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Trip Report: 17 glorious days in Northern Spain

Trip Report: 17 glorious days in Northern Spain

Old Sep 2nd, 2008, 07:03 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 1,738
Great report, brava! I think I met Charlie Tuna too. Can't wait to read about the FOOD...
rialtogrl is offline  
Old Sep 3rd, 2008, 02:19 AM
Join Date: Mar 2003
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Santiago: I stayed several times at Hostal Hogar San Francisco when it was called that. Now it's been renovated and the name changed but it's still the same Building(s). We stayed in the 'Special Room' named for the Carbonero who helped Saint Francis build the place. I call it the Provincial's Room: Huge double bed; full size bath; used to be Room #508, but that may have changed. I had also stayed in one of the cell-like singles: not recommended for creature comfort.

In February, I coincided with a Bus load of Bavarian Camino Guides who were learning the Camino. They worked out of Pamplona (Navarre) in the Summer.

Vigo: You didn't do justice to Vigo (Pontevedra) or Baiona, Islas Cies and several other locales. Next trip, try to spend some time along the coast between ria de Vigo and the Minho estuary. Include Monte Santa Tecla! Sample the Albariño wines (especially the Rosal) from the Minho valley.
NEDSIRELAND is offline  
Old Sep 3rd, 2008, 04:46 AM
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Thanks Ned, appreciate the tips for more complete touring in the Vigo area. Interesting insight on the San Francisco in Santiago. You must return to see what wonderful changes they've made to the old hostel. I don't think any of the uncomfortable single cells remain.

While we didn't get to see all the places you speak of in the Vigo area, we did a pretty decent job of tasting Albarinos. Wonderful stuff--except for one bottle that they were pleased to say had been aged in special oak, not a good thing to do to those wines if you ask me. I would have liked to have spent a little time seeing more of the vineyards and wineries where they grow and make it.
JulieVikmanis is offline  
Old Sep 3rd, 2008, 04:33 PM
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Didn't get very far on the dining info, just through Rioja. Here it is. More to follow.

Dining in Northern Spain

Now for my favorite part of the report. Thanks to recommendations garnered here and in Marbel’s guides and from Maribel herself, we were able to eat quite well indeed in Northern Spain. I finally had percebes (the famous goose barnacles that Andrew Zimmern ate on his show on the food network). We shattered some old biases against hotel dining. I conquered some of my standoffishness (or maybe standupishness) about tapas eating. And we consumed record amounts of goat, fish soup, iberico ham, and razor clams. As Lee Marvin said in Cat Ballou, “It was swell, just swell.”

Hotel Torremilanos in Aranda del Duero

We started out with a winner. Our first meal in Spain was at this lovely winery hotel, loaded with old world charm and tradition, about 4 km west of Aranda. Sitting areas and bar on main floor with dining rooms on the floor above. Nothing was spared to make this a lovely dining spot. Initials embroidered on the tablecloths, napkins and even the bathroom towels. Antique sideboards, heavy wooden chairs and oil paintings of the estate adorning the walls. Service is old school on matched china rather than disparate, different shaped glass, slate and china of varying hues as is the current fad.

The food was the equal of the surroundings. I had lamb sweetbreads, perfectly done in butter with a touch of herbs and vinegar, then tiny lamb chops and fried potatoes. DH had the first of many plates of iberico ham slices and fried mushrooms like his Latvian granny used to make. We accompanied our meal with salads and a Torremilanos Ribera del Duero (when in Rome…) gran reserva for a mere 25 euros—probably would have been three times that in a US restaurant. The meal in total came to 104 euros. We were off to a good start.

La Vieja Bodega in Casalareina
Our good dining luck held through dinner at this large but very welcoming bodega.
Searching for similarities between the Rioja and Napa experience, I decided that this place came closest to Tra Vigne from my Napa Experience—but with more light. It has high ceilings and a party vibe rather than anything quietly intimate. There are several different large dining rooms and a couple of smaller party rooms as well as a bar at entry. We were seated in the largest room that has a corner given over to a glassed in wine cellar with a sort of wine “scene” complete with large bottles and grape picking equipment, etc. on top of that. The mood is playful and somewhat rustic and artsy rather than ultramodern or trendy.

We’ve never been very good at the late dining of Spain, and especially so on a first night after a flight. We arrived before opening and walked around the town while waiting to claim our reservations. We had the place almost completely to ourselves until we were finished and leaving when a few other local diners were starting to come in. Rather than be apologetic about our early dining habits, we use the relative freedom our lonely status affords us to walk about and take plenty of photos of the dining milieu without disturbing others. It usually also means that we get rather prompt and specialized attention from the staff.

Overall the meal was one of my very favorites for the entire trip—a high standard to compare others against. My starter was a perfect cold poached egg in an equally cold gazpacho that I thought compared favorably with the wonderful gazpacho served at Atelier Robuchon in Paris—no kidding. DH had not just one or even two but three generous slices of excellent fois gras. We followed with beef cheeks for him and pigs’ feet in potato sheets for me, so unctuous as to be nearly overwhelming. Dinner came to the exact same total as lunch for the day, 104 euros including tip and a nice red Rioja at 34 euros. This was excellent rustic comfort food with some deft new touches and we sure liked it.

Tapas on Calle Laurel and surrounding streets in Logrono

I’d read about this street of tapas in Maribel’s guides and on Chowhound posts and couldn’t wait to try it. It was something. I’d always felt a little awkward with the standing at the bar thing. For one thing I have problems with my knees and ankles and much prefer to sit. For another I’m very clumsy and never felt I’d be able to properly eat while standing up and holding a glass of wine or a beer. All those reservations flew out the window as we sort of fell into the spirit of the mid-day revelry of this wonderful street.

Supposedly each bar specializes in one tapas and you move from bar to bar to take in the specialties. We saw that formula in action at a place that made only tapas of 3 mushrooms stacked on a piece of bread (to catch the dripping grease in which they’d been fried) and topped with a shrimp. It was heavenly and ridiculously cheap. But if the next bar had a specialty, they were diversifying, because there we had scrambled egg sandwiches, and olives with both red and silver anchovies. I was also able to snag a stool to make it less likely that I’d be upsetting things with my clumsiness. Beer and wine at 65 cents per serving continued the cheap theme.

Our final stop was a really big splurge at a place with a large selection. For all of 12 euros we had salmon topped with baby eel and thin slices of octopus covered in pulverized veggies—carrots, celery, onion, etc. Wonderful. It’s my husband’s favorite way to eat and he even prefers it to his beloved Chinese food, except for dim sum which, of course, is really only Chinese tapas.

