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Trip Report CACHOPO, CABRALES & CARBAYONES Asturias..and "The Best Steak in The World"

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“Where?”

“Asturias.”

“Astoria? That’s in Spain? Where in Spain?”

“The North Coast.”

“But you just went there last year!!”

“No, we were in northern Spain last year but not to Asturias”

“Oh, you always find these places that no one else knows about.”

I’ve been having variations on this conversation (substitute various locations) for most of my adult life and this was no different. While I admit that many of my friends and acquaintances would not be considered very well traveled (by the standards of many here), they were really thrown this time by my mention of the region that was to be our destination for 12 days this past October. Not so surprisingly, not one person I divulged my travel plans to had ever heard of Asturias, let alone been there. (Yes, it has occurred to me that I could use a few new friends but that is besides the point).

I love Spain, and have had the good fortune to have visited many regions of the country over the course of many trips during the past decades. I’d driven along the Asturian Coast about 10 years ago on a rushed, week-long car trip from Santiago to Santander, dipping south to spend two nights at the Parador just outside the town of Cangas del Onís, on the edge of the Picos de Europa. The beauty of the area we saw, with its patchworked emerald-green landscapes edged by the snow-capped Picos on one side and rock-strewn ocean coastline on the other, lingered ever since then.

After a spectacular visit to Castilla/León and the Basque region last fall (combined with 5 nights in Lisbon) I was determined that this year would bring a return visit to Northern Spain, to Asturias. I’d been reading about the plethora of good restaurants in the region and that, combined with the fact that Asturias is somewhat off-the-beaten track for foreign tourists other than some hardy folks drawn by the splendid outdoors activities—fishing, hiking, climbing, biking—clinched the decision. And, after reading the praises sung in the Spanish and international press about an out-of-the-way restaurant near Leon that served up what some critics declared to be the “best steak in the world,” I tacked on a dinner there to the travel plan.

(We had originally thought of combining Asturias with Porto and Galicia but I condensed the scope of the trip to avoid the rather extensive stretches in the car that that plan would have entailed. I do hope to return to the area, adding Galicia, before too long)


This was our itinerary, to take place over 11 nights during the last two weeks of October.

PLANNING THE TRIP:

Materials published in English that focus on the North outside the Basque country are less than plentiful, the one standout being CADOGAN’S GUIDE TO NORTHERN SPAIN, whose most recent edition dates from 2012. Some of the hotel and restaurant information, therefore, might have to be double checked, but the sightseeing chapters are an excellent resource, and there are good introductory chapters on history, culture, and gastronomy.

https://www.amazon.com/Cadogan-Guides-Northern-Spain-Facaros/dp/1566568781/ref


There is an excellent chapter on Asturias and Cantabria in DISCOVERING SPAIN by the late Penelope Casas, who did so much to introduce to the Cuisines of Spain to English-speaking readers. First published in 1992, this book belongs on the shelf of anyone with an interest in Spanish gastronomy. It is probably my most valuable printed resource when planning my visits to the country. The scope ranges far beyond food and drink to include architecture, history, and cultural topics.



https://www.amazon.com/Discovering-Spain-Uncommon-Guide-Updated/dp/0679765697





There are only two chapters within on Asturias (neither of which was pertinent to this trip,) but I mention this 2003 book because of its valuable background reading for anyone planning to visit the north of Spain, not just Asturias. Many of the chapters, on subjects ranging from the San Fermín festival and the Battle of Lepanto to Cabrales cheese and the Camino, have been published previously in magazines and newspapers. Authors include Calvin Trillin, Tom Brokaw, Frank Prial, Amanda Hesser, and Anya Von Bremzen.

https://www.amazon.com/Northern-Spain-Collected-Traveler-Anthology/dp/0609809784


The Asturian Tourist Office has compiled a number of online guides, most of which I neglected to read before our trip, but must certainly be worth digging in to:

https://www.turismoasturias.es/en/organiza-tu-viaje/folletos

One of these is the excellent CASONAS ASTURIANAS, a lavishly photographed guide to hotels of character in the region, many of which are moderate in price.

https://www.casonasasturianas.com/en/



Where I did do much of my background reading was on the online sites focusing on the gastronomy of the area. The Spanish equivalent of Michelin is Repsol, and they publish very well-regarded restaurant guides to all regions of Spain, handing out “soles” or suns, instead of the Stars favored by Michelin. The site is in Spanish. Also in Spanish are various food blogs including www.fartúcate.net, which covers all of Spain but is particularly good on Asturias, and
www.lesfartures.com, with copious coverage of the Asturias restaurant scene.


I received helpful information on this Fodor’s planning thread:

http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/asturias-in-late-october.cfm



FLIGHTS:


RT flights on IBERIA, from JFK to OVD (Asturias airport) and return, with stops in MAD in both directions. The two trans=Atlantic flights were on A-340-600s.



HOTELS:


NH OVIEDO PRINCIPADO in Oviedo 4 nights. (I tried to book the Hotel de la Reconquista but they were booked out due to the festivities surrounding the annual Princess of Asturias Awards, held during our time in the city and the focus of much of the action when we were in residence). We would pick up a rental car the day before we departed Oviedo and park it for one night in a municipal garage.
https://www.nh-hotels.com/hotel/nh-oviedo-principado

PUEBLO ASTUR ECO RESORT in Cofiño 4 nights. (This upscale hotel would be our base for exploring the edges of the Picos de Europa and the coastal towns and beaches of Eastern Asturias, and for visiting several much-lauded restaurants in the area)
http://www.puebloastur.com/


HOTEL CASA DE TEPA in Astorga 1 night (The 2-hours-plus drive to Astorga was included so that we could sample the steak at Bodega de Capricho, a half-hour’s drive way in the hamlet of Jimenez de Jamuz. As we discovered, an unfinished Gaudi palace and restaurants serving the cuisine of the mysterious Maragato peoples, along with chocolate and some of the best charcuterie I’ve ever tasted made the small city of Astorga, in Leon province, well worth a visit on its own right, even without a foray to El Capricho)
http://casadetepa.com/en/

HOTEL RURAL TRES CABOS outside Luarca 2 nights. (This would be a base to explore some highlights of the western Asturian coastline including the charming village of Cudillero, the fishing town of Luarca and the coastal promenade from Cape Busto, with divine sea views and glorious hillscapes; it was also well placed for access to the Asturias airport, where we would return our rental car and depart for the flight to Madrid and on to the US).
http://www.hotelrural3cabos.com/en



AUTO RENTAL:

Through the broker AutoEurope, I rented a compact automatic (Nissan Juke or similar) with pick-up in Oviedo city and return at Asturias airport. This was the only car model that allowed pickup in the city and return in a different location, in our case, the airport. The price was $240US for 8 nights.

We were pleased that upon arrival at the EuropCar office at the Rail Station in Oviedo, we were allocated a medium sized Mercedes, whose model name or number I failed to discover. We liked the car and had no problems whatsoever for the duration of the rental. (We did have some minor confusion brought about by fact that there was no one around when we returned the car at the airport on a Saturday morning; we turned in the keys at the rental desk inside the terminal, after taking some photos of the undamaged exterior).


RESTAURANTS:

Discovering the regional cuisine was a principal focus of our trip. We tended to eat breakfast (included with the room rate at our hotels and of varying quality) and one other meal during the day, either lunch or dinner depending on where we were and how far the restaurant was from our home base on that particular day. (We prefer to avoid driving in the dark where possible; unfortunately at this time of year it got dark well before the dinner hour so there were occasions when we could not satisfy this preference).

I made most of our reservations for our one daily “important” meal in advance of arrival. Most reservations were done by e-mail or directly with the restaurant through their website. In one or two cases I received no response to my attempts and so I asked the hotel to book the table for me.


When we ate lunch, we generally ate late, about 3 or 3:30pm, in order to have much of the day free beforehand. For dinner, we were often the first ones in the restaurant, arriving at the opening hour which was 9pm in all but one or two instances. Being used to that, we were not bothered and, in fact, relished the extra attention we were given by staff at that early dinner hour. (Back home in New York City, we often have to dine at first service in order to snag a table at ppopular venues, even if I book weeks in advance)


Although we ate in several Michelin-starred and Repsol sun-ned restaurants, we found the prices to be gentle when compared to prices in the US. We had only two meals that hovered around the 200 euro mark and most meals were closer to 100 euro for two. At Casa Gerardo, for example, a revered eatery with one Michelin star and three Repsol suns, our (superb) lunch cost us 142 euro.

On the evenings after we had had a large lunch, we generally treated ourselves to pastries. Unfortunately, I became overly well acquainted with the sugar, almond, and egg yolk Carbayones of Oviedo, among other sweet confections.


WEATHER:

My only apprehension about this trip concerned the weather. It’s no coincidence that the north coast of Spain is known as “Green Spain,” and late October is not historically a very dry period.
An online friend who covered some of the same ground as we did, but a week earlier, reported day after day of rain and fog, not a good situation when scenic walks and drives are a large component of one’s trip plans. But we were very lucky. Apart from some rain during our first few travel days, in Oviedo, the rest of the time brought sunny and often very warm weather. We were in short-sleeves for about half of the days, donning only light cotton jackets at night.

PACKING:


My old black Andiamo suitcase reached the end of the line just before our departure. As a replacement, based on online reviews and some comments here and impressed by the long warranty, I bought a Briggs and Riley Baseline expandable bag. While it made the trip over only about half full, it reached near capacity on the way back, stuffed as it was with cheeses, canned seafood, assorted other edible treats, and a few items of clothing from Massimo Dutti and Zara, both of which have outposts in Oviedo. So far I like the suitcase very much, and hope that it will have many miles under its straps before too long.

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    We left New York on a Monday evening, flying out of JFK. We had a quick connection in MAD; there was a big crowd at immigration but we were ushered into a special line for people with tight connections. Unfortunately that line does not always exist, as we learned on the return.


    We landed in a rainy Asturias airport around 9am. By the time we retrieved my one check-in suitcase, we had missed the airport bus that runs hourly from outside the terminal to Oviedo city, and other nearby locations served by the airport.

    Not wanting to wait another hour, we took a taxi to Oviedo, a smooth, mostly highway, ride of about 40 minutes. Although the official price (from what I read) is about 52euro, the driver charged us 60 euro. Perhaps there is an additional fee for bags, or perhaps he overcharged us. It’s probably the latter, but we were too tired to enter into a dispute and just paid the amount he asked for. It was so gloomy outside that I was afraid the timing of this trip had been a mistake, and I envisioned riding around for 12 days in the gray drizzle.

    Fortunately, I had written to the hotel in advance and they accommodated my request for an early check in, so by 10:30 we were ensconced in our bed for a nice nap.

    As I mentioned above, the NH Hotel Principado had been my second choice. We would have much preferred to stay at the Hotel Reconquista, a historic property considered the best in the city. But Oviedo was abuzz because our stay coincided with the Princesa awards, an honor bestowed upon talents in a wide range of scientific, sporting and creative fields, which would take place on our last day in the city. The days leading up to the awards brought an influx of people to Oviedo’s hotels and, as we learned, the King of Spain and his wife, the Princess of Asturias, would arrive on the scene a few days after our arrival.

    http://www.fpa.es/en/princess-of-asturias-awards/



    The NH Principado Hotel occupies an excellent location just outside the old city; we would walk everywhere in the next few days, never having to take a taxi or public transportation.


    The hotel itself is good enough, even if the rooms are sterile in the extreme, decor wise. One minor issue I had was that the front desk would not assist me in making restaurant reservations in advance of my arrival. They responded to my request with an e-mail saying they would take care of this when we arrived at the hotel. But being on the obsessive side, I was afraid our restaurant choices might be booked, with all the out-of-towers convening in the city during our dates. In the end, I was able to book our 4 restaurants myself, so all worked out fine.

    We chose a Junior Suite Double with breakfast, because the reviews on the lesser rooms reported that some had no view to the outside except that of an air shaft. The older we get, the more the actual room seems to matter, and since I knew that my partner would be (in the end, futilely) manning the tv with the hopes of finding the American baseball playoffs, I wanted a room that had a tv outside the sleeping area. I must commend the hotel for the exceedingly comfortable bed, and nice white linens. The price of the room was about 240 euro per night including all taxes and fees. Pretty high, considering, I thought.

    Breakfast was plentiful but a little disappointing, at least when compared with the NH hotel we had stayed at last year in Burgos, where in addition to the usual suspects, the buffet offered a table of Castillan fare that I found hard to resist, along with bakery breads and cakes. At the Oviedo NH, the buffet held only commercial, packaged breads, cheeses, pork products, yogurt, and dry cereals. But they did have a nice array of fresh fruit (the pineapple in Spain and Portugal seems so much better than the pineapples we get in the States), and they would make eggs to order. As it turned out, we would eat so much on this trip that it was a good thing we did not gorge at breakfast, or at least one of us did not.

    The staff at the front desk were very warm and helpful although, surprisingly, they are not allowed internet access so could not print out directions from Google maps, unless you e-mailed them the directions. And although this never came up during our stay, I imagine that without the internet, staff was not able to look up details on restaurants or sights, or anything else, for guests. Well, that sounds kind of picky on my part. Overall, our stay was fine, and the hotel has the benefit of being located just adjacent to what I believe might be the best restaurant in the city, Casa Fermín, where we were booked for that first evening in Oviedo.

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    Hola Marija!! I remember that you are a fellow aficionada of Spain!!

    I've been having trouble posting..will try a small bit to see if this works now:

    After a long nap, we ventured out into the drizzle and began exploring the Asturian capital. I had read a report that his glasses had been broken, so I wanted first to head over to the statue of Woody Allen to see if Woody had regained his vision. Happily, all was well on that score. If you are wondering why there was a life-size bronze statue of Woody planted amidst the pedestrian shopping area of this Asturian city, look back to his film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which was shot partly in Oviedo. Engraved on the statue’s base, a quotation from Mr. Allen lauds the city and its people, referencing the time he spent ensconced here during filming. He famously called Oviedo his favorite city in Spain.

    Over the course of the next three days, we were to discover quite a few of the more than 100 statues that grace the streets and plazas of this handsome city. One of my favorites was the statue of Rufo, a street dog who was fed and cared for by locals until his death in 1997. This blog shows a few of Oviedo’s open-air statues:

    https://enjoyoviedo.wordpress.com/2016/04/21/nuestra-ruta-de-las-estatuas-por-oviedo




    The upcoming Princess of Asturias awards had brought many special events to the City and as we walked past the edge of Oviedo’s vast Parque de San Francisco we happened to stumble on the fantastic animated video installation, More Sweetly Plays the Dance, by South African William Kentridge, who would receive the Arts prize later that week. We were spellbound and watched the video, which unfurled on a series of large white screens set up at the edge of the park.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBZYd-InWnM




    Kentridge wasn’t the only artist I discovered during our stay in Oviedo. We made two separate visits to the Museo de Bellas Artes de Asturias, which showcases a selection of local artists as well as big names including Picasso, Goya, Sorolla and Miró. Flanking Picasso’s large “Mosquetero con Espada y Amorcillo,” I noticed two works by Leonard Foujita, of whom I had not heard before. Suffice to say that cat lovers in the vicinity ought to put the museum on their sightseeing list, just to view these two masterworks.

    http://www.thegreatcat.org/the-cat-in-art-and-photos-2/cats-in-art-20th-century/leonard-tsuguharu-foujita-1886-1968-japanese-french/

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    IMD: Since I've come back, I've been re-reading the 2 Cadogan's that cover the north. And it sounds like there are many areas that see few tourists, and that might be interesting to visit. The Spanish areas bordering the Pyrenees, for example, the valleys in Navarra northeast of Pamplona. Instead of moving along with this report, I've got my maps out and dreaming about a future trip, maybe Navarra combined with Rioja and more of the Basque country. (??)



    Apologies for the (usual) slow pace of this report; combined with my daydreaming about future trips, there is the issue of not being able to post very often. Here is a snippet on our first dinner in Asturias:


    CASA FERMÍN


    I booked a table here for the first night, figuring we would not want to venture too far from our hotel after the overnight trans-Atlantic flight. Founded in 1924, Casa Fermín sits just beside the NH Hotel Principado and across from the University and is one of the best regarded eateries in Oviedo, with two suns from the Guia Repsol. (They had a Michelin star at one time).


    Imagine our surprise when the restaurant chosen for its convenience turned out to provide one of our best meals of the trip. I expected a classic restaurant with traditional cooking but the dinner we had showcased modern fare that was both visually arresting and delicious. (we like both modern and traditional cooking)

    We were thrilled not only by the food, but by the friendliness of the wait staff who truly seemed invested in our having an excellent meal. And I was impressed that here, and at other eateries we sampled during our time in Asturias, instead of trying to upsell, the staff actually counseled (without my asking in some cases) that we order fewer dishes, or half portions of some dishes.

    First we were presented with an amuse of beet gazpacho topped by a sardine in escabeche (vinegary marinade.)

    Since I could not choose between a bevy of tempting dishes, we ordered as follows:

    1/2 order (media ración) of Croquetas de Jamón Iberico. 6.50 euro.

    My partner orders croquetas in almost every restaurant we enter in Spain, but these were so far above the norm that we ended up using them as a benchmark for croquetas for the rest of the trip. No croquettes that we tried subsequently came close to the creamy deliciousness of these fried nuggets of bechamel and Iberian (not the usual serrano) ham. We would return just to try these, with a glass of wine!

    Ostra escabechada. 4.50 euro.
    One Large oyster in escabeche, served with seawater and passion fruit foam. Presented in an alabaster dish whose shape mirrored that of an oyster shell.

    Taco de Salmon con yogur. 1/2 order…10 euro.
    This dish is shown on the restaurant’s website. I had been puzzled by the word “taco,” which in Spain turns out to mean not a folded tortilla, but a finely cut square of protein (a chunk (??) in this case, a rectangle of smoked salmon from Norway. Apart from the gorgeous presentation, I would not say it was a terribly memorable dish although the salmon was first-rate.

    Cigalas with leek cream. 1/2 order. 15. euro
    Now THIS was a memorable dish. Two impeccably cooked prawns atop a bed of leek puree would prove to be another highlight of the trip.

    For main courses, we chose:
    Confit of Suckling pig (25 euro) which arrived beside a tangle of brik noodles dusted with ras al hanout, the Moroccan spice blend. Excellent!
    Even better was my partner’s Asturian veal with potato and roast onions. (25 euro) I just cannot say enough about the quality of the beef we sampled on this trip. I chuckle when I hear Americans pontificating about how beef in Europe is inferior to that of the US. Obviously they have never been to Asturias, or the Basque region!

    I’ve never seen corn bread in Spain but sure enough, a dense and delicious sample arrived with our meal, and we would see bread made from a mix of corn and wheat flours at most of the eateries we visited over the course of the trip. (We saw piles of dried corn cobs inside the ubiquitous raised granaries, known as "hórreos" that are an integral and architecturally compelling fixture in the Asturian and Galician countryside).

    With the meal, I drank the favorite Asturian tipple: Cider. (Although Asturias is sometimes incorrectly referred to as one of the only regions in Spain that does not grow olives or produce wine, we did see Asturian wine on a couple of menus, and I later learned that there is a pocket of eight wineries in the Cangas del Onis area. But I never did sample any Asturian wines, preferring the whites from Rueda and the reds from Ribiera del Duero, and with many meals I stuck to cider)

    And for the finale, the dessert that shares the mantle of “best on trip:”
    A sphere of decadently rich and gooey chocolate cake with sheep’s milk cuajada (milk curd) ice cream and poached pear that had me closing my eyes in ecstasy. We talked about this sweet confection for days afterward and almost all of our desserts consumed afterwards were inevitably, and unfavorably compared to this one. 7.50 euro

    With bread, bottled water, and tax, the bill for a stellar dinner totalled 103 euro. The skylit dining room is sleek and contemporary and service was exceptional. If you eat one meal in Oviedo, I’d recommend that you take it at Casa Fermín.

    http://www.casafermin.com/

    This blog (in Spanish) has photos of three of the dishes we sampled: The oyster, the taco of salmon, and the chocolate cake.

    http://lossecretosdeeva.blogspot.com/2015/04/casa-fermin-oviedo.html

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    I am certainly glad you found such wonderful meals. Unless you are willing to spend a little more money, the Spanish are still behind in beef, (I think they serve the wrong end of the cow) and desserts (but it is getting better.

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    It's true that we ate the meat in high-end places. I am sure you are right that the quality would be different in a less pricey restaurant. But I do think the desserts are getting better at all but maybe the cheapest places. I'm sure you remember the days when it seemed like the only dessert in the country was flan(!!) But maybe in the very inexpensive places, the choice is limited to flan and maybe helado. But again, the pastry shops have some pretty terrific treats, like the carbayones in Oviedo even if their 2-euro-plus price for one puts them off limits to people on a very strict budget. But imagine buying a pastry or pice of cake at the top NYC bakeries. Lucky if you get out for less than $6! I just can't pay that.


    At a rustic restaurant we ate in in the hills near Cangas de Onis, our waiter was a chatty guy originally from Barcelona. He told us he had two master's degrees and was working in the restaurant a few days a week cause he could not find a job anywhere else. That segued into a discussion of the astounding unemployment rate in Spain..in some regions I think it is close to 25%. This particular guy had a sister living in California but he did not want to move to the US. He was studying to take some kind of exam for civil servants, if I understood correctly.

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    The unemployment rate in Spain had gotten better. After 2008 it was about 50% for those under 25 and over 50 and about 28% countrywide. It is somewhere around 17% now.

    The problem was that the opportunity for college had improved dramatically in the 35 years since Franco's death, but the economy had not.
    _________________

    We usually do not eat in expensive restaurants in NYC or Spain. (Of course, we do splurge on occasion. And that exception is this week, we are headed to Kingsley.)

    Our last expensive meal in Spain was in Madrid at a place called St. James that specializes in paella. It was old school elegant with more forks than courses. It is was very good. There are two, we went to the one in the northern Salamanca district.

    You are right when we first visited Spain, there were three desserts-flan, bad ice cream, and an orange. But there are some more choices and some better, and more better quality bakeries. And the improved as well. You only found consistently good bread in Galicia but that too is changing.

    We rarely order beef anywhere in Spain. Even with the inventive tapas places, seem to shy away from them. There are so many variations on seafood, pork, and veggies, we see no reason to take a chance.

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    >>>CASA FERMÍN<<<

    They must not be connected to the Fermin serrano that is allowed to be imported into the US as it's low quality (not worth buying).

    >>>A sphere of decadently rich and gooey chocolate cake with sheep’s milk cuajada (milk curd) ice cream and poached pear that had me closing my eyes in ecstasy. <<<

    Was the pear poached in spices? Wine?

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    Come to think of it, the only beef I can remember seeing on a menu in a bar would be beef sliders, aka small hamburgers, served in some of the more modern places.

    Speaking of NYC, have you been to Huertas, in the EV? We plan to go this week, as it is a favorite of friends of ours who live nearby.

    KY: No spices with the pear. Not sure about the wine. There was just a bit of the fruit, and it had been poached and then pureed.

    Fermin also exports their jamon Iberico to the US. Have you sampled that? I don't think I've ever bought Iberico in the US due to the crazy high price. I do cook with chorizo often, though; Palacios is the most common of the Spanish brands sold here, but I think you know that already. Coincidence: I just fried up some to use tonight in one of my most-used recipes, from Mark Bittman's NYTimes collection. It's a variation on the migas I've had in Spain.



    https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1013047-fried-chickpeas-with-chorizo-and-spinach
    (I use kale instead of spinach, and usually skip the sherry)

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    We went to Huertas just last week. Upscale tapas, they make their own chorizos, very good but nothing like in Spain.

    I spoke to one of the chefs and no one is from Spain. It didn't seem particularly Basque. The pulpo was overdone and the tortilla and saffron rice were good.

    It is very good tending more to the modern tapas than the traditional.

    We like Nai also in the EV. They have upped their game and they are combination of traditional and some new inventions. Nai means mother in Gallego.

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    Thanks, IMD. I read a little about Huertas; does not sound so tempting, especially if one sticks to the tapas. Maybe we can try Nai instead.

    Here is a bit more; I am having a difficult time with this due to posting problems; I'd rather post the bits I've written rather than take the chance of losing them:

    The following two days, we explored Oviedo, a compact city that we found totally accessible by walking. The city was founded in 757 and, for two hundred years, was the capital of Christian Spain until it was succeeded by Leòn in 1002. Needless to say, a great panoply of architectural styles lines the cobbled streets, making it a delight to just wander aimlessly, peering up at all of the handsome buildings. Many of these sport glass-enclosed balconies, framed with ornate wright iron. (Oviedo is renowned for its pair of pre-Romanesque churches, located on the outskirts of the city; we will visit those someday!)

    Mornings tended to begin very late; for some unknown reason, we both slept better on this trip than on any other I can remember. After satisfying ourselves somewhat with the buffet breakfast at the hotel, we ambled through the drizzle to the colonnaded Plaza de Fontán, ducking into the local tourist office for a good map of the city. Unsurprisingly, our first destination was the Mercado del Fontán, home to the city’s food merchants since the mid-16th Century. The present structure dates from 1885. The Fontán is not as spectacular as La Boqueria or Valencia’s Mercado Central, but I can while away time in just about any food market and this was a particularly nice one, of a size easy to navigate.

    Behind the facade’s seafood green-and-white cast iron arches, the market brims with stands offering the usual wares, and we spent a good while watching the action as the fishmongers filleted their fish, and the butchers sliced their jamón. There were a few fishes unknown to me previously, including virrey, a sought after red bream with a head unusually large for its body, known locally as simply, rey. (Unfortunately, this fish eluded me during this trip, despite my determination to try it sometime during the next 11 days—yet another reason to return!)


    Also in evidence were the famed percebes, or gooseneck barnacles, which just might be the ugliest gift of the Spanish seas but whose dinosaur-like black claws hold a nugget of sweet, delicate white meat. (The price of percebes seemed very reasonable on menus in the seafood towns we visited, as compared with the prices we noticed in the Basque region last year..maybe the season is better this year, or they just cost less in Asturias, which might be closer to the source).

    Three of the most prominent foods in the market were the trio for which Asturias is famous throughout Spain: White beans known as fabes, which look similar to habas grandes or white kidney beans, for the signature Asturias fabada, a stew of beans and pork cuts related to the legendary cocido of Castille; air-dried and cured meats including some of the best dried sausage I’ve sampled in ages, piquant with spicy pimentón; and cheeses from the milk of goats, cows, and sheep, of which Cabrales is the most famous but the smokey Queso de Gamonéu is probably the most locally prized. The final member of the cheesy protected denomination of origin (P.D.O.) trio is the oddly named cow milk variety, Afuega’l pitu, whose name means “strangle the chicken,” in the Asturias language.

    Market vendors were most generous with samples, and while I held off buying lots off cheese since we were still early in the trip and we planned to visit the Sunday market in Cangas del Onis, close to the cheese-making villages. But we did load up on recently harvested white fabes beans, tinned sardines and quite a few interesting locally made preserves made from rose petals, tomatoes, red peppers, and cherries.

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    I don't see anything particularly "Basque" about the menu at Huertas, except for possibly the 'gilda'. With the pulpo and Fava beans, it's more Asturias and Galician, and a part New York.

    Nai, with sangria, paella and flamenco, sounds a bit confusing for a Gallego restaurant, but then again... The rabo guisado looks interesting.

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    Besides the Fontán market, we also browsed in a few interesting gourmet shops offering Asturian delicacies and items from the rest of Spain. Among these were Casa Veneranda, on Calle Melquiades Alvarez in the pedestrian zone, and Coalla Gourmet, across from the Fontán market.


    The Real Instituto de Estudios Asturianos presented an interesting exhibit about the brown bear of the Cantabrian and Asturian mountains, so we spent an hour in that space, near the NH Hotel.

    http://www.osodeasturias.es/

    And, as I mentioned above, we made two separate visits to the art museum, also near our hotel. (Nothing is very far away in Oviedo!)

    http://www.museobbaa.com/



    We had two dinners in the city, subsequent to our excellent meal at Casa Fermin.

    The first of these was at MESTURA, a very well regarded restaurant in an elegant and somewhat formal pastel dining room on the first floor of the Hotel España.

    This dinner began with Salpicón de Bogavante, a variation on a lobster salad, and with (what else?) croquetas de jamón Iberico for my partner, who proclaimed them “good, but not nearly as good as the ones at Casa Fermin.” I agreed.

    While the artichoke with smoked eel was not memorable, we both loved the Arroz Cremoso con Pato, rice with duck, not too dissimilar from a risotto.

    Dessert: Pastry with marzipan served with turrón ice cream

    All in all, this was a good dinner but not nearly as exciting, or tasty , as the dinner the night before at Fermín. For two of us, the price was: Euro 82.40



    l http://www.mesturarestaurante.com/en/mestura-restaurante-in-oviedo/


    After dinner, we walked a few blocks to the bulevar de Sidra, the Boulevard of Cider, a pedestrian street whose real name is Calle Gascona, lined on both sides with restaurants and bars offering cider, accompanied by the classic dishes of Asturian cuisine. One end of the street is marked by a giant wooden cider barrel. Since we had just finished dinner, we did not sample any of these locales, but if we had had more time in the city, we could certainly have passed part of a pleasant evening moving from one bar to another.

    https://enjoyoviedo.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/calle-gascona-el-bulevar-de-la-sidra/


    The name of the street, Gascona, comes from the fact that many pilgrims from that French region settled here in the 13th Century, after stopping along the Camino route to Santiago.

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