Ibai (San Sebastián, Spain)

Ibai
Calle de Getaria kalea, 15
20005 Donostia/San Sebastián, Spain
Dining date: 9/27/17

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Ibai wasn’t initially on my radar while researching potential restaurants in San Sebastián. It’s not in the Michelin guide and isn’t highly ranked on either Yelp or TripAdvisor. However, I stumbled across it on a few food blogs that gave rave reviews of the restaurants’ simple, homey cooking with warnings of how difficult a reservation is to attain.

The restaurant is small, fitting only 5-6 tables, and is only open weekdays for one lunch seating. That is it; the restaurant is not open for dinner, nor on weekends. To complicate matters, the restaurant would not accept reservations from abroad so we had to make the reservation once we were in town. On our first day in San Sebastián, we walked in that afternoon to seek out a reservation. To our surprise, there was a table available the next day, so we were all set.

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Arzak (San Sebastián, Spain)

Arzak
Alcalde José Elosegui Hiribidea, 273
20015 Donostia/San Sebastián, Spain
Dining date: 9/27/17

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Arzak was the first reservation I made in Spain on this trip. This restaurant has reached a legendary status in San Sebastián and has been on the forefront of modern Basque cooking for decades. The restaurant has garnered three Michelin stars since 1989 and has made the top 50 best restaurants in the world list every year it’s been published (since 2003). It currently sits at #30. Chef Juan Mari Arzak has been the driving force behind the restaurant’s success, and he now shares the kitchen management with daughter Elena Arzak.

I had a very hard time deciding between this restaurant and fellow three-star establishments Akelarre and Martin Berasategui. While the restaurant has plenty of accolades, I read a number of reviews with mixed feelings about the place. I ended up sticking with Arzak and am glad I did.

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An a la carte menu is available, as well as a 210€ tasting menu. We went with the latter for this dinner.

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Osteria Barberini (Rome, Italy)

Osteria Barberini
Via della Purificazione 20
00187 Rome, Italy
Dining date: 10/24/14

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While researching for restaurants to try in Rome, we came across this place – Osteria Barberini. It had very strong reviews everywhere we looked, including being a top 50 restaurant on TripAdvisor (4.5 stars on over 1700 reviews) and holding 4.5 stars on Yelp. The restaurant touts its truffle menus (especially as white truffles were in season) and reviews raved about the truffle dishes. Was exactly what we were looking for. We attempted to make a reservation and found dinner completely booked, however we were able to squeeze in a late lunch table.

Osteria Barberini’s menu has a lot of classic Italian favorites within its antipasti, primi, and secondi areas of the menu. However, there is an additional category featuring dishes using black and white truffles. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call them cheap, truffles (particularly white) were significantly cheaper in Italy compared to prices in the U.S. We first noticed this during our first night at Da Francesco, but Osteria Barberini’s pricing was also reasonable with white truffle dishes in the low-€20s and black truffle dishes in the mid-teens. We focused in on the truffle dishes (while in Rome!) and ordered a couple of items off the regular menu.

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Da Francesco (Rome, Italy)

Da Francesco
Piazza del Fico 29
00186 Rome, Italy
Dining date: 10/22/14 and 10/24/14

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The first…and last…dinner in Rome was here at Da Francesco. While walking around the Piazza Navona area, we found this restaurant on Yelp. Located just east of the piazza, it had positive reviews and pictures with raves of a black truffle pasta. While I’m not always so trusting of Yelp, the pictures looked great and the prices reasonable (few dishes reach €20).

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The menu is fairly extensive featuring everything from classic Italian appetizers to pastas, pizzas and heartier main courses. Porcini mushrooms were in season and a highlight on the menu (with the bounty displayed at the front of the restaurant). Menu and staff were also pretty English-friendly. We actually enjoyed the meal so much on our first evening that we returned on our last night to give a few more items a try.

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L’Astrance (Paris, France)

L’Astrance
4 rue Beethoven
75016 Paris, France
Dining date: 10/28/14

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After lunch at l’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, our last meal in Paris was dinner here at l’Astrance. A Michelin three star and currently #38 on the world’s best restaurant list, it was our toughest reservation too as the popular restaurant has 25 tables and is open only four days a week. Luckily, we scored a table through our hotel concierge.

Pascal Barbot trained under Alain Passard at l’Arpege and brings many of the same principles, using high quality seasonal ingredients and simple preparations to allow the ingredients to shine. Barbot does incorporate more meat into his dishes, though. Having spent a bit of time cooking in Asia, there are hints of Asian techniques and flavors throughout. There is no menu; the restaurant creates a surprise tasting each night (€210).

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L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (Paris, France)

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
5 rue de Montalembert
75007 Paris, France
Dining date: 10/28/14

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This Paris Saint-Germain location was the first of Joel Robuchon’s l’Atelier concepts, which is now a worldwide chain. Holding two Michelin stars and ranked #31 in the latest world’s best restaurant list (and as high as #12 in 2012), it’s oft-regarded as the best of Robuchon’s l’Atelier restaurants.

In my first trip to Europe seven years ago, this restaurant was easily the best (and by far most expensive) meal I had. It’s still one of the more memorable dining experiences I’ve had and I wanted to return once more to see if the restaurant was as good as I remembered. There are no lunch specials at this location, just a la carte and a €179 discovery tasting menu. A la carte starters and mains price in the €40-€80 range each so I figured the 10-course tasting menu was the way to go.

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