Asador Extebarri (Basque Country, Spain 2014)

It’s not every restaurant, especially a fine dining one, where I am greeted at the door by a chef reading a newspaper. However, this was Asador Extebbari, and the fancy norms of Michelin restaurants didn’t seem to apply in this Spanish foothill town of Atxondo.  Turning around and checking his watch, he casually put on his apron, smiled, and gestured us toward the dining room.

What proceeded that unexpected country side welcoming was a fifteen course lunch that brought an unadulterated excitement that I had only associated with my blissfully ignorant youth. Forget knowing which farm your strawberries came from or what temperature this egg was cooked at. The grilled food at Asador Extebarri was simply fantastic.

A few years back, I saw a post about the ribeye at Asador Extebarri in the Basque region of Spain. It looked gorgeous with its crisp edges and velvet interior – a quintessential iconic dish from a restaurant in the Spanish country side. Flying to Spain seemed ludicrous at the time, so I just buried it on my restaurants to try list.

However, I was in Scandinavia soon after, for noma.  Then, in the Pacific Northwest for Willows Inn on Lummi Island. A layover in Tokyo solely for Ryugin.  Again to Scandinavia, but this time to Jämtland for Fäviken. Another few days to the San Juan Islands in Washington, still for Willows Inn.

And in the summer of 2014, I finally visited Asador Extebarri.

Slices of chorizo, as a welcoming snack, jolted my senses awake as the flavors and spices fought for center stage.  Another snack, salted anchovies on bread so perfectly toasted that the crunch and chew countered all of the fish’s brine. A tomato with buffalo mozzarella course masterfully balanced the hearty, comforting cheese with the tomato at the peak of its seasonality and therefore, flavour.  Then, grilled prawns were served with no utensils. The sucking of the shrimp head juices was even better than the perfectly cooked slightly raw tail.  A slice of tuna belly followed. Lightly grilled on the edges, tataki style, I no longer credit nigiri sushi as the best toro preparation.

Finally, the ribeye arrived.

Upon eating a piece, the crunch of the crisp edges lingered longer than any steak I’ve had. Maybe it was my mind holding onto the perfect charred texture or maybe it was just grilled that flawlessly. Then an unfiltered musk followed. A tinge of sweet. Hints of smoke. Cheese? The flavors were so complex and satisfying, it gave me pause.

It was undoubtedly and in every essence of the word, perfect.


See photos from the rest of the meal here.

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