The Pinxto Route, and San Sebastian (and a great recipe for Spanish tortillas)

March 13, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

 Braden Perkins was born in New Orleans and grew up in Boston. Braden worked for four years with celebrity chef Tom Douglas in Seattle. In 2011 Braden and his partner, Laura Adrian, opened their first restaurant, Verjus, beside the Palais Royal in the center of Paris, France.

In 2015 the duo opened their second restaurant just down the street from the first. In 2020 they purchased a farm just outside Paris and will begin construction on a restaurant at the farm in the spring of 2021.

Braden has been featured on “The Barefoot Contessa” with Ina Garten, as well as in the “New York Times,” “The Wall Street Journal,” “Bon Appétit,” “Saveur,” “Food and Wine,” Travel and Leisure,” “Afar,” Goop,” “Milk Street” and other publications.

Laura Adrian is the daughter of bridge legend Jane and Joe Adrian. Braden and Laura have been on the island for a time, and graciously are allowing us to publish some of their recipes. This is their last week here.

We will miss them, and their amazing offerings of their recipes.

Chef Braden Perkins

BY BRADEN PERKINS – There are two sides to San Sebastian. The Old town, which is nestled in the shadow of Jesus Christ whose enormous statue looms high above Old Town’s winding Cobblestone streets on mount Urgull. The New town is some 400 feet away, across a bridge and the Urumea river and is defined by the monolithic Kursaal auditorium whose modern glass and steel architecture sets the style for the rest of New town.

There are the dueling beaches. The rugged Zurriola beach extends from the Kursaal auditorium to the east and is packed with Aussies and surfers competing for epic surf waves. Then the crescent shaped Kontxako Hondartza beach to the west is filled with topless Spaniards sprawled out on beach chairs and towels enjoying the calm ebb and flow of waves broken by the nearby Santa Clara island.

The restaurant scene in San Sebastian is also defined by its two sides. San Sebastian has more Michelin stars per capita than any other city in the world. While Arzak and Akelaŕe both hold three Michelin stars, my personal favorite is the one star restaurant Ibai, which is open only for lunch, is cash only and closed on the weekends. Then there is Asador Etxebarri, the third best restaurant in the world, which is worth booking a whole trip to Spain for, if you can score a reservation.

No self respecting food lover can make a trip to San Sebastian without experiencing the other side of the restaurant experience though, pintxo bars. Pintxos bars are the Basque version of the Catalan tapas bar. San Sebastian boasts more than a thousand pintxo bars, each of which competes every year for which restaurant can make the best executed, most delicious, most original bar snack. Typical pintxo bars serve a buffet of bite-sized snacks to a crowd two or three layers deep at the bar.

The key to making it through a “pintxo crawl” is to avoid the temptation to order too much at any one place. Stick to one or two items and keep moving. To avoid a head splitting hangover, it’s best to order a half or quarter glass of wine, beer or the San Sebastian sparkling cider Txotx which is poured by a bartender from an arms length height into a waiting glass.

The Basílica de Santa María del Coro is the best place to start a pintxo crawl. From the church you want to head east and start at La Viña which serves a famous burnt Basque cheesecake that will sell out fast. Think of something more like a savory cheese quiche rather than the syrupy strawberry covered New York variety of cheesecake you would find at Juniors in NYC.

From La Viña head back towards the Basílica and turn up Santa Korda street to La Cuchara de San Telmo. Elbow your way to the noisy narrow bar where the best items are the seared foie gras with apple puree or the equally delicious beer braised suckling pig.

Head back towards the Basílica and stop at Gandarias which occupies the corner. Order Croquetas, which are fried balls of whipped potato and Iberico pork fat. You can find these fried delights at most pintxo bars, but they are very good at the busy Gandarias. From Gandarias head away from the Basílica to Bar Ganbara. Any of the seasonal mushroom plates are delicious, but the plate of grilled porcini mushrooms cooked simply with olive oil and topped with a fried egg and its still runny yolk is not to be missed.

After finishing your mushrooms, head east on Fermin Calbeton street and stop at the famous Borda Berri bar. Order a wine braised beef cheek and the cheesy risotto, which is made with orzo and a creamy Basque Idiazabal cheese. One block over is Bar Txepetxa who serve pickled filets of locally caught white anchovies. The anchovies are served on toast and topped with a variety of toppings, my personal favorite is the jardinera relish with is made with marinated peppers and onions. Gildas (skewered anchovies, Manzanilla olives and guindilla chilis) is another pintxo which is omnipresent in San Sebastian, but is particularly good at Bar Txepetxa.

The final stop on this crawl is Bar Nestor. I would recommend reserving a space as Nestor sells out of their famous charcoal grilled steaks early. In addition to the steak, order the fried Gernika peppers and the fresh tomato salad. Also, no pintxo crawl would be complete without ordering a slice of the famous Spanish tortilla. The potato and egg dish can be found anywhere in Spain, but Bar Nestor takes particular care in not overcooking it and serves a generous wedge.

Spanish tortilla is like an omelette and a potato gratin had a baby. The taste and quality of the dish depends entirely on the quality of the olive oil you choose. I would buy the finest Spanish olive you can find. Italian or French olive oil will be more bitter and briny and best used for another recipe. Once the tortilla is set and turned onto a plate, it can be stored and served at a room temperature for a few days. Avoid refrigerating your tortilla as the egg has a tendency to pick up all the odd smells and flavors of your fridge.

SPANISH TORTILLA

4 medium peeled potatoes 

1 small onion

1 cup olive oil

2 teaspoons of kosher salt 

6 large eggs

 1. Thinly slice potatoes and onions with a knife or mandolin.

2. Layer the potato and onion slices in an oven-proof saucepan and cover with olive oil.

3. Cook over medium-high heat until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork.

4. Drain most of the oil from the pan by holding a spatula on the edge of the pan and pouring off

the oil into a bowl or measuring cup for later use.

5. Scramble the eggs with salt and pour over the cooked potatoes and onions.

6. Cook the tortilla until the edges start to pull away from the pan.

7. Lower the heat to medium-low and continue to cook for a couple minutes.

8. Jiggle the pan to see if the middle is still loose. If so, you can place the whole pan in the oven at

350o for another 2 – 3 minutes until the middle sets.

9. Using an oven mitt, hold a large plate over the pan and flip the tortilla onto the plate.

10. Allow tortilla to cool slightly and finishing setting and serving warm or at room temperature.