Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Dateline: Decadence

In the 1600s, down Naples way, the Napolitani lived under a revolving door of foreign rule: the French first, then the Spanish. But the ever colorful Napolitani didn't mind. They used to say: "Franza o Spagna, basta che se magna". Translation? The French or Spanish, who cares, as long as they feed us.

Xtina and I took a very 21st Century spin on this concept this weekend, traveling to Spain's Basque Country to meet our friends Adam and Kelly and Brinley and Duncan for a final meal-to-end-all-meals before Adam and Kelly move back to NY. Naturally, we chose San Sebastian, on the French border, and, in particular, restaurante Arzak, a family-run, three-star shrine to sinfully good eating, to make our statement. I love Basque cooking. The influence of terra and mare means fresh fish and healthy portions of beef, served up with wild spices. It's the kind of food you dream about months later when you're hungry. A few days later, and I'm already having flashbacks to Arzak's brilliance.

Xtina, always a tough food critic, but a lover of all cuisines, was buzzing about Basque brilliance to our Italian friends last night at a dinner party. The subject of Spanish ascendancy is a sore spot among Italians, but this was the Basques after all.
They're no more Spanish than I am, I reckon. The Italians hung on every word of Xtina's gushing tale of gustation.

So, what did we eat? We opted for the tasting menu, code for 2.5 hours of non-stop
eating that began with seafood -- dishes of oysters, crayfish, etc -- before moving on to duck, and later a series of homemade ice creams and chocolates that had an odd endorphin-pinging effect. Yes, there were several moments of euphoria. Sustained euphoria.

So, what exactly does a meal cost at Arzak? The first answer is: not enough. I would have given all my blood, promise my first-born, anything, on top of paying the bill. The second answer is: if you see my bank manager this month, tell him you haven't seen me. A late mortgage payment will be worth it.

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