Asador Alameda in Fuenmayor

Dinner on our second night in Rioja was quite different from the first. This place is smaller, set on two floors and much more traditional than Vieja Bodega. The décor was, by comparison, pretty minimal. Dining there was like a trip back 30 years to a good Relais and Chateau dining room. Even my appetizer looked like something I’d have been served somewhere in France in the 1980s—a millefeuille of asparagus and shrimp in a creamy hollandaise type sauce. Meltingly good. DH repeats the iberico ham, as he was to do at fully half of our stops. He loves the stuff and Spain is the motherlode. He followed with a large grouper steak in garlic butter. I was disappointed that they were not serving roast goat that evening. I’d read that theirs is among the best and since it’s my favorite meat, I was prepared to have the best of the best. Alas, it was not to be.
I contented myself with the goats trotters and I have to say they weren’t my favorites. They have far less meat than pigs feet and almost no fat, so I was sort of very white skin attached to bones in a tomato sauce. The best I could say for it was that it was something I’d never had before (which of course was why I ordered it) but I doubt I’ll ever have it again.

We had a Rioja gran reserva throughout dinner and the excellent cheese course and coffee and espresso with a pear tart for dessert. At 124 euros, again a value meal. Though not among my favorites I think we ordered poorly and didn’t give the place a chance to show itself to advantage based on the recommendations I’ve read about it. Dashed expectations (no goat) almost always result in less enthusiastic reaction to a restaurant in my experience. Also our early arrival meant we were dining along again and this time it really did feel rather lonely since we were seated upstairs causing us to feel truly out of the swing of the place and the décor left little to photograph to maintain our lonely interest. Service was, however, very solicitous especially given our lack of Spanish with a waiter who spoke no English.

1860 at Marques de Riscal in Elciego

We tried to get reservations in the main dining room at this winery hotel designed by Frank Gehry but were too late with our request and were offered instead the opportunity to dine in their casual “second” restaurant. Though I didn’t see the main dining room so I can’t compare, I will say this place met our needs—both for lunch and for a glimpse of the hotel interior-- just fine. Actually my first thought when I saw the place was that they’d had an opening and we were being seated in the main dining room after all. The place is quite stunning, décor-wise.

Though on a small footprint, it has tall ceilings and a view through tall windows of the backside of the titanium sheets that decorate the building exterior. The walls are decorated with black on white and white on blue square paintings that look like drawings. The serving tables had very tall orchids in tall goblet type vases with green rock “soil.” But the dominant color is a vibrant orange—my favorite. Chairs are orange molded plastic, shaped in a kind of backward “S” that stack well and apparently can be used inside and out because they appeared on the deck outside the dining area where I assume they also serve in warmer weather. Tables were set with orange woven placemats atop white linen table cloths. Casual, but stunning with a real feeling of height.

The menu carries out the casual theme with some playfulness. We were first served an amuse in a cup of jellied fois gras with faux caviar made of wine, pretty cute. DH once again opted for the iberico ham and I had white asparagus with mayo. This was a major disappointment. It had the look and feel of white asparagus but absolutely no taste whatsoever. Zero, zilch, nada. Do not know what might have been the problem. Bad sourcing? Just total nothing. My main course of hake in green sauce was a vast improvement. It tasted good, had a wonderful texture and a nice sauce. DH opted for the comfort option with two meatballs with sauce and potato slices—I said it was casual. This too was good and probably plays well with any younger guests. There were two tables with children while we were there, a toddler at one and two elementary age children at another.

They serve nothing but Riscal wines (who can fault them for that) and we had a nice reserva with lunch and the excellent cheese sampler I had for dessert. Our bill came to 134 euros. While the meal was uneven, the restaurant décor was impressive and the opportunity the meal afforded us to walk about the property and photograph the hotel was a bonus included in the price and on that basis, I’d call it a bargain. Having seen the place now, I’d not, however, return for the food.

JulieVikmanis is offline  
Old Sep 3rd, 2008, 05:12 PM
Join Date: Jan 2006
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Thank you for a great trip report...Spain is one of those countries I have to get to...
gregeva1 is offline  
Old Sep 3rd, 2008, 07:28 PM
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Julie what a fine job you have done hererganized, informative and detailed. Thank you for this great report. I enjoyed it very much.

amsdon is offline  
Old Sep 4th, 2008, 12:34 PM
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Hi Julie,
I've really enjoyed reading your very accurate, completely fair and very astute take on of some of our favorite dining spots in the Ribera del Duero and the Rioja-just great, detailed and highly observant reviews! Would you like to take over the dining sections of my guides?? O Your description of La Vieja Bodega is the best I've ever read!

I was really happy that you enjoyed your Sunday pre-lunch tapas crawl on Logroño's Calle Laurel and to know that the Sunday afternoon scene is as lively as the evening one. We've never done lunch tapas on Laurel on Sun., so we'll plan a proper "tapeo" there next time. And the give away prices at Bar Soriano (the mushroom hole-in-the-wall) are not to be believed!

We've also never been to Alameda in Fuenmayor at night, but I expect that the reason you didn't find "cabrito" (roast goat) on the dinner menu is the same as not usually finding roast lamb as a dinner option at a genuine "asador" specializing in grilled & roast meats. Both are traditionally dishes consumed at lunch in Castilla and La Rioja "asadores, yantares or mesones" due to the preparation time and because they're considered too heavy to enjoy and digest properly during the very late Spanish dinner hour (just my theory!).

Your description of Alameda's decor and ambiance is spot on! It's remained very true to its original asador roots. If you'd like to try it again on your next visit, I can heartily recommend their exquisitely grilled fish, such as the turbot (rodaballo salvaje) and sea bream (besugo)-just fabulous! Out of curiosity, did they have a menu in English?

I'm eager to see the culinary road trip PBS series lead by Mario Batalli, Mark Bittman and Gwyneth Paltrow, "Spain...on the Road Again". They followed in your footsteps, from the Ribera del Duero to the Rías Baixas! Segments were filmed at the Marqués de Riscal winery-wine spa and in Galicia where they gorged on those berberechos and sampled clams straight from the hands of the lady clam diggers right on the Ría. And in Cambados they found their way to the totally off the beaten track little Casa Pinto, which has long been a favorite of mine. Here's the trailer, for those who haven't seen it.

The Sept. Food & Wine also ran an article about their adventures.

Eagerly awaiting more fine reviews! Brava!
Maribel is offline  
Old Sep 4th, 2008, 04:02 PM
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Maribel, thanks for supplying the name of the Calle Laurel mushroom place. I'm sure readers will want to look for it if they are on the street. It's definitely special. And thanks too for the info on lunch being the better meal to take at an asador, especially if you're looking for goat, like I always am. Glad you're enjoying my reviews. I enjoyed my "assignment."

