International

The Eat Sheet: Where to Dine in San Sebastian, Spain Right Now

Vibrant creativity, sophisticated diners -- and the just-concluded film festival's culinary sidebar -- combine to make San Sebastian a foodie destination.
San Sebastian's Restaurant Oquendo (Photo by Fabrizio Maltese for THR)

Name the city with the largest concentration of restaurants with Michelin stars per square foot in the world.

If you said San Sebastian, in Spain’s northern Basque region, you are right. So the fact that the San Sebastian International Film Festival introduced a Culinary Cinema sidebar this year to screen films featuring gastronomy and wed each one to a nightly thematic feast seems oh-so-apropos.

"San Sebastian is the Mecca of gastronomy and finally there is an intertwining of film and cuisine reflected in the city’s international film festival," said three-star chef Pedro Zubijana, one of the founders of Basque New Cuisine whose Akelarre Restaurante is a must for the most discerning diners. "Audiences here know and appreciate good food."

And intertwine they do.

On Sept. 20, Bokada’s Michelin-starred chef Mikel Santamaria weaved together David Gelb’s documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Basque culinary creativity. Jiro focuses on the world’s only three-star sushi restaurant in a minute space in a Tokyo subway station. Bokada transformed the San Sebastian Aquarium into an underground dining extravaganza. Surrounded by massive overhead fish tanks, attendees wound their way through 10 different stations offering a Japanese sushi item and the creative Basque version of the same dish in a cultural, gastronomic dialogue.

"They very carefully chose elements from the film to design the menu and to use as decorations and music. There was even a mini fireworks show timed to selections from the soundtrack," Gelb said.

While Berlin sports a Culinary Cinema section and Sundance has its yearly ChefDance, San Sebastian place as one of the world's undisputed culinary capitals makes for a natural fit.

"San Sebastian -- the city and the festival -- is renowned for its food," said public relation firm Premier’s Ginger Corbett, a 13-year veteran of San Sebastian who flew in to the festival a day early to take a Basque cooking class. "Even the festival director hosts a wonderful cocktail everyday during the festival so that people from the industry can meet one another while eating lovely canapes."

In fact, San Sebastian's reputation for food and fun entices stars to promote films.

"Life in San Sebastian is a selling point," said international sales outfit Wild Bunch’s Gael Nouaille. "Directors and actors love to be here. You can have a great meal in five minutes or five hours, simple or fancy. It doesn’t matter because the food, the magical setting and the pleasure of San Sebastian sell."

Four of the best places to dine in San Sebastian are:

Arzak

Regularly voted one of the top 10 chefs in the world for the past two decades, Juan Mari Arzak is recognized as one of the driving forces of the New Basque Cuisine and runs the kitchen with his daughter Elena Arzak. Set tasting menu changes daily according to fresh market availability. Avda. Alcalde Elosegui, 273, San Sebastian, 011 34 943 278 465

Mugaritz

Andoni Aduriz saw his kitchen jump to the the 3rd best in the world in Restaurant Magazine's reputed list of the best restaurants in the world in 2011. He coined the term “techno-emotional” cooking for merging science with cooking.  c/Aldura Aldea, 20, Errenteria, 011 34 943 522 455 / 943 518 343

Martin Berastegui

A veteran of the Basque region’s Michelin-star movement, Martin Berastegui took his brand of cooking international with an outlet in Shanghai. But he is at his finest on home turf where he can work with what he calls the “essence of flavor.” Loidi Kalea 4, 20160 Lasarte-Oria, 011 34 943 366 471

Restaurante Oquendo

Just across the street from the luxurious Maria Cristina Hotel, the film festival's epicenter, the Oquendo is a staple for industry types for long lunches or a fast break away to enjoy pintxos—Basque tapas.Oquendo, 8, San Sebastian, 011 34 943 420 736

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