Monday, December 7, 2009


So it’s my last weekend here in Lasarte. Wow. Can’t believe I’m this close to being finished. As long as some of the days may have seemed, I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t fly by. And now, looking back at the road behind me, I must admit, it’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience.

Yesterday was, by far, the best day of service I’ve had at the restaurant. I awoke with relative ease, fueled by the knowledge that it was the last weekend I’d be working. A quick cup of coffee after my shower and I was off and running. The morning flew by as we prepped for the busy day, and lunchtime arrived before I knew it. Incredibly, there was a surprise in store: instead of the usual Sunday lunch of what I call "grease soup" (chunks of chewing-gum-consistency beef and diced peppers in a pot covered by 3 inches of oil and grease), we ate what was, hands down, the best meal we’ve been served in the kitchen. Ever.

Gabi (the friend who took me to Asturias last month) and his dad often hunt wild boar in the mountains around their town. With incredible generosity, Gabi brought one (‘javeli’ in Spanish) to the restaurant on Wednesday, butchered, broken down, and ready to be cooked. He spent his spare time during the week prepping, marinating, and stewing this glorious beast, and yesterday we were served a huge, mouth-watering pot of stewed boar, in all of its so-tender-it-falls-off-the-bone glory. This was my first time trying boar, and naturally I loved it. I had two huge bowls, sopping up every last drop with hunks of bread. Oh, and I can’t forget the honey ice cream that the pasteleria served us for dessert. At the end of the meal, I could do nothing more than stretch out on my chair, rub my full belly, and grin in satisfaction. De-LACIOUS.

Full of fuel from the lunch to end all lunches, I spent an hour shucking and cleaning my oysters. As I neared completion, Giovanni (who plates the oysters with me during service) was called away to empty and clean one of the walk-ins in preparation for the restaurant’s impending holiday. This would take at least a couple of hours, which meant I would be solo during service. On a slow day, such circumstances would be insignificant, but with the books full, it was slightly daunting. Nevertheless, I looked forward to the challenge.

The rush began, and the restaurant was slammed within 30 minutes of opening the doors. I have to admit, I did nothing but kick ass. I reiterate that the oyster dish is not overly difficult or complex (a mere five touches and it’s done), but when you start the day given five different tables, simultaneously, it’s easy to fall into the weeds. Nevertheless, the weeds remained at bay for the full length of service. I kept track of everything myself, I caught errors that Sany missed, I helped out at the other stations, and every plate went out like an impeccable gem. Not once did I miss a beat, break a sweat, or let a mistake occur. Sany stayed out of my way and let me do my thing, and I reveled in the whiplash ballet that a busy service becomes: the pressure, the competitiveness, the poise, the attention to detail, the necessity to move with both grace and speed, the ability to act without thinking, to anticipate timing... you gotta love it.

At the end of the day, minutes away from the freedom of the weekend, Sany called us together for our usual end-of-week huddle. "Hoy fue un servicio brillante," she beamed. Today’s service was brilliant. To hear this sentence come out of the mouth of someone like Sany is like hearing George Walker Bush recite a Shakespearean sonnet. I was taken aback, floored, and elated. I thanked her with heartfelt words of "gracias" and headed out the door, already feeling my body start to relax and go into chillout mode. I got home, changed into sweatpants, and sank into the couch, smiling from ear to ear as my muscles instinctively began to relax.

The next few hours were spent listening to music and drinking Rioja as we (Giovanni, Jay, Romina, and I) reflected on the past week and the fact that we were almost done. At one point, Sany came up in conversation (as she often does), and Jay paid me a huge compliment: "Some said it was impossible," he said with a grin, "but I think you’ve conquered Sany. You won." And as a smile crept over my own face, I nodded my head in agreement. I’d been thinking about it over the past week, noticing how she almost never yelled at me anymore, how she stayed off my back for the most part during service, how she continued to make pleasant conversation, ask about my girlfriend, laugh at my jokes... hell, she even calls me "Senor Hinojo" ("Mr. Fennel") now due to the fact that I have become the go-to guy when we need an excessive quantity of the infamous and meticulous fennel ‘risotto.’ And, she has promised coffee every morning next week since it’s our last week before closing! Jay is right; whether on my own or with the help of my partida, I have won Sany over. That fact is most likely the biggest accomplishment with which I will leave this place. Fuckin’ A.

Anyway, I look forward to enjoying the rest of my final weekend. Cooking some American food for dinner tonite (sorry, Jamo, I spell how I wanna spell): Mac n’ Cheese and Chicken Nuggets. Tomorrow Jay and I make one last daytrip to Bilbao to see the Guggenheim (this time when it’s actually open), and then I have three days of work before I pack up and head back to Madrid. And then Morocco. And then Tuscany. And then... HOME! Home for takeout Thai food, family, friends, Christmas, a bed that wasn’t issued by a correctional facility, my dogs, HBO, and a house in which I’m not scared to walk barefoot.

Wish me ‘buena suerte’ as I push through the final three days at Restaurante Martin Berasategui...

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