Just realize that I missed one place we ate in Rioja, the "second" parador in Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Here it is, and then on to Santander and Cantabria.
JulieVikmanis is offline  
Old Sep 4th, 2008, 04:07 PM
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Parador Fresnada in Santo Domingo de la Calzada

Santo Domingo has two paradores. The other is the more widely known. This one is used as a hotel school ostensibly to train chefs, wait staff and hotel staff for the chain. While I couldn’t tour the other parador, I did look inside. IMO this one is far more attractive and has far better basic structure to work with. The public rooms and dining areas were beautifully decorated and nicely kept, especially the bar and the sitting rooms—much nicer than the parador in Ribadeo where we stayed later in the trip.

The servers were very well-intentioned and provided lots of information about the menu in very good English. The food, not so good, perhaps more for the sourcing than the preparation. We opted for the menu and at 22.50 euros for three courses, it was certainly reasonable. My tagliatelle with shrimp and mushrooms was competent and the blueberry ice cream with apple, orange and kiwi was interesting and actually good, but the beef steak was almost too tough to eat. One of the few misses of the trip.

Dining in Santander and surrounds

Overall our meals in the city and outside it were good but none rose to the level of stellar. Hmm, as I look over all 34 meals (not counting breakfasts) we had on this trip, I note that we had better luck in small towns than in larger ones, since Santiago de Compostela didn’t contribute any entries to the top 7 or 8 either.

Dias Desur

This was a little sit down tapas restaurant that we found as we arrived late and hungry for lunch in Santander. It’s ok, but not worth writing about. Serviceable for our needs.

El Bombi

I promised Maribel I’d review a couple of places she was interested in in Santander. This was one. The place has a modern look from the outside, but inside it’s stone walls and some nautical décor but mostly plain. That’s how we found the food as well—competent but plain, which I think is exactly what they intend. This is a fish restaurant where the kitchen seems to make every effort to prepare fish in a way to let the fish speak for itself.
I think they achieve their goal—perhaps, it’s just not the goal I want achieved.

DH had fish soup. It had an almost gelatin like stock and a few clams with some pieces of fish but mostly/almost completely broth. That’s exactly how he likes his fish soup and he proclaimed this one a winner.

I started with a dish I’d never had before (though I had it the next night as well in a kind of taste test among the two Maribel recommended Santander restaurants where we ate)—menestra verdura. As far as I can tell this is a dish of various overcooked (on purpose) mushy vegetables in a slightly creamy, thickened stock. This is vegetable comfort food. The one at El Bombi had carrots, potatoes, several kinds of beans, leeks and oodles of artichokes—all cooked to death and very tasty. I was hooked.

DH had shrimp for a main course and I had halibut fried in oil/butter and parsley with garlic. Both were completely competently prepared and I’m sure there are folks who would pronounce them perfect. I guess I like a bit more excitement on my plate and a little adornment on my plain food. But that’s me. If you long for well-prepared plain fish, this is a great place to get it.

We accompanied our meal with a Gramona rose cava and the bill came to 115 euros and with the price came a little gift given to us as we were seated. They give every diner who doesn’t speak Spanish, a small booklet with translations in every “standard” language including Japanese, of what the main ingredients of the dishes are. I’m carrying this wherever I go from now on. It’s perfect and a lot less heavy than all those guidebook pages I’m usually fighting to keep available for menu deciphering.

El Marinera in San Vicente de la Barquera

We liked this little town and we liked this little restaurant recommended by Maribel. I think the whole of the local high school class must have been out front having snacks, so we opted for the interior formal restaurant. It’s a typical place with a bar at the entry and the dining area to the side, nice and friendly.

We started with calamari rings and anchovies with sweet red peppers. Then I had 3 large slabs of monkfish in green sauce and DH had fish soup and red snapper. DH thought the fish soup on a par with or better than that he’d so enjoyed at El Bombi the night before and, because my fish was adorned with a sauce rather than plain, I actually preferred it to that I’d had the previous night as well. All in all, a nice lunch, and, of course, less expensive than the dinner we compared it to back in the larger Santander.

Bar del Puerto in Santander

This was another restaurant on the list Maribel gave me to select from to review for her. It, too, was fine. We entered from the bar part which appeared to be a sort of upscale tapas bar. To get upstairs to the more formal restaurant we passed a display of large fish and a lobster tank. Aside from permitting smoking, the restaurant is very nice with wide windows looking out to the harbor, a classy nautical theme with bas relief sailboat pictures, brick colored comfy chairs and waiters in formal, almost tuxedo-like cream colored jackets. Patrons OTOH were pretty casually attired. In fact the more classy dressers seemed to have remained below in the bar.

Unfortunately we stopped in a really fun, cute tapas bar before appearing for our 9:30 reservation and were pretty well sated by the time we got to dinner so I may not really have done justice to this place. That and the fact that the fishermen’s strike was still on and limited the available menu items the evening we were there, meant we really couldn’t give this restaurant a truly fair review. Nonetheless, handicapped as we were, we did our best and soldiered on through two courses apiece before staggering back to our hotel to gather our strength for more eating the next day.

DH had—what else?—fish soup. He awarded it second place among the three he’d had in the last three meals. First going to that at Marinera in San Vicente de la Barquera with that from La Bombi slipping to third—and after he’d all but proclaimed it the best he’d ever had last night. This was a trip where records seemed to fall quickly. Or perhaps it’s just that when he’s not near the fish soup he loves, he loves the fish soup he’s near.
He couldn’t get the shellfish salad he was hoping for due to the strike and so settled for lobster salad. No problem with lobster supply, we walked by it on our way up the stairs.
The salad was very finely chopped and not to his taste, but very good by mine.

I ordered menestra vedura again to be able to compare theirs to La Bombi’s. Puerto’s was much more varied and colorful with a tomato base and visible garlic slices, potato balls and better meat. Bombi’s was an almost all green affair and more comforting with better chunks of real artichoke. In the end I decided that Puerto’s addition of chopped hard cooked eggs, put theirs over the top.

My main course was oxtail stew and it was excellent with nicely braised, soft meat, a velvety sauce and crispy chunks of potato and giant white Asturian beans, something different than I’ve ever had in the many oxtail stews I’ve consumed over the year.

Full though we may have been, and limited though the fishermen’s strike made the menu, I think on balance we preferred Bar del Puerto to La Bombi.


Much as he was loving the fish soup and the plates of iberico ham, DH got hit with an attack of Chinese food longing on our third day in the Santander area. He assuaged it at this place with duck with mushrooms and fried rice. I also enjoyed it, though my notes are pretty minimal and I admit I have no recollection of the restaurant itself. I kind of block out all those Chinese restaurants I get forced into by his fanaticism, unless they’re very special.

