Magical Mystery Tour: Akelare

March 18, 2017

 

A stunning glass edifice above the sea.  Two large mysterious red lamps, elegant as tulips, light your way to the door. Approaching San Sebastian’s  Akelare, you have no doubt that you are about to enter a temple of food.

But it is more than that.  Chef Pedro Subijana is a kitchen wizard who delights in surprising you.  Nothing at his restaurant is what it appears to be.  A parade of appetizers greets you. First the Bloody Mary up above, a gorgeous clash of tomato, celery and vodka.  It is followed by “diabolical butter” to spread onto “colorful bread.”

 

And olives, that are not mere olives, but burst into your mouth in a great gasp of anchovy liquid.

 

Now the real show begins.  A captain arrives bearing a tray of shrimp, which he proceeds to douse with Orujo, a pomace brandy (100 proof, it’s the local equivalent of marc or grappa). With a dramatic flourish he sets it on fire, sending a whoosh of flame leaping into the air.  He quickly smothers it, allowing the flames to die.  The result is a few stunning moments of picking the creatures up by their tails as you devour the soft, slick flesh, and then suck the succulent heads.

The show is not over.  Next comes “carpaccio of pasta”.  This offers layers of texture: pasta, peppers, mushrooms and cheese that combine in the mouth to truly resemble raw meat.

Another vegetarian dish appears: chickpeas, potato and truffle, a glamorous smush of flavor.

 

The captain is back now for another display of showmanship.  He presents filets of anchovy – and what fabulous anchovies they have here in San Sebastian – and proceeds to “cook” them by smothering them in muslin bags containing hot salt.  The result is something quite extraordinary: the most delicate anchovies you will ever encounter.

This was followed by another little sleight of hand trick:  “risotto” made without rice.  Squid has been diced into brunoise, cooked in its ink and served with a “flower.”

Swirl the flower into all that dark denseness  and watch it slowly vanish, leaving behind a trail of flavor. You taste butter, Parmesan and a touch of sweetness – sugar perhaps?  The  waiter insists there is no sugar, no honey, no sweet wine, so you can only surmise that local squid are sweeter than any you’ve experienced in the past.

It’s notable that, in this protein-mad city (San Sebastian thinks nothing of serving you a meal made entirely of meat or fish), we’ve had six courses without a morsel of meat.  But here it comes now now in the form of spiced hare Pojarski. I imagine the chef chuckling as he stirs exotic spices into the mix, longing to offer you yet another surprise.

Dessert.  A lovely little tangle of exotic citrus fruits: yuzu, tangerine, lime and Buddha’s hand laced wth little pearls of  finger lime that explode in your mouth.

This is followed by the most astonishing “apple tart.” Once again the chef wields his magic wand: although you taste apple, this is  puff pastry and praline cream wrapped in “apple paper.”

A final little bit of magic to send you into the night.

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