Continuing our exploration of the Spanish and French Basque Country, this post is on Hondarribia, our day trip over the border into Spain. The first post was on French Basque cuisine in Saint-Jean-de-Luz on la Côte Basque, France’s Basque coast.
We used our trip’s only rainy day to take a break from the beach in Saint-Jean-de-Luz and pop down to the quiet town of Hondarribia, right across the border into Spain. We parked our car in Hendaye, France (the next town over) and arrived in Hondarribia in style, across the Bay of Txingudi by boat—which took all of 10 minutes and cost less than a New York subway ride. The boat arrives on the scenic waterfront promenade, within a stone’s throw of San Pedro kalea, the town’s main pedestrian walkway and the site of all the best pintxos bars. Pintxos (pronounced “PEEN-chohs”), as we’ve mentioned before, are Basque country tapas that are traditionally served on toasts and spread out on top of bars for easy access. Following David’s advice, we first sought out Gran Sol, but were immediately disappointed to find that the whole restaurant was closed for vacation. Why they would take a vacation from their vacation-destination-town, I will never know.
Fortunately, there were many other suitable—and not vacationing—spots for our lunchtime txikiteo, or pintxo-bar-hopping. First among those was Enbata, where the well-polished wooden bar displayed countless welcoming pintxos on top of crusty bread, including our favorite, quick-grilled jamón ibérico with a savory warm tomato salsa.
With full knowledge that the Basques are known for their love of anchovies, we also sampled a large freshly cured white anchovy on top of a plump sun dried tomato with an herb and garlic infused oil. That was quite a bit of flavor perched atop one slice of bread, starting our lunch off on a strong note. Meanwhile, the expert barkeeps poured our first glass of txakoli—the lightly sparkling Basque country wine, poured from upon high.
Not wanting to put all of our pintxos in one basket (if you will), we exercised a herculean amount of restraint to leave after only 1 drink in order to explore other pintxos bars along San Pedro.
After several more stops, we eventually came to our favorite pintxo bar of the afternoon, several hundred feet away: Ardoka Vinoteka. A more sophisticated pintxo bar slash wine bar, Ardoka certainly displayed countless mouthwatering pintxos on its impressive bar, behind which bartenders poured txakoli as well as several other wines from all over Spain and France. On the walls, though, contained a written menu of more modern pintxos that the kitchen could turn out upon request. The menus were conveniently displayed in Spanish, French, and Basque—though, of course, no English.
After contemplating the menu—over a few pintxos selections from on top of the bar, including more thinly sliced jamón over crusty bread—we ordered a tuna carpaccio. Out came a trio of beautiful thinly sliced white tuna, each one subtly accented with a different topping: shaved lemon zest, salty anchovies, and pickled onions and garlic; all served over crispy crackers and doused in plenty of good olive oil, with a balsamic reduction on the side. We instantly knew our txikiteo was over and we would not be leaving Ardoka for anywhere else. The only thing wrong with the carpaccio was that there were 3 pieces, forcing my fiance and me to fight over the third.
After another round of wine and txakoli, we ordered a skewer of squid, shrimp, and mushrooms, with sprinkled flaky sea salt and accompanied by an infused basil oil. This pintxo was a fine example of Ardoka’s ability to turn simple dishes into memorable bites with just a few choice ingredients—and by perfect execution. This was also true of a sweet and savory pintxo of warm goat cheese topped with crispy bacon and sweet fig jam, that I actually took to be a really great dessert. (Before my second dessert of gelato).
After walking off our next few glasses of wine by wandering the town’s narrow winding streets, we eventually found our way back to the harbor for our short boat ride back to France. The weather was warming up, and we were looking forward to another day of beach before our next stop in the French Basque countryside.
Gran Sol, San Pedro 63, 34-943-642-701; http://www.bargransol.com.
Enbata, Zuloaga 5; 34-943-641-400; http://www.hoteljauregui.com/restaurante.htm.
Ardoka Vinoteka, San Pedro 32; 34-943-643-169. http://www.ardokavinoteka.com/