Introducing the Disneyland for foodies, San Sebastián. For me it's a personal thing since I am together with a woman from a Basque family. Therefore we visit the city every year and because of this I know the place pretty well. And what can I say? Yes, of course I love it.
It got it all. Great food, great beaches, great culture and great life. But is it interesting to write about? This is the question that keeps haunting me. I really want to write about San Sebastián so much because this is really one of the best places on earth if you are interested in gastronomic culture and want to sample what's good in life. And I really do. You can spend days of just crawling around the many pintxos bars that is packed around the city and if you find yourself being hungry or sober in San Sebastián, then all I can say is that you are in the wrong town.
But I'm still hesitant about writing about it and I think it comes down to one main reason. San Sebastián is too unique for its own good. With a relative small population of around 200 000 people, Donostia (as the city is called in Basque) still boasts a total of 16 Michelin stars, a number which makes it the city in the world with most stars per capita. The success of the city's haut cuisine, plus the fact that the Basque Country holds one of the most impressive arrays of produce in the world, has instilled a culinary climate which is attracting visitors from all over the globe. Swedes, Japanese and Yankees, wherever they are from they are all here to indulge on lavish foie, local Txakoli and world class seafood. It is like a theme park for grown ups.
This is of course not exceptional in any way as it is a part of what we all know as tourism but it can somehow get more intense here than in other touristic hot spots as San Sebastián is not a very big city. In contrast to the big metropolises, you can't disappear in the crowd or escape to your secret hideaways. San Sebastián is too small and explored for that. And this aspect is as well reflected in the medial discourse about the city. As the foodie culture is obsessed by writing and photographing about what to put in your mouth, so there is a tendency of not omitting a single detail of what's out there. Especially not in this Mecca of food. Here everything is on the table. So by writing about a certain aspect of SS's culinary scene is pretty much the same as being hungover and promising yourself that you will never touch a bottle of liquor again. It has been done before. Many times!
All this can be exemplified in today's topic, Bar Nestor. This bar is the most humble and honest establishment where pretensions are non-existent and where a simple concept is the key to success. Family run since the beginning of the eighties this small, rustic bar is miles away from what the high end San Sebastián flagships like Arzak or Mugaritz is all about. Unlike these extravagant places, Bar Nestor is homely, primitive and provincial. It is like a diamond that you never would want to polish. But still, this is an international celebrity in the foodie world and every night it is loaded with tourists who have heard about it through the grapevine. It is actually the perfect example on how the information society is taking its toll on the authentic and genuine experience. It is the end of the adventurous. The end of the real.
But I'm no fool and I do understand that the world works like this. What I also understand is that I am as well playing a part of this game. I'm also the gringo in the bar and I am also responsible of the reproduction of hypes. I am the bar blogger for fuck sake! But it just breaks my heart when institutions like Bar Nestor becomes targets for the mainstream. They deserve so much more than that and honestly, if I could avoid the cultural exploitation of Bar Nestor by never visiting it I would leave it on its own. That's how much I love this bar.
Yeah, Bar Nestor is the real McCoy. It is small and dense, and always on the verge to be claustrophobic. Of thirty square meters you will never get more than one to use as your personal space as it is always jammed with a festive crowd. There is only one table, the mythical table 19, and it is always reserved for bookings. Football shirts of local team Real Sociedad are hanging around the walls with various photos of semi-famous celebrities that has visited the place during the years. Behind the counter there is the super professional workforce which is led by the brother of Nestor, Tito. He and his colleagues will get you drunk and happy and there is always many jokes and laughter going on.
And then there is the product. Bar Nestor is all about the product. The concept is easy but brilliant; Chuletas de Buey, pimientos de padrón and ensalada de tomates. This trinity is what makes the Nestor to the superstar it is. The meat is up there with the best, no matter if it is compared to a steak at Peter Luger or the best Bistecca alla Fiorentina. The peppers and tomatoes are also divine, only accompanied with some salt and olive oil. With this there should be peppery Spanish red wine and if you want to stay true to the athmosphere you don't settle for one bottle.
People, I take it all back. This bar is all I ever wanted to write about.
Drinks? Ribera del Dueros for bargain prices.
Munch? Beside the steak craze, Bar Nestor is famous for their delicious Tortilla de Patata. Actually, some people rate it as the best there is to find. All over Spain. I haven't tried it myself as it is a little bit tricky to come by. They only make two portions every day and slices of these are auctioned at 1:00 PM and 8:00 PM.
Where? Bar Nestor, Calle Pescaderia 11, 2003, Donostia, Spain.
I'm always on the lookout for more bars to enjoy and write about. Do you know about an interesting place in your city or elsewhere, let me know and maybe I'll stop by!