Retaurante Zacharia

The chef at this place in downtown Santander is some sort of Cantabrian Molto Mario. He’s written 6 cookbooks and produced a video about his Cantabrian cooking. Media hype aside, the place was cute and the cooking good. Décor was very old world Spain with a sort of balcony mezzanine with seating that made the main floor feel like it might be the courtyard of a Spanish estate. DH had more fish stew/soup and then marinated salmon, all good but by this time he’d stopped trying to make quadruple comparisons. I was determined to try one of the chef’s Cantabrian specialties and chose a dish of spinach, shrimp with onion and a fried egg, all mixed together. Sounds awful, but it was interesting and tasted very good. I followed it with baby lamb chops with potatoes wonderfully fried in the fat of the lamb—terrific. So I guess this chef may be all he cracks himself up to be.

And with that we finished our time in Cantabria and moved on to Asturias. More to follow.

JulieVikmanis is offline  
Old Sep 5th, 2008, 04:08 AM
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Restaurante Abelardo in Ribadesella

After trying to find Arbidel, the restaurant Maribel had suggested in Ribadesella, and finding it closed for renovation, we moved on to walk the street along the water in search of an alternative. While Arbidel appeared from my window peeping to be a very worthy place and somehow I expect, better food wise, we were very happy with our eventual choice since it provided lovely outdoor dining with a view of the local fish market and the water beyond on a near perfect day.

The local drink, cider, not being one for which we’ve acquired any taste, we started with glasses of Rueda and followed with a Protos Ribera del Duero, good stuff, both. I scored the first of many dishes of razor clams, one of my all time favorite foods. If you’ve not had them, they come in grey/black shells about the length of your longest finger and the circumference of your little finger. And they are the sweetest things imaginable in a shellfish, almost like a scallop, only better. I followed with the typical local dish, Fabado Asturiano—beans in a tomato base with black pudding , big chunks of fat pork and Asturian (chorizo-like) spicy sausage. I don’t know if this was a particularly good or bad version of this regional favorite. I just know that I personally am not a fan of the chorizo type sausage that overpowers everything in it and I shan’t be having it again, anywhere.

DH had more ham slices and seafood soup. I can’t understand how he can continue to repeat the same meal day after day after day, but this is a sort of refrain of his. On previous trips we’ve concentrated on onion soup, smoked salmon, escargot, etc. No wonder every now and then he insists on a change to Chinese. At any rate, hereafter if I don’t mention what DH had at some meal I’m detailing, you can safely assume it was ham slices and/or fish soup.

Villa Rosario

Dinner our first night in Ribadesella was at our hotel, in the glass dining room beside the lovely Indianos mansion, looking out as evening descended on the boardwalk and the bay—beautiful. I tend always to have fairly low expectations when dining in a hotel restaurant. Mine were raised that evening. I started with an excellent duck salad and then joined DH in the risotto for two. It came filled with mushrooms and a chunk of fois gras and lots of garlic and was appropriately gooey. Adding in the perennial ham slices, a simple sorbet dessert, a bottle of Jueve y Camps cava and another of Alto Ribera del Duero (we only had to stagger up the stairs to bed and we ate at a very leisurely pace) the bill came to 130 euros. A good and very relaxing dinner.

Casa Marcial in Arriondas

You know, those Michelin folks aren’t out there dining and rating day after day for nothing. Sometimes they get it absolutely right—at least in Spain. They’ve awarded one star to this place, raising it a notch above most of the places we dined on this trip—and they were dead on. The trick, of course, is to get there. Because it’s absolutely in the middle of nowhere. We’d just descended from the fog of the foothills of the Picos de Europa outside Codavanga and since I knew we were close to Arriondas, and one of the few one stars on our entire trip route, I steered our path toward this dining mecca. We’d never have just chanced upon it. You have to want to go there. Glad I did.

We followed a very narrow but at least paved road from Arriondas with a few small signs posted here and there for reassurance that we were going in the right direction. It brought us to Casa Marcial where Nacho Marzano, a 27 year old chef is making his mark apparently believing in a credo of “Cook it and they will come.” He must be doing a pretty good job of it. The sweet little porch where we waited for lunch , sans reservations, had a stack of Spanish culinary magazines with articles about him and his food and there was some building going on next to the old stone restaurant suggesting that he is expanding, perhaps in search of his second star. If he achieves that goal (assuming it is his goal) it will be amazing. This place truly is in the middle of nowhere and people who come will certainly need to plan to visit. The paved cow path we traversed after leaving the restaurant actually had two cows on it right in front of our car that we had to nudge out of the way in order to be on our way.

We certainly wanted to dine there, enough so that we were willing to wait the 45 minutes until they started serving at 1:30, though they did provide wine and red olives to make the wait go more comfortably. The place is simple with a wallpapered porch, then a bar with a couple of booth-like tables and a stone walled room with about 7 tables and seating for about 20 to 22. There is more seating in a casual, homey area with plaid curtains and colored lampshades on the second floor.

The main dining room has a modern fireplace in one corner, two small, stark windows, black and white photos, tables lit by halogen lights, and white linens. That’s it. Minimalist to the nth, but very pleasant. Obviously a concentration on the food.

And the food is great. With fabada on the multi-course traditional menu, we chose, instead, the modern mini-menu and one additional course to split from the carte. Perfect choice. First there were olive bread cookies placed on the table along with butter, handmade from the region. Next an amuse of chicken livers with lime, not my favorite but DH loved it. Then a sprinkling of iberico ham atop perfectly done potato pieces—two to be exact, in ½ inch cubes—with onion and green bean juice and a hint of mint.
This was followed by a thin sliver of fois gras in a gelatin coating over seeds and grains, and finally a risotto with onion and truffle, mushrooms and soy sauce. That completed our mini-tasting menu and we added an order of traditional Asturian rooster with great skin in a red wine sauce, apparently an Asturian coq au vin.

We accompanied this with a 19 euro Albarino wine and coffees for a total of 128 euros—a real steal for such an exciting meal prepared by a real up and comer.

Llantares de Mar in Ribadesella

When we walked about the town the day before I reserved for dinner this evening at this place. It looked fun and it proved so. We entered through the bar area where I spotted a pile of percebes and determined to finally try them. If you haven’t heard of them, they’re goose barnacles that grow on the rocks in this area. They’re prized as a delicacy by the locals and fetch a pretty price because they can only be harvested by hand in areas made dangerous by the waves buffeting harvesters about on the rocks where they grow. They’re also ugly, almost creepy, with hard, three toed “feet” that my son-in-law says look like elephant’s feet, and a neck covered in a turtleneck kind of leathery skin. The trick is to extract the interior neck from the covering, detach it from the toes and eat it so that you can experience the wonderful briny taste. It’s tricky.

