We love San Sebastian

Two Milanese chefs on a trip to the Basque Country. Between hangovers and tear tastings

Beniamino Nespor and Eugenio Roncoroni, the two ch

Beniamino Nespor and Eugenio Roncoroni, the two chefs of the Al Mercato restaurant in Milan, via Sant’Eufemia 16, +39.02.87237167. The photo was taken on the first floor of the Asador Etxebarri restaurant in Atxondo in the Basque Region, one of the many culinary stops the two young men have made during a touch and go weekend, last December. On Sunday February 10th they will be the protagonists of "Great cuisine, small dishes", from 12 to 3 pm at the Milano Food and Wine Festival

It all started one night, while we were working in the kitchen. I was teasing Eugenio and I asked him: "How about an effing starred sant’ambreous?". Of course, he agreed and so we booked the flights, the hotel rooms, made restaurants reservations and so on. We couldn’t decide between the Nordic countries and San Sebastian. In the end, we chose the Basque Country. To me, it was a bit like going back home, the excitement reached the highest levels. Two days and too many starred restaurants, too many. In the end, we chose Mugaritz, Martin Berasategui, and Asador Etxebarri. Nothing special, like spending a Sunday in Corso Vittorio Emanuele and then eating at McDonalds.

Extebarri's anchovies

Extebarri's anchovies

The main problem in San Sebastian are flight connections. It takes 5 hours to get there. We wake up at 7 after a late closing. Sunday lunch, wake up at 10, a terrible hangover, the Dicken’s strikes again, tapas al rojo y negro, cañas (beers) a go-go, txacoli, one hour and a half in a taxi and we’re finally at Etxebarri’s probably the god on earth of broiling, really the most humble person I’ve ever met. His kitchen is tiny, the grills designed by the chef are everywhere, crematoriums filled with almost whole oaks, a small induction stove for the sauces, only two people in the kitchen…

Of course, we would like to order everything, however, for obvious reasons, we’re forced to carefully select and contain ourselves. We start with the toasted bread – the best toasted bread in the world – with homemade anchovies – the best anchovies in the world -, smoked oil and a touching mix of delicacies. A 500 grams Dublin prawn, the best spent 100 euros recently. The aroma of the grill is always present, we are therefore able to taste the “usefulness” of the grills the chef has custom-designed, allowing an optimal cooking of the product, not at all aggressive. The result? The best grilled prawn we have had in our lives.

With Viktor Arguninzoniz, the king of grill

With Viktor Arguninzoniz, the king of grill

Of course we soak everything with champagne to fight the hangover and to maintain the necessary level of drunkenness to continue later at Berasategui, that evening. Grilled oyster: an orgasmic experience. Artichokes and mushrooms on the grill: to cry for, and Eugenio had that tear tattooed. Chorizo tartare: a sausage browned only on one side, fresh, homemade, lightly spicy… The woodpecker is the only unmoving dish of the lunch. It is perfectly cooked but the complements don’t thrill us. The usual digestive gin tonic… We have to get back into the taxi after one of the most expensive lunches recently. But we both go outside with a big smile on our lips, something that doesn’t happen often. I remember a rainbow and then the taxi-driver waking us up at the hotel.

A nap, an aperitive with tapas at Ber Epel in Lasarte Oria. Awaiting me there’s another, not last, record in this “culinary marathon”: I remember the most delicious pig-ear of my life. During all the months I spent there, I tried to have them teach me everything about it, but I didn’t manage. It was the first dish I tasted at Lasarte. Lots of emotion when the owner recognised me, especially considering that every trimester 80 chefs pass here, at Martin’s. And again, txacoli, cañas and off we go. And, obviously, con garrote!

1. to be continued


Chefs' life stories

Men who, for a moment, leave pots and pans to tell us their experience and point of view