Extebarri – we had been dreaming of going there for so long. This little auberge nestled in the Basque countryside is the wholly grail for all those passionate about food. It has become an obsession for the greatest chefs and critics from Spain and around the world, and many are those who wait for months, and sometimes years, to finally discover Assador Extebarri’s quivering wood-braised cuisine. Veracity, authenticity and simplicity are the words that come to mind after having lived the experience. As well as stripped to the bone, humble and bare. There is something profoundly offbeat about the kitsch décor and its deceptively old-fashioned charm. The plate on the other hand is honest, bold, and without the slightest unnecessary frills. Imagine this: cheese from the cows grazing in the surrounding fields, creamy reconstructed burrata, a big loaf of country bread, a warm and almost exclusively Spanish welcome, an insane wine list and a cuisine that is both pure and incessantly infused with that addictively smoky flavor. “Between the embers and the ingredients, there is me, that’s it. That’s how I learned to cook”, explained chef Victor Arguinzoniz. “My dishes are my memories.” We didn’t speak the same language and yet we immediately sensed a kindness and a sense of humility coming from this chef, who has never and will never change his ways. He goes as far as to produce his own charcoal and uses four different grills for the four different kinds of wood (pear tree, apple tree, beechwood…) he uses to create his dishes; disarming with authenticity and genuine flavors. The prawn re-reddened on the grill with smoked butter was phenomenal, with its succulent drippings, plump texture and smokiness. At the end of our meal, when that enormous ruby-red côtes de boeuf came to the table, blackened by the coals, almost carbonated, we didn’t hesitate to eat it with our hands and to gnaw at the bone, almost primitively. And the vegetables: the white bean salsa, the peas and their bright green juice; dishes moving simplicity. Just like the sumptuous charcuterie, especially the chorizo, neither too dry nor too spicy with notes of wood. And we will never forget the baby eels, the chef’s favorite dish. Surprising at first, it was like a plate of mouse-grey linguini interlaced with the ocean, irresistibly linked with butter and pepper. At Assador Extebarri, our senses were so enraptured by the flavors of the vine shoots and embers that all we wanted to talk about was the taste – indescribable.