare occupies an incredible location on a large piece of property on a hill called Igueldo outside of Donostia/San Sebastian. Unmatched view of the Concha, Santa Clara island, Bay of Biscay. I arrived at night, so no pix. But plenty available online. Oddly, the url is Akelarre.net, but the signage is all spelled Akelare. Some of the text below is directly from the menu.


There are two separate menus offered, Aranori (the sloe berry, from which Basque digestif pacharan is made) or Bekarki, (the Euskera word for arugula). They are just the names for option A or B, with no particular significance, i.e. not a tasting featuring arugula or sloe. I chose Bekarki.

The amuses bouche - Left to right, oyster leaf, mussel encased in some sort of chocolate to imitate it's shell, an edible packet of shallot and corn "Beach Pebbles", aerated bread imitating a sea sponge flavored with sea urchin, (sorry, the green item I do not recall and not listed on menu), and codium seaweed tempura flavored with percebes (gooseneck barnacles) to imitate coral. In the background, a small shot of cava with pomegranate arils. The base was breadcrumb sand flavored with shrimp. Before I had a chance to explain that I do not eat mussels, they brought this out. I would have been perfectly content to simply not eat the mussel, but they graciously brought out the same thing made of oyster.

Oyster leaf is a bit of an oddity because it naturally tastes a bit like the ocean. The mussel/oyster had an odd texture, as if it was chocolate with the same breadcrumbs as the bottom of the dish mixed into it. The packet of pebbles was a bit short on flavor. The tempura as well did not taste of much. Cava and pomegranate work nicely together - almost like a Shirley Temple - since pomegranate is the main ingredient of grenadine.


Xangurro claw (spider crab), a blini made of the crab roe and tomalley, with salad of "gurullos" (rice shaped pasta), more crab, and sea beans.


More pix if you clix >>

Closest to foreground on the plate is a razor clam, then white snowball mushroom (fungus), then veal tendon, braised until tender. Suggested manner of eating is to take a bit of each in each bite. This seems a bit influenced by China, as the snowball fungus usually comes from China, and the sauce on the veal tendon seemed to have a little oyster sauce in it. This is probably my favorite course. Clams and mushrooms are together are a great match.


Foie gras with "Sea Salt Flakes and Black Peppercorns". The server says, "I'm going to put for you now, some salt and pepper." And pours about a teaspoon of what appears to be salt flakes, and about a tablespoon of what appears to be black peppercorns on the foie. It seems like it would ruin the dish, too much salt and too much pepper. But the "salt" is made of sugar, and the "peppercorns" are like Japanese rice crackers, but made of (forbidden?) black rice.

Unfortunately, the sugar flakes absorb moisture from the surface of the foie, and it becomes chewy and sticky. Although the foie was cooked nicely, to me the dish was off the mark.


Turbot and it's "kokotxas." Turbot, or rodoballo in Spanish, being a flat fish, does not have a chin the way a hake does. The gag here is that they make a gelatin out of the skin and bones of the turbot, then mimic the shape of the hake's kokotxas, which is that upside down V shape on top of the sauce. The piece of turbot was cooked very nicely. The white sauce is called pil-pil, which is emusified using the gelatin of the fish. The crispy bit there is a chip made from the skin of the turbot, and the powder is made from parsley.


"Desalted" Bacalao. Presented on straw made from phyllo, there's a coating of breadcrumbs that is supposed to seem like salt, as if hadn't been soaked and rinsed of the salt that preserves it. There's also cod tripe in the bowl, and the liquid is tomato water.


Their version of cochinillo, roasted suckling pig. The cochinillo is cooked with Iberico ham stock, then the skin is crisped up. I'm not exactly sure what the semi-clear gel is under the tomato, but it didn't have much flavor. Aerated bread with sweet pimenton.


I'm pretty sure they skipped the hare course for me here, but I didn't notice until just now as I'm writing this. Should have been Roasted Hare loin with it's Royal.

Milk and Grape, Cheese and Wine in Parallel Evolution. High concept dish here. The idea is, starting on the left, is a very young and fresh curd, matched with a fresh grape, then evolving to the right with an aged cheese with aged brandy. From the menu:

-Grapevine, curded sheep's milk and walnut
-Powdered fresh cream with chive and grapes
-Quark cheese with nutmeg and pink pepper aroma, must of tapioca and tomato
-Medium aged Idiazabal with quince jelly and wine dust
-Torta of casar grape with Pedro Ximenez brandy soaked raisins, gorgonzola cheese ice cream


Layered Strawberry and Cream, Colored basil seeds


Mojito (lime, mint, rum) in foam/meringue form. Delicious.



I was excited to go to Akelare, after seeing so many other people's meals on other websites, and seeing rave reviews. Again, take my comments with a grain of salt, but for me it was not as successful of a meal. Perhaps I was there on an off night, but the service seemed a bit uncoordinated. Additionally, I felt like the dishes all had a little gimmick, and several components were lacking in flavor. In my humble opinion, making components appear to be something else is a less sophisticated usage of technique. It's as if there's a wink and a nudge there, "No, see, it looks like a strawberry, but inside it's strawberry sauce and ice cream, get it??" or "It looks like salt cod straight out of the box, but it's already been soaked and cooked, get it?? And the straw is actually phyllo, get it?" Certainly there were no disasters, nothing improperly cooked, no real errors. But several missed opportunities and less than successful choices. Not to my taste.

If you do go, I recommend going for lunch to appreciate the view.

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