Too bad I didn’t have my camera last April when I went to San Sebastian, because those would have been some amazing pictures. It’s well-known among foodies (or siberitas, as they’re known here) that San Sebastian has some of the best food in the world, and more Michelin-starred restaurants per person than anywhere else. But even the regular restaurants and bars around town are of a different caliber. I wish this system could work in America, or everywhere else: you walk into a bar and the counter tops are filled with plates of little foods, called pintxos, the most typical are little tiny concoctions on bread ranging from grilled goat cheese, mango, tomato, and ham, to grilled beef and mushroom. But San Sebastian does more than the standard pintxo and bars have menus of gourmet food that come in bite size portions so you can try as much as you want. It’s kind of like going to a fancy restaurant and instead of having to decide between seared duck with porcini gnocchi, or scallops with black truffle shavings, or foie gras …, you can have them all. They come in compact size, perfect for sharing with one other person, and it allows you to try everything. And the beauty of it is these are not plates of, yawn, your run-of-the-mill appetizers, these are avant-garde dishes. Ok. I should really stop. This isn’t even a post about San Sebastian. And here I go, teasing you with tid-bits of San Sebastian, food mecca. So I will stop.
This is more to tell you about a place in Barcelona that is San Sebastian incarnate. So if for some reason you make it to Barcelona, and not to that food paradise of the Basque Country, you should try Taverna del Clínic in Barcelona and you’ll get a sampling of what your regular café/bar/restaurant in San Sebastian is like.
So if I didn’t wax poetic enough about the essence of that city a few paragraphs ago, the moral of the story is: it’s like going to a 3 star restaurant at normal prices and smaller portions. Taverna del Clínic looks like a typical bar from the outside (I’m very sorry to admit that it even has a slot machine, I still do not understand the Spanish frame of mind that drives them to put those in all their bars/restaurants), and it even has pictures of the food on the walls and placemats (which is also another no-no on my list) but the food is little works of art. I’ll stop my vague blabber and get right on with what we ate:
This is a montadito of Iberian pork and mushrooms. It’s got some grainy mustard spread across the toast and sea salt sprinkled on top. It is magic and I’ve gotten it all three times that I’ve been.
This is foie gras with caramelized apple and butter. If you recall from my Abac post, you’ll remember that foie is not the first ting I order on the menu, but it’s growing on me. I think it’s something that I hate to like, because it’s not the most humane, and it’s also not the healthiest, but this foie with caramelized apples is also something I’ve ordered more than once.
Ah yes, and these are the patatas bravas. Probably one of the most well-known Spanish plates, after tortilla (to come later) are patatas bravas. If you don’t know them, it’s just fried potatoes with a ‘spicy mayonnaise,’ is usually it’s most common description. Sometimes it’s a plate of home-fry potatoes with a blob of mayonnaise and a blob of spicy tomato sauce. These are nothing of the sort. I wish I had a picture of regular ones for comparison purposes, but I never thought it necessary to take a picture of patatas bravas anywhere else. These make your eyes light up when you see a plate with 5 cylindrical standing potatoes with little wells of sauce in each one. And if you’re not polite and you pop the whole thing into your mouth at once, the sauce explodes with the potato and it makes you appreciate patatas bravas.
This is more foie. Keep in mind, the orders weren’t only my decision, not that I objected, or would in the future. I'm just removing blame from myself. This one is seared foie with morel puree. Very rich.
This was a salad with bacalao (salt cod), nothing too special, but the sauce was something. That red sauce that you see in that little dish, that’s romesco. It’s Catalan, and it’s most commonly eaten with calcots (something similar to leeks or spring onions. It’s just about the season to eat them now, grilled and dipped in romesco). Romesco is made with tomatoes, red peppers, almonds, garlics, and oil, and it is gooood.
Here’s the tortilla. They have all different kinds, mushroom, bacalao, and they throw in a few pieces of pan con tomato (simple yet delicious bread rubbed with tomato). I don’t go crazy over tortilla, I mean, it’s an omelet, but it wasn’t bad, and neither was the bread.
And this is steak with asparagus and a little potato patty underneath. Perfectly cooked and seasoned, we were all very happy with this one.
Now, having been three times, I’ve tried more dished than this, but unfortunately only brought my camera one time. there was a memorable pasta dish with white truffle shavings. A tiny cup of a bowl, but delicious. So maybe I’ll come to you soon with more pictures from future meals. For now, I have a dessert to share with you. Most of the desserts, however, are not made in house, they are done by one of Barcelona’s chocolatiers, Oriol Balaguer. I’ve been to his shop and it was incredibly small and I couldn’t detect anything special, but the dessert was very nice. It’s simply called ‘texturas de chocolate’ because it has a mousse layer and a smooth, creamy, chocolate layer above that, and a chocolate candy on top.
So that’s Taverna del Clínic, I think it truly is an authentic taste of San Sebastian style food in Barcelona. They don’t claim to be Basque, but it was the first thing I thought of when we began to receive the little plates of beautifully presented, slightly modern food. The restaurant is great because it’s so unpretentious, which makes the food even more of a surprise.
Oh, and in regards to my literary drooling over San Sebastian, you only have to wait until May to see actual photos and read about the pintxos because that’s when my next trip is planned.