Terre et Mer (Earth and Sea) – there is no way I can speak about this part of the world and not give a respectable amount of typeface to the incredible markets and restaurants of this region.
I must confess. It was quite purposeful when I chose this area – there are 40 Michelin starred restaurants in Basque Country. Yes, I am obsessed with food. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not obsessed with pretentious and contrived food experiences, I want to experience it all, from the roots up.
Let’s talk about La Mer, The Sea – there’s a great sandy beach here, on a crescent shaped bay but I will seldom speak of the beaches here because I spend loads of time on the Mediterranean and I feel the Atlantic does not even compete. What is important to me is what comes out of the Atlantic…seafood!
I found a little red restaurant the other night called La Boëte translated, The Bait. Just meters from shore, opened 7 months ago, tidy and really small but had every kind of seafood a girl like me could ever want. Friendly staff, live Brittany blue lobsters in a tank, a collection of regional oysters, all sorts of fish and crustaceans in a glass display separating the tiny kitchen from the equally tiny dining area. I ordered red shrimp served cold with homemade mayonnaise with a hint of mustard for dipping and a live lobster pulled out of the tank. As I drank champagne with the most delicate little bubbles and expertly shelled the sweet shrimp, I watched the chef stab the lobster, butterfly it, for those who don’t know what this means – to slice lengthwise, right down the middle – before dropping the poor thing into hot bubbling water. My point is, La Boëte serves really fresh seafood, the shrimp was sweet and tender and the lobster was alive minutes before it was displayed artfully on a white ceramic painters palette looking plate.
I am a purist when it comes to seafood. For me, the simpler the better so all the tidbits served in recycled tins – this was part of La Boëte’s theme by the way, recycled tins, rectangular sardine tins, petite tuna tins, all sorts of shapes and sizes of tins being used everywhere as art, moulds for their little side dishes, it was everywhere and it was cute. The side dishes carefully moulded into small recycled tuna tins were nice extras but not much else. I do have to give a huge thumbs-up to their lentil soup which was absolutely delicious! There was a depth of flavor that I could’t pinpoint and a richness that could only be achieved by a splash of good heavy cream – I “think” the very french speaking chef gave me the recipe, luckily I’m a linguist when it comes to food so I will have to give this a try when I get back to my kitchen in Spain.
Trying to watch my food intake (this has got to be the longest running Christmas feast of my life) so I’ve decided to have one big meal a day. So here I am, at my favorite bistro for lunch called Chez Kako, just next to the market. Chez Kako offers great value for money and are known for their grilled, locally grown meat. This is La Terre, The Earth part of my story.
Did some serious Christmas shopping before lunch so a glass of wine and a great meal are well deserved. The waiters at Chez Kako are informal and friendly. I was surprised that they remembered me from previous visits – a hint that maybe I should try other restaurants? I don’t think so! Kako’s has, since my first days in this village, never disappointed me.
I remember, a year ago thoroughly enjoying a plateful of grilled lamb chops with fries and it is because of this memory that keeps me coming back for more. This time around, I opt for risotto with earthy morel mushrooms, free range chicken garnished with super thin medallions of bacon. I am the slowest eater you will ever meet but today, the creamy mushroom risotto (I am positive they added cream) with the three large coin sized crispy bacon was devoured in record time.
Sitting comfortably outside in December just days before Christmas, drinking a glass of Brouilly produced in northern Burgundy, I notice how accustomed my tastebuds have become after predominantly drinking Spanish Rioja for over a year. Don’t for a millisecond think I know anything about wine because I don’t – I just know what I like and don’t like and today, sitting out in the sun, this slightly chilled Brouilly is perfect.