It was a very short ride this morning, after packing up and bidding our lovely hosts goodbye. Only about 2 hours, avoiding toll roads.
I am struggling a little with the new TomTom interface. I miss having a displayed current time. It’s all well and good to know how many more kilometers I have to go, and what time it will be when I arrive, from which I can extrapolate the current time, but I like knowing at a glance what time it is, so that I can think, rather, about when I might plan meal breaks. This was not the issue today. Today was ALL about the food.
Azurmendi is the name of a Michelin 3-star restaurant near Larrabetzu, not far from Bilbao’s airport. I chose it for several reasons: the chef is committed to sustainability and has built up two restaurants on the site (one for the gastronomical “experience,” where we ate, and one a more casual place below it), as well as a seed bank and gardens. If you want to know more about Azurmendi, here’s the link: https://www.azurmendi.biz/en
I had pretty high expectations, especially since this is my first Michelin starred restaurant, and it has 3! My expectations were met, though. This meal was amazing (and yes, expensive).
We started with a mini “picnic” in the Haiku garden: an interior “garden” space with haiku poems on the wall. We were served a glass of wine and delivered a tiny picnic basket with a mini sandwich on a bed of edible “soil,” a tomato gelatin soupy thing, and a bite-sized cocktail, which was a small sphere of white chocolate, encrusted with tiny flowers, which when popped into the mouth, exploded with sparkling wine. 🙂 Charming!
Then we had another little treat while viewing the kitchens (where the entire staff shouts “Hola!” as you enter). My mind is blanking out the details here, but it was delicious. Oh yeah: another ball of exploding hazelnut this time and a hibiscus “cocktail” shooter in a beaker.
After the kitchen, we had a personal tour of the sample garden (the real ones were out back, and we toured them ourselves after the meal), where first our senses were stimulated by a flower-infused water poured onto a steam diffuser in the flower beds (hee hee), then a soup made from a corn grown for so long in this region that it’s “native.” I asked how “native” that could be, and our guide chef said that it had at least been grown for a very long time, but that indeed it was not original to this part of the world. Duh. We were instructed to sip at the soup while we continued our journey: a tiny herbal biscuit at the herb display, a fluffy confection at the cotton display, and a delicious mushroom bark at the mushroom display.
Another guide ushered us into the restaurant, where I guess I must have reserved enough in advance to have earned a window seat! Wow! Ok, we overlooked the highway, but it was still a spectacular view.
Of course we took the more comprehensive of the two menu choices, and allowed the sommelier to choose our wine for us. He was funny, and told us that he doesn’t like all the wine choices on the menu, but if people want his recommendations, he only recommends ones he likes himself. 🙂
Honestly, there were many courses, all small but we were quite full by the end. My favorite was the sea urchin combination, so here’s a picture of it, with Matt in the background:
I clearly should have gotten a close up. The crystal (yes, it rang) bowl held a gorgeous ensemble of urchin, roe and seaweed crackers. The red liquid in the beaker was a broth made from the urchin, and you pour it into the bowl. The nibble on the right was a sort of cake substance made of urchin then sandwiched by two more seaweed crackers. Oh, did I mention that there’s an element of molecular gastronomy here? 😉 Ages ago, I went to a reading by an author (sorry I forget his name) about molecular gastronomy, and it changed some of the ways I thought about food preparation. I wanted to try it out at a restaurant.
After the sea urchin, there was a delicious fresh pea and pea shoot concoction served on a glass dish resting on twigs, which reminded me of the crown of a fairy princess. I didn’t take a picture, though.
There was so much good food. Here is another picture: monkfish, wrapped in very thin bacon.
And Matt’s favorite dessert (the third), before coffee, which of course was also served with a whole array of nibbles, a few of which were so delicious I wanted to raid the little table where they were awaiting service to other tables. No, I wouldn’t have done that… no, really!
We are staying at the hotel just up the road (very very up, directly above) from the restaurant, so after dinner, we walked back down the road then back up again. Steep steep climbs! And now we’ve just been resting. I will not be hungry until breakfast. Our meal, the only one we ate today, started at 13:00. It’s 22:00 now and I’m still full. Matt is snacking on peanuts.
So I will leave you today with some thoughts on driving in this part of Spain.
Many signs along the road are in both Spanish and Basque. I can’t make heads or tails of Basque. At first, with all the x’s and z’s, I thought it seemed very like Aztec, and the mountains and type of farming (mountain-type) reminded me of Ecuador. Then we’d pass another sign, and I’d think: hmm, or maybe a little like Turkish. Or Greek. I have no idea. That said, I found making simple small talk, and clarification phone calls, in Spanish, not very challenging. Yay!
As I mentioned, we took the “avoid toll roads” option in the TomTom navigation. I would have liked the winding roads, but we would have had to leave earlier in the day, and we wanted to get to the hotel by noon to change clothes and drop off luggage before dinner. Regarding this route, though, we were following many many freight trucks who were also avoiding toll roads. I didn’t mind, as we are fully loaded, the roads were very windy anyway, and we could enjoy the view and watch the trucks attempt jack-knife curves at horrifyingly steep angles. However, on behalf of the drivers, I am a little angry at whomever does their route planning. How much do they actually save, avoiding tolls, but doing that much braking and accelerating? Also, I watched the truck in front of me at one point lose his back right wheel slightly off the side of the road (no edge), teeter and swerve, and nearly lose control. I was glad we were giving him so much space, but it was narrow and there were other cars and trucks and yes, bicyclists, all over the place, both directions.
Speaking of bicyclists, this one came flying at our road from a side road, no slowing, widely joined our packed line, swerved all over the road in front of me. I finally had a chance to pass him (he made me very nervous), then, just as that truck lost control, or just after, he passed me! And did all kinds of crazy things TRYING TO PASS THE TRUCK. Seriously, I was so mad at him. Acting like that makes other people do stupid things because they’re nervous to be around him.
Some cute sights: a house perched in the hook of one of the worst curves, and the man watching traffic while his dog barked at us. Another dog, by itself on a walkway, with its paws up on the stone protective wall separating it from traffic, its head on its paws, just watching. I laughed out loud. A house on a steep steep hillside, sheep grazing all around and below it.
I have come up with the perfect organisational plan. Ages ago, I went through the entire guidebook for Spain and marked everything of any interest to me. I can’t possibly see all of them. Now I give it to Matt, then Dick when he’s here, then Lynn when she’s here, and they can decide where they’d like to go, hopefully off my curated lists but hey, I’m open minded.
So Matt is picking our location for the next couple of nights. It’s much too cold still to camp (snow expected, seriously), and there’s nothing that makes me unhappier than cold sleeping, as Matt knows, and Dick too from that time we camped on the trip back from former Yugoslavia where we’d been warm the whole lovely time. Fortunately, it’s still the off-season, and hotels are pretty cheap. Matt is also choosing that for us. I can’t wait. 😀