We decided to delay our departure to have yet another meal at El Kano, Getaria’s fish restaurant one of a kind. Search the globe and you can find few restaurants where the owner is so knowledgeable, honest and proud of his heritage, his seashores and the terroir of the Atlantic in the Bay of Biscay in Basque country. Now I will introduce you to Aitor Arregui the man behind El Kano, but he is not alone.
Aitor’s mother, Mari Jose Artano, now in her late seventies is either at the cash or greeting tables wearing her signature white blouse and black trousers. She visits our table, bright and vibrant with enthusiasm she welcomes us. Admittingly the conversation was short and while we didn’t understand one word, it seemed perfectly relaxing.
It is true El Kano will unlikely change unless there’s some Force Majeure , it will probably stay like it is for a very long time. Elkano founded in 1964 by Aitor’s father Pedro, it was a modest tavern for his friends, who were all fishermen. The story goes, one day a fisherman friend of his brought a whole turbot and, when some customers bought it on the spot, Pedro had the idea to grill it whole instead of skinning it and cutting it up as usual, and it all started here.
These days when you walk into El Kano the first word that comes to mind is integrity, elegance and there’s a classic feel about the restaurant, it’s authentic. The interior is unassuming, original and casual, you take it as it is, no grande expectations until it comes to the seafood. Here it is all about the sea and the traditions of the seashore community. When Aitor speaks about terroir he is serious, and he defines and describes how it works watching the lunar calendar closely. There is no doubt fish here are very different to what you’ll find in the mediterranean or the Aegean.
At Elkano they appreciate and understand the connection between dynamics between sea life, life cycles of different species and their habits. Eating fish at El Kano is an annex and if you are curious about what happens below the water-line, how the sky and our planets influence life and behaviour of fish then you are in the right place. I agree, we take for granted the hard work of the local fisherman, tedious seas, beating waves and the shifting winds.
Aitor is without a doubt the consummate professional, you find very few people as passionate who adore their small town and the splashes of the waves. After having not seeing him for a year nothing has changed except he’s been running the Atlantic shores, slimmed down 10 kg and he is ready to work. His smile says it all, he has Basque way about him, traditionalism at heart, no compromise in serving his clients.
His enthusiasm is second to none as he shows off the Atlantic rock crab, he says “touch it as he points out the smooth claw’s end” — he explains it used to live and search the rocky bottom. This crab is unbelievable and the habitat it lives is so obvious from the mosaics patterns of the crustaceans on the crab’s back.
El Kano is still all about Aitor’s Dad (respect for his work) who passed in 2014 and when you walk into “his restaurant” you feel nostalgia and their obsession to do things as they were in the past. The amuse bouche is a perfect anchovy, the taste is refreshing, simplicity speaks for itself.
Aitor waves his hands and motions makes us sure to know it is Turbot Season, he says “May is excellent and lobster is the fall”, so we take his recommendations. The fish is cooked over the outside grill using charcoal, it is manned by their longstanding chef and he knows his duty, finished with oil and vinegar, a tradition here in the town of Getaria.
I wonder each time I go to El Kano, the sauce it reminds me of the Greek lemon and oil, yet cleverly the oil is neutral, so it doesn’t interfere with the white flesh and its subtle taste. A mixture of neutral oil, mild acidity (vinegar) is their secret formula.
It is a fisherman’s village, the sight of the Elkano dining room views the towering statue of Juan Sebastián Elcano. He is one of Getaria’s famous explorers who in the early 16th century, was the first to circumnavigate the globe. And Balenciaga museum in Getaria if you are a fashionista: https://www.cristobalbalenciagamuseoa.com/en/visit/how-to-get-here/ but I have never been.
You can tell the restaurant is exactly as before after having been closed for seven months. It is hard to fathom this pandemic and the difficulty is has caused. Actually the restaurant is full, but they are only working a few days a week, and the supply chains are affected due to Covid. I asked Aitor and he smiled and with confidence said it was all okay, a polite way of addressing a difficult situation.
It is filled and busy (every table taken) all local people, no foreigners except us. The crab is ready and I ordered the legs and the body perhaps too much but I couldn’t resist. And it is no small chore to eat it, the crab is juicy and the legs are almost inaccessible given the utensils. I ask Aitor to take the head coral and make it with the leg’s meat, and voila !!!
When the owner says “make yourself feel at home” he means it. For people who love fish if you haven’t eaten and El Kano you’ll never know the true taste have Atlantic fish if you miss Geteria. The crab meat from the legs is spectacular, the flavours are simple and pure.
The turbot is a signature, the dark and light side, it is put into a basket. Actually whole-grilled turbot with Txakoli, pronounced chock-oh-lee a local white wine. I haven’t ventured quite
A dish symbolic of the Spanish region’s way of life. All the fish used are wild and you can tell the difference. The turbot, removed from the grill gleams with juices and touches of caramelisation from the hot coals, the fish is gelatinous. The cooking style is and was born here and when Aitor took over he inherited three parrilla, iron grills, the history and culture of many generations is found in his Dad’s footsteps.
The Turbot is awesome yet it has been rested and rigamortis has been avoided, only an experienced restaurant knows these kinds of things. And any good fish should be chased by a fresh salad and here it is: mild onions and asparagus and artichoke.
The season for mushrooms I cannot hesitate to try some and they are savory, grilled I add some virgin olive oil to induce them. Aitor insists and brings them to show me, I asked and I agreed after seeing the type. I am careful about mushrooms despite my love for those little caps, I am always aware of poisoning, something that happens from time to time. If you have such a fear you can try the peas from John Urkiki who is just a few kilometers away. This season the rain has been limited so the peas are more dry than last season.
The meal continues as we cannot fill up before having desert, and the menu offers a few choices and I ask for rice pudding a classic desert but how did it find itself here? The arroz con leche (rice with milk) is one of the oldest desserts in Spain.
In the north of Europe you could eat it as a warm meal instead of as a dessert, and the origin of this dessert comes from the Muslim world and was imported into Spain when the Muslims conquered the South of the Iberian Peninsula.
The crazy desert with a milk ice cream and cherries on the grill with a pea granita *this is something you will adore or simply find weird. And the grande finale is the fish magnet with the “Konto” and the ending comes too soon.
The ice cream with