Every three months I get to travel to the Basque country in Spain and personally curate the selection of chefs from Bizkaia (the name of the region that encompasses Bilbao and the surrounding area) for Bar Basque. These chefs are invited through a quarterly visiting chefs program I created with the Basque government. For this trip, I decided to bring Bar Basque’s executive chef, Yuhi Fujinaga, with me.
Once in Spain, I promised Yuhi we would “escape” to Barcelona, another culinary Mecca. I wanted him to experience the Catalonian region, even if in brief, and he was dying to go to the “impossible to get a table” TICKETS and Bar 41°, the latest establishments started up by Ferran Adrià, along with his little brother Albert and in partnership with the Iglesias Brothers (who run the family business of Rias de Galicia, one of the most reliable seafood restaurants in Spain).
To round out the Catalonian restaurant repertoire, I included my newest favorite, Gresca, a tiny restaurant by chef Rafa Peña, a Barcelona native, who also heads Spain’s “bistronomic” movement. We would also go to Dos Palillos, the Japanese-Catalonian restaurant at the hip Campers Hotel in the heart of the Ramblas area, run by Albert Raurich, former “Jefe de Cocina” of elBulli. Lastly, we would hit Dos Cielos, atop the new ME Hotel by Melia, where brothers Sergio and Javier Torres have developed “sensography,” a graphical interpretation of their menu created by the flavors, sensations, emotions, textures and memories derived from a given customer’s dining experience; the data they collect is analyzed and published afterwards on their website.
Days before our “exploratory” trip, Chef Yuhi confessed that he was so excited that he couldn’t sleep. All he could think about was that he was going to TICKETS. I knew what he was going through, as it had happened to me back in February when I was invited to be amongst the first to experience TICKETS and Bar 41°. Back then, I felt privileged and honored, and I have to add that after having been to TICKETS and Bar 41° six times already, I still get as excited as the first.
Not forgetting the primary intention of our trip — to select visiting chefs for Bar Basque — we had revelatory meals at Restaurante Zuria in the center of Bilbao, at Restaurante Zallo Barri in Guernika and at Restaurante Yandiola, at the stunning Alhondiga complex designed by Philippe Starck.
Along the way, two young chefs caught our attention: Alvaro Garrido from Restaurant Mina at Muelle Marzana, across from the Bilbao main food market, and David Garcia, a rising star who has worked in the kitchens of chef restaurateur Martin Berasategui at Mugaritz with Andoni Aduriz and even at elBulli with Ferran Adria.
Here are five of our favorite tastes from the trip.