Bittor Arguinzóniz
Pays: Spain
Localité: 48291 Atxondo (Vizcaya)
Adresse: Plaza San Juan, 1
(+34) 946583042
Jours de fermeture: Every evening except Saturdays and Mondays; August and Christmas
Prix à la carte: 100/200 €
Prix menu de dégustation: 120 €

Bittor Arginzoniz has become part of the annals of gastronomy as the creator of haute cuisine on the grill, which makes for a never-ending pilgrimage of chefs and gourmets from all over the world to Axpe. No one gives credit to what this super intelligent grill-master has done; in his investigative zeal, he has replaced oak charcoal with woods, for they are much more aromatic, natural and healthy. He uses one or another depending on the ingredient to be grilled—oak for fish and vines for meats, sometimes olive wood, for others vine shoots. And he has invented ingenious tools: pans with strainer-like grilles, pans with lasered millimeter-sized holes, flat diminutive fish kettles, a grill inspired by an oven and heated from above and below, breaking radically away from all precedents and substantially altering the resulting chop, and the last, a large pot with a hole in the centre, as if it were a volcano, used to wood-steam certain shellfish, such as mussels.
He has incorporated new concepts brimming with ingenuity: omitting the double cooking—in water and saucepan—of eels and submitting them directly to the heat of the embers; he has de-boned and “unfolded” anchovies to spread out both sides of the belly, then superimposed two fish, one opened over the other to make “one anchovy from two” to maximize the juiciness of their meat—it comes out perfectly pink and never better, since they are only cooked on the skin side—he has also learned to magically combine the creaminess of risotto with direct insertion of smoke into the rice; and, among other things, he has consummated a revolution in chops.
The infinity of legendary proposals are all charcoal-grilled. The most famous might be the grilled elvers, so clairvoyant and accurate. Not far behind is the half-salted anchovy, the best in the world, which is synonymous with naturality, freshness, meatiness and salt minimization. At the same level are the chorizo –unique– and the cod, immaculate and juicy like no other salted fish of its kind, which can rub shoulders with or even beat the most virtuous pil-pil versions, just to mention a summa cum laude recipe. And here goes another utterly original proposal of the chef which offers an unknown consistency of the cephalopod: oysters tempered on the embers and lain over boiled seaweed; sea plus sea, pure ocean with a hint of countryside. The same can be said about the red shrimps, the king crayfish and the sea cucumbers, all charcoal-grilled and served with baby beans or Swiss chard, depending on the season. Or about the cod cheeks, offered with a delicate and slender green sauce. The same philosophy is applied to the grilled mushrooms, which vary according to the season of year, accompanied with aubergine or beet and their juice; modern haute cuisine based on the most elemental and charming fire, definitely. Another proposal in the same line is the egg yolk offered with potato cream and white truffle; impeccable and exuberant. The dishes brim with incredible imagination, essentiality and intelligent concretion, that is a fact. Like the wood-steamed mussels with carrot juice and powdered choricero chili peppers. And what can we say about the daring and extremely noble hamburger or the paprika sausage, made with Joselito Iberian pork (fresh cuts of presa, secreto and head, to be exact), seasoned with choricero chili peppers, garlic and salt, browned outside, but raw and red inside, impregnated with the rustic quality of the embers, and lain over a base of potatoes that look like gnocchi. The infinity of amazing ideas is worthy of a real culinary artist, like the grilled turtledove or the woodcock with beet and chestnuts.
The chef is obsessed with going back to the origins, to nature and naturality: smoked butter, toast of Iberian belly pork, creamy and aromatic scrambled eggs with meadow mushrooms, smoked and unbeatable layers of anchovies, insolent charcoal-grilled caviar, on its own; marrow with truffle and celery; straw-grilled escargots served with pieces of Iberian belly pork over some typical Vizcaya sauce; cod tripe lain over some crunchy cod skin; eel with its crunchy skin and its gelatinous meat, together with a pumpkin terrine and Cayenne pepper; veal chop… The dishes we tasted here were real 10/10 proposals regarding raw material, doneness, charcoal-grilled accompaniments and creativity, far more artistic and avant-garde than the ones proposed by all the eccentric showmen of what they call “haute cuisine”.
Two superb desserts follow the same line: the muffins and the charcoal-roasted apple with smoked milk ice cream.
Far from the French academism and from the Michelin philosophy, this is one of the most genuine and talented cuisine in the world. A cuisine that has been able to be itself and that has no reason to envy the best restaurants on the planet.