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Bar Nestor

Bar Nestor is a San Sebastián phenomenon. A tiny old space on Arrandegi Kalea in the heart of the parte vieja, it attracts locals and visitors from afar, not for pintxos, but for a super limited menu of jamon, chorizo, cheese, and the main event—huge chops of chuleton de vaca vieja. Thick, caveman-sized rib steaks cut from old cows, accompanied by chopped tomatoes in salt and olive oil, and fried pimientos de Guernica. In addition, they do two, only, tortilla Espanolas per day—one at 1 pm and one at 8 pm, each providing a couple dozen portions. Their card indicates the place is “simpatico and amabilidad”—a friendly, welcoming place—and it’s most accurate.

The drill in the evening: to get a portion of tortilla, arrive at the bar-end window by 7 pm (they open at 8, officially). Put your name on the list, and if you’re in time, you get a portion of the gooey-centered egg, onion and potato concoction. Get there by about 7:30 to line up for the first round of beef. We are unaware of the tortilla experience, but get there on time at 7:30, are let in at 7:40, shown a space for three at the bar, and order vino—Rioja. At first it’s a full bar—about 10 people, two outside stand-up tables for 4-5 people each, and one inside table for six total—that’s the only space that can be reserved, but several months in advance.

By official opening at 8, there are masses of people behind us and spilling into the street, trying to score space. (We came at 8:30 last night, elbowed in, and were told it would be an hour and a half wait). Shortly past 8, the glorious tortilla comes from the kitchen to cries of acclaim. It is portioned out, and handed round to the anointed, by name: “Juan! Rebecca! Oliver! Julian, Ani!”.....and on down the line. A young couple to our left—he French, she from Monterrey, Mexico, living in Biarritz, got their name on the last two pieces, and confirm it is delicious. An excited Brit behind us, only here for tortilla and a glass of wine, yells “We have tortilla!!!” when handed his plate.

More wine. Plates and silver are put down in front of us, with a basket of bread. Platters of enormous raw steaks are brought out. The barman shows us a platter with two and asks which we want—I point to the one with more marbling, and it is weighed and whisked to the kitchen. A plate of cut tomatoes is placed before us. We spear pieces, dip bread in oil and salt and commence dinner. I switch to Ribera del Douro, a richer wine than the Rioja. An oval platter of sizzling salted slender green peppers is put down—“very hot!” They are quite like Padron peppers. You take a pepper by the stem, bite off all but the cap and seeds, and deposit that on a little dish. Pepper, tomato, bread, wine. Oval cast iron platters of beef begin to arrive—the far end of the bar first...then a couple to the sit-down table...then a couple to outside....then the young couple next to us. Then ours—sizzling, smoking/steaming incredibly primitively aromatic—MEAT! Pre-sliced, but still on the bone; dusted with sea salt; crusted on the outside; purple rare in the middle—want it a bit less rare? Put a slice face down on the sizzling iron for a few seconds. The flavor is incredible. We’ve saved a few peppers and tomatoes to go with the meat. Dredge beef fat and salt from the iron platter with bread. Cut a bite of beef. Drink wine. Rinse, repeat. We root around for the last bits of meat. I pick up the bone and gnaw. The French lad next to us has been trying to cut off bits of bone meat with a knife, but seeing me go caveman, picks his bone up and gnaws as well. His Latina lady laughs.

The place is packed—people continually pour in, and are told there is a waiting list. Names taken.  First it’s a half hour...soon it’s almost an hour. A bit later and it’s an hour and a we heard last night. They keep coming. The place is jammed. The ladies share a last glass of wine. I ask “hay Orujo ?” “Si, con hierbas o blanco?”—infused with mountain herbs or clear. A tiny glass is filled with icy clear liquor—Spanish moonshine—to settle the stomach. We arrived at 7:30.....its 9:15–an almost two hour standing dinner, and what an experience. We get the bill—€43 for beef—exactly a kilo for three people, less than a quarter bone. Total bill—€71 for an unforgettable experiences—just under 25 bucks each. We pay, and I hand over 10 euros in cash as a tip. Since tipping is not the norm in Spain, the tradition here is that tips are tossed into a jar, and the whole bar staff yells “BOTE!!” in unison, which is slang for tip. As great as the huge variety of pintxos are in San Sebastián, Nestor is a singular experience that should not be missed. Simpatica, amabilidad, and muy bueno!


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