In the small picturesque village of Axpe in Basque Country you will find one of the ultimate grill institutions. Just head halfway between San Sebastián and Bilbao to the Atxondo valley and you end up at Asador Etxebarri which will give you a rather different dining experience. Get ready for a complete dinner where literally everything has a taste of fire.
Chef Victor Arguinzoniz dedicates all his work to the grill, or “la brasa” as it is locally known. He is completely self-taught and has learnt from discovery by trying to grill almost anything. The character of cooking is defined by the woods used. New charcoal is made everyday, using an assortment of different woods such as oak, apple, orange and olive. The different ingredients determine both the type of wood and its method of preparation. The kind of ingredients which require more intense heat get grilled with one type of coal whilst others are barely enrobed in the smokiness of the embers. It might sound simple, but Victor has really perfected the art of cooking food over an open fire. His characteristic style of cooking has resulted in an experience far beyond your regular barbecue.
The chef enhances the flavours of seafood and steaks or whatever he decides to grill to you and serves it most times without any of the ingredients being charred or blackened. You will be surprised at the different varieties that can be grilled. Victor Arguinzoniz has trained and perfected the art of grilling for many years. Nothing will escape his customised grill or any of the two wood-fired ovens, everything from baby octopus to percebes (goose barnacles). Even some of the desserts have had a treatment on the grill.
You will have a great dinner if you arrive at Asador Etxebarri with the right expectations and are aware of which kind of cuisine you will have. The service is not always flawless, but the overall impression is genuine and memorable. Most of the dishes you will have are coming from the grill which dominates most of the taste, texture and smells.
Asador Etxebarri is not for everyone, but for most food lovers it is a must to at least try, and definitely if you are in the Basque Country. It is a great dinner experience and you will never know exactly what to expect on your plate. Chef Victor Arguinzoniz is the king when it comes to grilling and his creations and playfulness with flavours and texture are as genuine as they are delicious.
Images courtesy of Asador Etxebarri
Written by John