We went out to celebrate Yuko’s birthday (it’s tomorrow, the 18th). The first place we tried was full, as was the second. We ended up driving and looking for a place, and getting pretty hungry, and I pulled in so that we could think about where to go. And as it happened, right there where I stopped was a tiny Spanish bar/restaurant called Margarita.
Sitting in the car, we squinted in through the window trying to make out whether they serve full meals, and whether it would be a nice place to go for a birthday meal, and we decided to give it a go.
It turned out to be a good choice. The menu had a very interesting range of food: small tapas dishes such as octopus in ajillo, smoked quails eggs, duck carpaccio, olives, and so on; as well as full meals such as paella and pizza. As soon as we arrived the waiter brought us a complementary tapas dish which was delicious and very welcome at that point. We ordered a Caesar salad, smoked quails eggs, olives, octopus, a pizza (jalapeno, ham, egg and olives) and a dish of baby squid, scallops and rape greens in garlic oil.
While enjoying the flavours, we started reminiscing about delicious meals we have eaten in Spain, especially in the Basque country. Food is a big part of Basque culture. Gastronomic societies are clubs where Basque men meet to cook and eat, to develop and demonstrate their cooking prowess. Although the clubs are not open to outsiders (or to women), the result is a highly-developed food culture where you can go to a seemingly ordinary, even down-at-heel restaurant, and (if you are lucky) get an extraordinary and memorable meal at a very reasonable price.
One such place is Garamendi, in Amorebieta (Bizkaia). Over the years from 2005 to 2008, I went there maybe 3 or 4 times. As far as the internet is concerned, it might as well not exist. But in my memory it has become the stuff of legend.
On the face of it, it is a small, extremely nondescript bar facing onto the calle Karmen.
There are a few tables, but regulars all sit at the counter. At the rear, behind a low partition, are three or four small restaurant tables.
Each time I went there, I felt decidedly unwelcome at first. They were not serving meals today, or it was too early, but if we insisted we could come in and sit down and they would prepare a meal for us. There was no menu, but the waiter (owner?) explained to us what was available. And if necessary he would go out and buy the ingredients before preparing it for us. And it was always fantastic. The guy was an honest-to-goodness top-class chef, working in this tiny bar in this back street of a town you’ve probably never heard of.
As the meal went on, he gradually opened up, sharing his tremendous enthusiasm for the food and wine. “You must try this cheese – it won first prize at the fair in Durango!” On one occasion they served a stew of organ meats as a starter – I forget the Spanish name of the dish, and I couldn’t understand half the things he told me were in it. But it was incredibly delicious.
I really hope to go back there one day, and recommend it to anyone who loves food!
Happy birthday Yuko!