The young man at the bar was very patient as he showed me how to perform this culinary feat. I squirted juice all over for the first two or three, but then settled in to really enjoy the experience and remained relatively clean. I have to admit that the first bite was a leap of faith. These things aren’t pretty by a long stretch. But just like raw oysters, they proved to be love at first bite and I finished the small plate I’d ordered. Having acquired a taste, I’ll have to really work at satisfying it. Spain is the only place I’ve ever encountered percebes, though Wikipedia shows them to live on the west coast of the US as well.

I followed my percebes with more razor clams (I’m to razor clams and roast goat as DH is to iberico ham and fish soup). They were ok but not great and I put that off to the fishermen’s strike. We shared a nice mushroom, veggie salad and then DH had suckling pig while I indulged in baby lamb, both really good. FWIW, DH declared his preliminary fish soup at this place the best out of 5—which 5, I don’t know.

This was one of our least expensive non-Chinese meals at 97 euros with the wine costing a mere 14.

Dima in Cudillera

Dima was one of probably 10 or so sidewalk restaurants facing the main street down to the harbor in this fun fishing village. As such places go, you really can’t expect a great meal, just wonderful ambiance and good people watching. That’s exactly what we got.
Although again FWIW, DH declared this version of fish soup the “best ever.” Turns out he really likes the chorizo flavor of the spicy paprika used on so many things in these parts that I so don’t like. Different strokes.

Parador in Ribadeo

This turned out to be our worst day for eating. Dinner was no better than lunch. Not awful, mind you, just not great. After walking the poorly kept town of Ribadeo without finding anything that looked better, we settled for dinner in our parador lodging. My experience with parador food heretofore had been generally pretty good—the beef steak in Santo Domingo de la Calzada notwithstanding—but this was not up to standard. Perhaps the kitchen was overstretched with the wedding being held there that evening. Whatever the excuse, it didn’t rise above just barely ok. DH’s fish soup was nowhere near “best ever” and the empanada with scallops and peppers that I ordered was doughy and boring. Enough said.

Herewith endeth the account of dining in Asturia. Next dining in Galicia.

JulieVikmanis is offline  
Old Sep 5th, 2008, 06:00 AM
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Exciting report, Julie. Just a point, it is always olive oil we use, never butter, to cook either fish or meat. It would be a sin in the land of olive oil. Or at least I know of no one that uses butter or fat for cooking in Spain.

I´m planning a night in Santander with another couple and found your review of the city´s restaurants very interesting. IMHO, Santander lacks good restaurants and when we are there we like to go to the beaches north of the city where you can have a great mariscada for a very good price. But I could never find anything decent in town. We wanted to go to La Bombi (it´s a kind of surprise gathering for our guests) but your review is not very enthusiastic about the place. We are looking for product-based cooking, good atmosphere and in the city centre. What do you think should be our choice?


mikelg is offline  
Old Sep 5th, 2008, 06:31 AM
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Mike, I hope Maribel is following this thread and can give you some good recommendations. When you say product based and for a group, I'd be more include to recommend El Bombi than Bar del Puerto which has a more formal vibe in its dining room. I did notice a very nice party room at Restaurante Zacharia and I think they are very tradition based, if that appeals. The place we never tried but that looked very good, right near our hotel overlooking the Puerto Chicco, was Restaurante La Posada del Mar. It's ambiance was more modern with wood floors and high backed chairs, but it seemed to be doing quite a good business and I wish I'd checked it out. Again, I hope Maribel whose experience is vast, can give you better guidance. Enjoy Santander. We did.
JulieVikmanis is offline  
Old Sep 5th, 2008, 08:40 AM
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Thanks Julie! I live near Bilbao and Santander is like to go once in a while, but it´s true that I´ve never found a good restaurant there. No doubt Maribel will come in my aid...
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Old Sep 5th, 2008, 11:47 AM
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Badulaque in Cedeira

When it became clear that this town would be our lunch stop I consulted my trusty Michelin red guide to Spain and found that this was the only recommendation in town with so much as a single fork and spoon. It proved worthy and afforded us what may have been the best single dish of the trip—another version of the sliced octopus with super-finely chopped celery, carrot and onion that we’d had for tapas in Logrono, only this was a more refined version with lobster and the veggies it had been marinated in oil and vinegar. I could eat it daily. A perfect appetizer.

Besides this dish (does anyone know a name for it?) we had two different kinds of fish soup—with swiss chard, potato and white beans for me and with a tomato base for DH. There followed a roasted meat rouladen style main course wrapped around hard cooked egg and peppers. All very good.

The place was kind of cute too. Large in a sort of dance hall format decked out in yellow flowers for a wedding scheduled for the evening. The entire place was, in fact, decorated in yellow and blue from the napkins to the chairs. Some local bride must have had a very nice reception with some excellent food if our experience was any indication.

With a bottle of Freixenet cava this very good meal came only to 75 euros. Good value. Good food.

Gambrinus in Santiago de Compostela

Not one of our best picks for sure. In fact we made only one really good pick among the 5 meals we ate in Santiago. This place was selected for its proximity to our position as rain started falling hard. Not the best reason to select a restaurant. It’s near a cute little grassy one block park not far from the cathedral and has tiny rooms on multiple floors. DH has smoked salmon with egg and a pasta puttanesca wherein he could not detect even a hint of anchovy. I had a bean, tuna and rocket salad followed by the best dish of the meal, a gnocchi with pesto and an abundance of cheese.

The meal was memorable not for the food but the company. The room was tiny and we were seated very close to a couple of mooning pilgrim couples and a mixed group of English oldies highly concerned for their personal comfort. The conversation between the pilgrims which we couldn’t hope but overhear was an incredible pile of psycho babble from a couple of folks going through their respective mid-life crises and using the journey to find themselves and apparently anyone else who’d be willing to have them rather than God. It was most unseemly, but I expect not at all uncommon.

Café Centrale

This is a cute little place on Rua Villar with a bar and cute gingham tablecloths in one area and a more upscale, classy looking tapas bar in the other. Lunch was served in the cute rather than the classy area. I was sucked in by the cuteness of the place and unfortunately it was another example of cute is as cute does. Most of the food, including the roast lamb was tasteless and disappointing. Too bad. Always hate to waste a meal.

Taverna Bispo

This tapas place beyond the cathedral on Rua Franco which is lined with restaurants proved to be our best meal in Santiago. It was a Chowhound recommendation so when we saw an empty table we grabbed it. We started with toasted bread with oil and tomato, the ubiquitous stuff I can never remember the name for, then dried beef slices, ham and cheese with dates in croquettes (much better than it sounds), shrimp and squid slices on a skewer, two types of mushrooms and a plate of clams before the 3 or 4 more that came after I gave up trying to keep track. Fun and very good.

