Fish Collars and Cider: David Nichols’ Guide to Basque Country
Chef David Nichols of the soon-to-open Rider in Seattle details his favorite hotspots in Spain’s Basque Country.
Before opening his new restaurant, Rider in Seattle, chef David Nichols took the trip of a lifetime last spring.
“Basque Country is culinary heaven,” says Nichols. “Quality of life there, like quality of food, is a top priority, and the markets are unbeatable.”
Everywhere he hit up in the northern region of Spain, he asked the chefs where to go next and added it to his itinerary. However, aside from the pristine ingredients and culinary innovation, what Nichols loved the most was the people.
“They treated us like family, and they were excited to tell you about themselves—their culture, their history through and over their food,” he says.
Here are the places that made Basque Country bucket-list-worthy for the chef.
“Getaria, the charming fishing village right next to the Bay of Biscay, is perhaps the best place to eat seafood. At this waterfront restaurant, we enjoyed views of the bay and watched the very boats that hauled in our meal. The chef threw together an impromptu tasting menu with some inspiration from his Mexican heritage.”
“Maybe even better than the whimsical meal dreamed up by chef Francis Paniego at this restaurant in Ezcaray was the after-party. The chef’s brother invited us to drinks after dinner, and then he opened up one of his smaller restaurants, Tondeluna. We laughed and ate until dawn.”
“There is nothing frivolous about this renown restaurant ranked sixth on World’s 50 Best. Here, at Victor Arguinzoniz’s rural restaurant in Axpe, farm-to-table is not a gimmick, and the open flame and smoke are the main draw. My last meal on Earth would be the steak with scallops. And for dessert? Smoke-infused unpasteurized ice cream drizzled with beet sauce.”
“Once the team at this bakery in Tolosa found out I was a chef, they gave me a tour of the kitchen—and even some ingredients, like faro flour and whipped cream. I realize that I’d never tasted fresh whipped cream before. I thought I had, but this was next-level.”
“This ultra high-end restaurant from chef Eneko Atxa is totally immersive. Located in Larrabetzu, your meal first starts with a tour through the rooftop vegetable garden. Their mushroom garden was especially noteworthy.”
“At this cider bar in Astigarraga, they set out a side of beef on the counter for lunch, and all the customers took cuts. Every ten minutes or so, someone would yell ‘txotx’ and everyone in the restaurant would head down to the cellar to draw cider from giant barrels. We would all line up and, when the barrel was uncorked, everyone took turns passing their cups under the stream, trying hard not to spill. It took some practice.”
“We initially came for the wine—’99 Contador, a Tempranillo-based wine out of Rioja was the order—at this white-tablecloth restaurant in Donostia. But the food was delightful and the atmosphere warm. At the end of the meal, the whole restaurant staff retired to the bar to enjoy gin and tonics. It was like we were among old friends.”
“I’ve had fish necks on my mind ever since eating at this bar in San Sebastian. The fried fish collars here are a game-changer. It was a simple way of preparing an oft-discarded part of the fish. Expect to see them at Rider.”