Like many people, I can only keep one foreign language in my head at once. At one point in my life, I knew quite a bit of French. I never did speak it gracefully or even well, and I never really could hear it properly with all those mushy syllables, but I understood it well enough to pass out of Yale’s undergraduate foreign language requirement. Now it has been completely crowded out by Spanish. (Korean, thankfully, is in a separate part of my brain.) This became particularly apparent when the nice young French family next to me at Zurriola Marítimo noticed I was taking pictures of my food and started to talk to me, asking if I spoke French. Although it literally took me a whole minute to remember how to say “trés bon,” the “un peu” French I do have enabled me to understand the husband’s very French assessment of food in Spain: “La cuisine française est la meilleure de Europe!” (French cuisine is the best in Europe!) So modest of him not to proclaim, “de tout le monde,” n’est-ce pas?
I also did not love the food at Zurriola Marítimo, although it was much better than it should be, given its spectacular view of the surf at Playa de Zurriola. Most restaurants with astonishing views tend to have terrible food, and it’s a testament to San Sebastian’s gastronomic standards that the food was good and reasonably priced, if not great. But I doubt the French homme thought what I did while eating my roasted oxtails: “It would be so much better in a hot Korean soup!”
The first course I ordered, a vichysoisse of leeks with a poached egg and poached bacalao was tasty, if not quite hot enough. (Is it because I’m Korean that I want my soup to be piping hot?) The soup was very smooth and clean-tasting, despite its rich creaminess, and the salt cod was as soft as butter, almost melting in my mouth. They need to be a little careful with the sea salt on the poached egg, though; I almost choked on a small pile of salty granules.
The second course was not as good, though there was nothing really wrong with it. The oxtails had been browned until they glistened, almost caramelized, and the meat still fell easily from the bone. They sat on a surprisingly light bed of soft, long-cooked potatoes and carrots, perhaps celery as well, and there were interesting tasty blobs of orange sauce that I couldn’t identify. The fried strips of green pepper were wonderful, so much sweeter than any green pepper I’ve ever had in the U.S. So perhaps it was me, not the oxtails. I couldn’t help but yearn for oxtails just simmered straight in a very hot beef broth, perhaps a handful of glass noodles, scads of chopped scallions, and a big pinch of sea salt…Korean oxtail soup! I also sat there pitying cultures that didn’t enjoy spicy, picante food, thinking how just a little bit of a spicy condiment, like Korean red pepper paste, would have enlivened the stew. So who am I to think the French are snobby about food?
Especially since the family was very nice. The maman directed her little boy to give me a bisou, or a kiss on the cheek, before they left. Qué cariñoso!