Parador Hostal dos Reis Catolicos

We didn’t stay here and we didn’t eat here, but we did sneak in for a drink in one of their bars. I hope it’s not just sour grapes that we couldn’t get a room when I tried to reserve, but I have to say from this small glimpse of the place that I’m glad we stayed instead in the Monumento San Francisco. The parador is quintessential, gigantic old world elegance of the heavy, heavy wooden kind, but I much preferred the quiet, understated asceticism of the SF. To each his own.

Noray on the square in A Coruna

This nominally Norwegian restaurant facing the Palacio Municipal on the main square of A Coruna had a standard indoor area and, like most other restaurants lining the square, a tented area directly in front and on the square. This was also glassed in and very pleasant. Here we had a good, almost light lunch of crab, Norwegian salad with more crab, olives, eggs and thousand island dressing, a shared plate of razor clams, the usual fish soup and iberico ham. We also had an Albarino wine from the home town of our very solicitous waiter. Good food, with street theater to watch and all for 60 euros. A good deal.

O Celme

After our good luck in O Coruna, we returned to our bad luck in Santiago, debating over several places on the restaurant rich Rua Franco and other medieval pedestrian streets surrounding the cathedral, and made another unfortunate pick. We were the only diners seated upstairs in the formal dining area of this street entry place. That should have tipped us off, but we persisted. Our waiter was the best part of the meal. As soon as he started conversing with us, I recognized that there was something different about him. He seemed much more animated and less formal and standoffish than the others who had been our competent but not “friendly” servers. Sure enough this man was Latin, not Spanish, from Columbia and he was in Santiago because he’d married a local girl. He filled us in on all kinds of useful information, like Galicia is warm in July, August and September. Thereafter it becomes cold and rainy. All this I got from him even though he spoke only Spanish and I don’t understand Spanish. He was very ebullient and an excellent mime.

The food was ok, but not good, except that it had the grace of being cheap. Fish soup, salads, and pork chops cordon bleu. Valimor Albarino and a Rioja and a total under 80 euros.

Place overlooking the sea in Cambados, next door to (I think) Posta do Sol on
Ribeira de Felinans

Wow. How’s that for a title for a restaurant?! Sorry I never kept track of the name of this place, it was a right worthy lunch spot. We elected to sit outdoors so we could view the water across the street that ran in front of the place.

We started with oysters, some of the very few we had on this trip. The ones served were very interesting, nicely briny but so flat that there was almost no room for the excellent liquor and the edges of the shells were soft and pliable. Never had oysters like them before. Next pulpo with paprika, wonderful ham slices and lamb with potatoes and salad. We tasted two different types of albarino. A really tasty lunch.

Xantar de Ria in O Grove

Possibly the least ok meal of the trip. The place looked pleasant enough but it didn’t have much selection and we were starting to tire of fish. I started with an odd salad of rice, carrots and corn, and then had a chicken breast pounded thin with French fries. DH had the fish soup such as it was and cold shrimp. This doesn’t sound appetizing, does it?
That’s right. It wasn’t. Too bad. Another wasted meal. Bad choice.

Cozinha das Malheiras, near the main square in Viana de Castelo, Portugal

No, our bad choice of a restaurant in O Grave wasn’t enough to drive us into a whole ‘nother country. We’d planned all along to dip down into the other country on the Iberian peninsula, and this was our chance.

As you can tell from my description regarding sights above, we loved this little Portugese town, and we really enjoyed this restaurant. It gets two spoons and forks in the Michelin red guide, and rightly so. The place is nicely attired with cute white chairs and tablecloths, green background and accents and arched ceilings. The pleasant waiter spoke some English and we were able to easily order ham slices, local cheese and olives, fish soup, seabass for DH and kid for me—finally I get goat. And it was good. Enough said. If there’s good goat, what more can you ask?

Mar Atlantico Hotel Restaurant

This was another hotel (like Villa Rosario in Ribadesella) whose food was the equal of its lodgings. Everything was attractively presented and well-prepared. DH had his usual and I had 3 scallops in garlic breadcrumbs atop a smear of sauce that made the plate look terrific and added to the taste of the scallops. Next came seabass fillets with potatoes and green beans. DH surprised me and himself with the rooster entre and while it was toughish, as old birds can be, it redeemed itself with superior taste.

This was one of the few places we had desserts. Neither one of us is big on sweets and we’ll usually opt, if anything, for cheese. But these desserts looked too good to pass up so DH had a chocolate soufflé with dark and light cocoa and I had the red sorbet with chopped red fruits and a red fruit coulis. Among the better meals of the trip, even if it was hotel dining.

Almeda de Dona Antonia in Pontevedre

This was possibly our hardest restaurant to find. We walked by it twice and almost didn’t see if the last time. All that advertised its existence was an 8 x 11inch sign (one among many, all of the same size) on the side of a building. It was on the second floor and worth both the seeking out and the climbing up. Michelin awards it two forks and spoons, and again for good reason.

The place had black lacquer chairs, dark green colored linens, mirrors and tons of white floral arrangements. It was very pretty. DH had fois gras and beef carpaccio. I had seabass carpaccio in vinegar, oil and dill (another of the best dishes of the trip), then hake with vegetables and tomato sauce. Another Jueve y Camps cava brought the bill to 97 euros.

Besides the good food and the nice décor, we were entertained by the beautiful young daughter of the owners. She was probably about 3 or 4 and a true charmer, obviously quite used to meeting and greeting guests and just being around during service. She was not a distraction but a welcome addition to a lovely dining experience.

Yayo Deporta in Cambodos

This was to be our last dinner in Galicia before returning home via Madrid and it proved to be one of the best, possibly THE best. I searched the place out when we stopped enroute to our hotel after leaving Santiago and made a reservation to return on our last evening. It provided the perfect venue for a valediction to an area of Spain we really enjoyed.

Michelin awards it one star and two forks and spoons. It’s all that and more. Like the other one star of our trip, Casa Marcial in Arriondas, it’s a pleasant, modern, minimalist place with black chairs, dark green walls, spot lighting and a glass room for wine selection. We started with glasses of rose cava and then moved on to a local Albarino that our casually attired waitress called “the best” and after tasting we had no reason to doubt her.

They provided us a printed menu of our selections to take home. It details the dishes we had which were both beautiful and truly great tasting—except for the coffee vinaigrette on the cauliflower mousse but that was only an amuse. Other dishes we had were vichyssoises with figs stuffed with tuna tartar, salad of scallops with crunch rice and vinaigrette of the coral of the scallop and sea foam, risotto with small scallops, mushrooms and carpaccio of Dublin bay prawn, and mousse of titillar cheese with sticky caramel foam. All this plus expresso and the wine came to 107 euros including tip. A wonderful value and a wonderful meal. We loved it and recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who might detour out of their way to go to this lovely town and this wonderful restaurant. Superb.

