Chef Tom Herndon – San Sebastian, Part Three – Akelare: A Visual Feast!

I always wanted to experience a three-star Michelin meal. I promised myself on this solo adventure that I would be generous with myself.  As I said in the last missive, I couldn’t gain access to the two restaurants in San Sebastian that are at the top of most food enthusiast’s lists – Mugaritz and Arzak.  So I opted for door number two – Akelare.  Still in the top 10% and boasting three Michelin stars of its own.

It’s been nearly three years and this was the one place I didn’t take copious notes about the food. Sorry. But I did get some good pics. Here are some images from the meal, starting with my approach to the restaurant, then the ambiance inside, and finally the presentation of the food. I even took some amateur movies. What it lacks in drool-worthy prose, it makes up for in visual sumptuousness.



My Table

My View

Inside View

Three tasting menus were offered. I opted for Bekarke.

The waiters were quite chic in their halter-styled aprons.



Amuse Bouche: (who knows, sorry, but there were three of them

First CoursePrawns and Green Beans cooked in “Orujo” flame

Second course: White Beans with “Chorizo” (vegetarian). Steamed Little Bread.

Third course: Sautéed Fresh Foie Gras with “Salt Flakes and Grain Pepper”

The ‘salt’ was light sugar flakes that weren’t too sweet, while the ‘pepper’ was puffed grains of black rice.

Fourth course: Grouper “Umami”


Fifth course: Roasted Baby Lamb, Salad in Skein, Mushrooms and Sweetbreads

Sixth course: Melting Cupcake


Seventh course: Orange “Tocino de Cielo” Sheet with Fruit Leaves


Treated to even more sweets. Petit fours

I know, you’re not supposed to talk about the money, but this was a first for this working class chef and it symbolized me being generous to me. Lunch was $300. From a visual/ambiance standpoint, worth every penny.  To be honest, in my zeal, the $300 included sending congratulatory champagne to the table of a young couple from San Mateo who was in San Sebastian on their honeymoon. I had met them in the parking lot while waiting for the restaurant to open. Admittedly I was showing off…a little…but it felt so good!

Now, here’s the deal. This may sound cynical, but it’s the truth. Akelare was truly a visual feast. Stunning presentation, idyllic location, and the servers were as gracious, friendly and warm as old pals. I just don’t remember the flavors at all. Nothing stood out as mind-blowing and I really wanted my mind to be blown. Everything about the experience was gorgeous, but eating all that beautiful food…it felt like something was missing, as if the show, albeit dazzling, was a distraction from the “meh” flavors. Nothing tasted bad, it just lacked memorable substance. It lacked soul. That was it. There was just no there there.

By comparison, the pintxos in Old Town tasted incredible and as I said, I returned multiple times for some of them. I even recreated many of them when I got home, at catered parties, at home and in cooking classes.  Not that price was the issue, but the pinxtos were a fraction of the cost of the meal at Akelare.  Plus, the visuals of those mountains of pintxos covering the bars in tavern after tavern were pretty darn feast-worthy. This is not a slam against fancy-schmancy multi-starred restos, lord knows there are some great ones. But if you’re gonna charge a pretty penny, then it’s gotta be way more than just….pretty.


Chef Tom is currently Resident Chef for a small tech firm in San Francisco. He also teaches cooking classes, caters small parties and leads overseas culinary tours. His specialty for the last twelve years has been cooking for people with food allergies and sensitivities. His motto is “Food should give you pleasure, not pressure.”

Check him out at

One Response to “Chef Tom Herndon – San Sebastian, Part Three – Akelare: A Visual Feast!”

  1. Peter Montreuil Says:

    The only problem I have with your columns is that I’m always hungry after reading them, Tom! Good job!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: