Basque chef Aitor Esnal has been fascinated by artistic creativity and the culinary arts since he was a young boy. Two of his restaurants have earned Best Of Wine Tourism awards from the Great Wine Capitals Global Network, first at Wine Fandango and in 2023 for his Restaurante Aitor Esnal.
Esnal’s training began at home
Following an apprenticeship with his mother, Esnal trained at some of Spain’s best-known restaurants including Arzak, Martín Berasategui and Miramón, part of the Arbelaitz group of restaurants. Later he earned a Master’s degree in Restaurant Management (MGIR) from the Basque Culinary Center. There he polished his culinary skills with top chefs and learned management skills from Spain’s top restaurant groups.
A stylistic evolution
Restaurante Aitor Esnal is Esnal’s third restaurant in Logroño. The first, Marinée, opened in 2007. There, he concentrated on raw materials and pure flavors. At Wine Fandango, Logroño’s most popular wine bar, Esnal created innovative dishes combining elegance and modernity as well as introducing Asian-inspired dishes.
At Restaurante Aitor Esnal, his focus is on raw materials and dishes from La Rioja, the Basque Country and Southeast Asia.
Three Tasting Menus
The restaurant features three tasting menus:
- Amari (a homage to Esnal’s mother, who inspired him to become a chef).
- Azoka (a homage to local food markets in the Basque Country where farmers sell produce direct to consumers).
- Hamaiketako (a homage to the Basque tradition of having a mid-morning meal at 11am).
When we ate at Restaurante Aitor Esnal on August 22 it was 42ºC (108ºF) in Logroño so our appetites were diminished. Hamaiketako seemed like the perfect choice.
Hamaitetako (‘what happens at 11 o’clock’ in Basque) is much more than a mid-morning snack. As Esnal tells it, hamaiketako is a meal at a restaurant or a gastronomic society, where workers would take a break before returning to work.
Basques are known for their hearty appetites, so this tradition is not surprising.
- As a starter, a spicy sorbet with salmon and horse mackerel roe. This combination of sweet and spicy was a welcome surprise and excited us about the rest of the dishes.
- Cherry tomatoes, strawberries and marinated anchovies in a beet vinaigrette and vegetable sprouts;
- Fresh white beans (pochas) cooked in their own broth, covered with a bean broth foam;
- Candied cod in a teriyaki broth;
- Marinated, then grilled Duroc pork tenderloin with umeboshi style plums and sautéed as well as crunchy mushrooms;
- Dessert: chocolate sorbet with chocolate shavings.
Our wine choices
Sommelier Beatriz Martínez has created a carefully curated wine list featuring mainly Rioja, but with a surprising selection of champagnes as well as VOS and VORS sherries.
Our wine choices were first, a bottle of Luis Sáenz Rioja crianza from the village of El Cortijo in Rioja Alta, followed by a bottle of Viña Gena, from Bodegas Villota, produced from a singular vineyard in Laserna in Rioja Alavesa.
More than just a restaurant
Learn to prepare Basque dishes and about wine: Esnal leads show cooking seminars for consumers, and sommelier Martínez directs wine tastings. Consumers can buy gift coupons for special occasions.
The Hamaiketako menu was the perfect choice for a light, refreshing lunch on one of the hottest days on record in Logroño.
Calle Sagasta, 13, bajo.
26001 Logroño, La Rioja, Spain.
T: (+34) 941 241 283
Text by Tom Perry, Inside Rioja
Featured photo: Restaurante Aitor Esnal.
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