Ok, all that’s left is Madrid. I promise, I’m almost done.

JulieVikmanis is offline  
Old Sep 5th, 2008, 03:03 PM
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What a fantastic report! I haven't finished reading it, but I am enjoying it tremendously. Thank you for taking the time.
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Old Sep 5th, 2008, 04:15 PM
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Hi mikelg,
I'm not quite sure about the "product based" part, but we have always had very good luck at Cañadío on the Plaza of the same name in Santander-with tapas at the bar, with small plates from the regular menu ordered at the few tables in the bar area, and with the dining room itself. I really do enjoy the dishes from Paco Quirós. Gourmetour gives it a 7, which I think is about right. And we don't find it overpriced-pretty good RCP.

In fact, on our recent tapas stroll through Santander (from Bar del Puerto, to Mesón Rampalay, to Bodega Cigaleña, to Pata Negra), we ended it all with our main course taken at Cañadío and very glad we finished our moveable feast there.

But two more "product-based" dining spots in Puerto Chico, come to mind, both members of the Club de Calidad Cantabria Infinita:

La Posada del Mar (in a new location in Puerto Chico with outdoor terrace facing the bay), which has a really nice ambiance and...

La Mulata, which is on the square across from El Serbal, and has a very lively bar and menu of seafood almost exclusively.

I would consider them as well. Look at their web pages and see what you think about the 3: (for Posada del Mar and to compare all three)

In that gastronomic guide that I showed you, "Guía Gastronómica y cultual del País Vasco y su entorno", Cañadío is rated slightly higher than La Posada del Mar and La Bombi. (La Mulata isn't featured).

I too am hooked on that "overcooked on purpose" menestra, a staple of my diet when in the Rioja. Comfort food like aligot.

Thanks so much for accepting your assignment and for soldiering on at Bar del Puerto although already satiated. With my own experience, yours and cruiseluv's reviews and mikelg's feedback, we'll have made good progress in properly covering the Santander dining scene. My friends who live in Noja really love La Cúpula in the Hotel Río (ex Rhin) in El Sardinero, but we just weren't in the mood for a more dressy, splurge treat nor the expense of El Serbal (1 Michelin star, 1 Campsa sol).

We made our way back to Ribadesella right after your departure and also found the lively Llantares del Mar on the promenade after searching out El Arbidel to find it closed for the day. I think you made the right choices in Ribadesella. The distinct disadvantage to El Arbidel, however top notch the food, is its lackluster, tucked way location with no water view. Sunset dining with a view of the bay is the way to go in Ribadesella.

I applaud you for making it down that country road (just finding the turn off from Arriondas is a challenge) and up the cow path to the amazing (and underpriced) Casa Marcial. This is very much a family enterprise, and the chef's wife runs the Italian restaurant just down the road. Manzano grew up here and has not strayed far at all from his roots, unlike D.C. chef-tv personality José Andrés (who is his friend).

Sorry to hear about your Parador experience. And the Ribadeo Parador public rooms were spruced up not long ago-the make-over must not have made its way to the guest quarters (like the make over at the Parador Gil Blas Santillana didn't make it to their dining room). Wedding nights are terrible times to sample the cuisine at Paradors, I agree, learned from experience. We had a fairly lackluster meal ourselves at the Parador at Limpias (but without the excuse of a wedding), so I've marked it off our list. Ditto to dining at the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos in Santiago de Compostela. We get a very unwelcome, indifferent-to- prospective-diners vibe everytime we've gone in.

When in the Ribadeo area next time, I think you'd have far better luck across the bridge to the other side of estuary in
Figueres (Asturias) down at the pier side restaurant Peñalba (run by the Palacete Peñalba that didn't answer your booking request).

Completely agree about Yayo Daporta in Cambados. Other than the tiny, family run "chow-down on pristine seafood and house albariño" hideaway, "Casa Pinto" (that Mario Batalli discoverd in "Spain...on the Road Again), Y.D. is "the" place to dine in Cambados.

The rest of your Galicia choices, except for Alameda, are new to me, so I've dutifully filed away your fine reviews for our future trips.

Thanks again, and any time you'd like another "assignment", just let me know. Very high marks to you, Julie!
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Old Sep 6th, 2008, 04:11 AM
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Mikelg, I knew Maribel would be able to help you. Good luck deciding which place to select.

Maribel, glad to have you bring up Canadio for Mike. Everything I read about the place suggested it would be both good and very convivial.

Your reference to menestra and aligote has me thinking I may have been shortsighted when calling razor clams and roasted kid my favorite meal--but the addition of these two sides would certainly make it
untouchable, placing it literally in the gastronomic stratosphere.

Thanks for you kind words on my restaurant reviews. Indeed I'm up for more assignments. We've just booked into Barcelona for the New Year, arriving December 26 and departing January 4, staying with our gourmet son at Carders Apartment in Born from

Will work for recommendations. I've started preparing the list of places to try while we're there but am having a problem deciding on the New Year's Eve venue. Another post here spoke of booking Set Portes and I'm thinking that might be a good idea. NYE is not IMO a time to look for top drawer food, but rather acceptable vittels in a convivial atmosphere. Thinking Set Portes will supply and has the advantage of being near the port area where there will be fireworks. Does that sound like a plausible plan or can you recommend something better?

We plan a day trip by plane to Mallorca and could use a recommendation for lunch there. And I'm pretty well decided that we'll make our big splurge at Can Fabes in Sant Celoni after checking out Cordornui. Reactions and other recommendations very much appreciated. And, of course, if there's anything left in BCN that you haven't tried and want checked out, we're at your disposal. Assign away.
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Old Sep 6th, 2008, 07:26 AM
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Final installment. Phew!!!

No Spanish food in Madrid

Or, almost no Spanish food in Madrid.

By the time we got to Madrid we were getting a little tired of travel. This often starts to happen to us about two weeks out. I’d once thought I could be on the road forever, but now I think I need a few spaces of home in my peregrinations. (I love writing trip reports, it gives me a chance every so often to use words I haven’t used in years, though I have to admit that I’m not sure there is a plural version of this one.) All that plus the ungodly heat we encountered in Madrid sort of ruined our appetites for much more heavy Spanish food. At one point I made a reservation for some of the wonderful suckling pig we knew would await us at Botin and I had to cancel it. Just couldn’t face the thought and didn’t want to spoil the memory.

So, what did we eat? Of course, Chinese. We actually had two Chinese meals while in Madrid for two days—one good and one not so. The other two meals were mildly Spanish and off the wall Norwegian.

The bad Chinese meal was not even worth writing about except that finding the place took us through what is apparently the red light district of Madrid, active even in the noontime heat of a very hot day. Oof da.

The Spanish meal was at Café Oriente. We’d never eaten there and the thought of their restaurant being below ground in an almost cave-like cool room won me over. The place, owned by the folks who own the Taberna Al Habaderos in Seville and DC is the height of traditional. Everything was ok but nothing either was or seemed particularly good. OTOH it wasn’t their fault that we were overfull from two solid weeks of eating similar food.

One thing that might have been their fault, however, was the translation into English of one of their menu items. DH made the mistake of thinking that pork ribs might actually be ribs. Instead they turned out to be pork chops, a dish of which he’s never been fond. True to its reputation, the gazpacho proved the best thing we ordered for our hot and tired of gorging carcasses.


The was another Chowhound recommendation that I sought out primarily because it, too, sounded like it might provide us a welcome change and some lighter food to eat in the overly heated Madrid. Cold fish for a hot day. The place, down the street from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and near one of their main legislative buildings-which I can’t remember, was appropriately decorated in true Scandinavian blond wood and not much else style, except bare branches here and there. Downstairs, which was not in use for lunch, was, however perfect for a super hot day. It’s a winter garden all done in white with snow scenes and a vodka bar—cool in all senses of that word.

Food was similarly minimalist. We started with a sampler of corn blinis with caviar, smoked trout and lox with great lemon-spiked sour cream and onion sauce. Then we had a Norwegian version of gazpacho which turned out to be the same as Spanish with the addition of pine nuts and mozzarella. We skipped the added ingredients. Even they seemed too heavy for us in the heat of the Madrid day. The basic cold soup was good though. DH proceeded to have more lox rolled around lentils in a vinegary sauce and I went with the smorebrod platter of three open-faced sandwiches—lox with sour cream and onion, pear and cheese slices, and a rolled up slice of cold beef with pickle and lingonberries. I couldn’t even finish the third sandwich. We were kaput, demoralized, done.

Le Dragon

Just as we were about to admit defeat and slink away back to the land of Big Macs with nary a look back, one last Chinese meal in an area not far from the Palace of Communications revived our spirits and sent us on our way happy campers. I don’t now even recall how or why I knew about this place, but I do remember being relatively confident that it would be at least a classy, upscale Chinese place and it was. DH found it even more aesthetically pleasing than our longtime Chinese favorite Chez Vong in the Les Halles area of Paris. Décorwise it probably has the most in common with Atelier Robuchon in Paris—mostly black with touches of red. If anything Le Dragon is even more stunning than Robuchon for its use of space and light to highlight the décor and the food. Mirrors and artfully arranged black screens make the space seem bigger overall but all chopped up into intimate little areas.

Super thinly sliced cucumbers in sesame seeds and sweet sour vinegar sauce made a great start. The summai and crab rolls that followed were equally good and so was the crispy duck and fried rice. This may have been the first time we’ve ever not over-ordered in a Chinese restaurant. For once even our eyes matched our stomachs and we finished a meal and a trip that had been, like Goldilocks said, “just right.”

Home again, home again, Jiggity jig
We’ve now been back from Spain two and a half months. We have long since recovered from our temporary aversion to any more heavy Spanish food. I’d kill for a dish of razor clams, and a shin of goat and I’d give anything to have an asador near here that can turn out a good suckling pig. But we won’t have to wait too much longer to satisfy our cravings. We’ll be in Barcelona over New Years and I’m already planning our meals.

I hope my recollections prove helpful to others who decide to travel to the wonderful areas of Northern Spain. If you are planning a trip yourself and would like more detail (including email addresses, or phone numbers etc. of any of the places I mention), I’ll be happy to try to dig them up for you. Enjoy. We sure did.
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Old Sep 6th, 2008, 10:13 AM
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Thanks, Julie! It's too bad you didn't continue your trip all the way to San Sebastian. Now that's a place for serious eating!
Marija is online now  
Old Sep 6th, 2008, 01:18 PM
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Hi Julie,
Very happy to know that you're heading back to the beautiful north of Spain in December! In your next trip are your focusing on Barcelona or do you plan to return to the Costa Brava (Llafranc, from your last CB trip) as well?

I applaud your choice of the Racó de Can Fabes as your Michelin star spot. With 38 years of Spain dining under my belt, I can say that Can Fabes has provided me with my very best, most memorable meal (haven't dined at El Bulli). Hope it will please you as well.

Your "acceptable vittles..." is a reasonable, very realistic requirement for NYE, and I would certainly choose a place near or on the water to fulfill that.

I hope that cruiseluv will weight in on Set Portes, as she and her party, with reservations made, did not receive a particularly warm welcome on a Sun. But I would hope that on NYE, the management would pull out all the stops for a gala, convivial evening.

Another spot directly facing the water is Agua, a member of the Tragaluz group.
(Its waterfront sister, Bestial, attracts a much younger crowd and also serves as a nightclub, which I don't think is what you're seeking.) A Pamplona friend (who knows her food) enjoyed her recent dinner there, but I suspect that Agua's NYE pre-fixe, like the other Tragaluz members in '07, would cost around €150 p.p.

As a retired teacher, I'm thrilled to
have such a stellar pupil for dining research. I have a few interesting "assignment" possibilites for you in BarcelonaO

The first is a review of one of the new "bistronomiques":
easy on the budget yet high quality, chef owned bistro dining.

Of these we really enjoyed "Ovic" on Aribau in the Eixample but didn't have time for a thorough review of the storefront "Gresca" (a reco of Fodor's George Semler in the April T&L) or "Coure", which are also in the Eixample.

And I think you'd also enjoy the new outpost of the chef Josep Olivé, owner of L'Olivé and Paco Meralgo (2 of my favorite bistros), called "Two 7" (or Tuset), with state-of-the-art kitchen smack in the middle of a diaphanous dining room. It's been much talked about in the Spain gourmet press. Contemporary catalán cuisine.
On Tuset 7 (phone: 934 670 232)

And perhaps "Embat", a creation of 3 young chefs formed at Espai Sucre. Recently favorably reviewed by the gastro critic of El País, who says it is at its best at night featuring a menú-degustación for only €38, with gentle wine prices as well.
On Mallorca 304 (phone: 93 458 08 55)

Another "task" could be to grab a bite or wine at the new "Vinoteca Torres-restaurant de vins-an avant-garde space, collaboration of Torres wines and the Sagardi group (Basque asadores) whose chef worked with Jean-Luc Figueras. The tapas bar is open from 8 am-2 am, just two blocks from La Pedrera on Passeig de Gracia 78.

Finally, speaking of wine sampling, a new international wine cultural center-library-bar-restaurant, "Monvínc" opened (on Diputació 249) in the Eixample this past July.
Their current "wines-from-around-the-globe" wine list boasts 2,500 labels, soon to be enlarged to 4,000!

When I hear about other exciting new openings, I'll pass them along to my prize pupil!
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