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Posts Tagged ‘Camino de Santiago’

Date of visit: Friday, April 28, 2017

img_8356Fisterra, Galicia (Finisterre in Spanish) is known as “the end of the world” by pilgrims who carry on with their pilgrimage to the sea after arriving at the tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela. Whichever name you call it by, it’s a beautiful place where the rocky coast of Galicia meets the Atlantic Ocean to complete this legendary, epic journey. Perched high above the end of the world on a hillside in the aldea (village) of San Martiño de Arriba, sits Ó’Fragón Restaurante.

It’s an uphill drive to get there (the restaurant’s website offers a YouTube video of the trip to help guide you there!), then  a zigzagging walk down a concrete path to get to the minimalist modern building that houses Ó’Fragón.  The contemporary building is starkly beautiful with light wood and bare concrete interior, perfect in that it doesn’t draw any attention away from the spectacular sea views through the floor-to-ceiling windows nor the equally spectacular food that will be served.

Photos from the parking area. Restaurant entrance is down the zigzag path.

 

Clean and minimal, nothing distracts from that incredible view!

The menu is not extensive, but it doesn’t need to be. Fresh, top quality Galician products make up the menu items. They are listed, quite proudly, first in Gallego, then in Spanish and English. If you have the time, the tasting menu at €35 per person with optional wine pairings only €15 more is a tremendous deal, given the quality of the fare and exceptional list of carefully curated Galician wines Ó’Fragón offers. We ended up ordering a la carte as we had a dinner reservation later that night to consider (at As Garzas in Malpica, Galicia), but next time I will take advantage of the tasting menu without hesitation.

The regular menu (left), that gorgeous view (middle), and the tasting menu (right)

 

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Fran expertly opens the bottle of sparkling Galician wine with nary a whisper.

Our host for the afternoon was Fran Insua Fernández. Fran has been a restaurateur in Fisterra since 2003. He is not only the owner but also runs the front of house and speaks excellent English. The original location of Ó’Fragón was down in the middle of the town of Fisterra, relocating up the hill to San Martiño de Arriba in December 2015.

I was very interested in tasting a sparkling Galician wine. Fran recommended this clean and fruity Eidosela Albariño (100%) Extra Brut from the Rías Baixas region, made in the Champagne method. Another dining companion enjoyed this 2015 Pazo de Seoane Rosal (an Albariño, Caíño, Treixadura, Loureiro blend also from the Rías Baixas). Mr. Vacation had a taste for a “mezclado”, red and white vermouth over ice. Of course, Galician Nordesía gin made the mezclado even better, and is made by the same folks that I visited in the fall at Vía Romana.

Albariño sparkling wine, Pazo de Seoane Rosal, and a mezclado.

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Tomates Ecoloxicos, Xeado de Queixo Azul “Prestes” – Organic Tomatoes, Prestes Blue Cheese Ice Cream

This first dish so perfectly defined what this restaurant is all about: light and refreshing. Organic tomatoes with Prestes blue cheese ice cream was a uniquely delicious combination with the cheese flavor shining through the creamy cool ice cream atop perfectly ripe juicy tomatoes. The melting ice cream and tomato broth made the best sauce on the plate, perfect for dipping with the hearty Galician white and flax-seed bread.

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Croques ó Vapor – Steamed Cockles

Simply steamed berberechos (the Spanish word for cockles) dressed tableside with good quality local Galician olive oil. That’s it. That’s all you need, or want, when dealing with such high quality product.

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Longueiróns á Tixola – Pan Cooked Razor Clams

These magnificent mollusks are local razor clams. So local, in fact, that you can even see the beach from which they were harvested in the photo below. Similar to a navaja (traditional razor clam), the longueirón has a straighter shell and a lighter sandy color. If the croques above are Galicia on a plate, these longueirones are Fisterra on a plate.

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This beach here, as seen from the restaurant’s patio, is where the longueiróns are harvested.  It doesn’t get much more local!

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Arroz Carnaroli, Croques, Queixo – Carnaroli Rice, Cockels, Cheese

Toasted rice cooked just al dente risotto style in a light, not soupy, sauce. Absolutely delicious with a generous amount of those same tender, sweet cockles we enjoyed as an appetizer.

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Solombo de Tenreira “Costa da Morte” (POUCO FEITO) – Veal Sirloin from “Costa da Morte” (SERVED RARE)

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Estrela Mencía red wine.

This veal was a real treat for the meat lover at the table. The menu made it very clear that it would be served rare. Rare it was – and it was absolutely perfect served that way. This gorgeous hunk of meat sat atop scalloped potatoes with thyme and roasted red and orange peppers on the side. The icing on the cake was the pink sea salt. It was made pink in-house by soaking the sea salt flakes for 24 hours in red wine from the Ribeira Sacra region.

Speaking of red wine, Mr. Vacation selected this Estrela wine from the Amandi subzone of the Ribeira Sacra wine region. This medium bodied red Mencía paired nicely with the veal dish.

 

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Guiso de Polbo con Patacas Novas – Octopus Stew with New Potatoes

More Galician favorites here: humble octopus and potatoes are brought together into a flavorful, richly satisfying stew. With a sprinkle of good paprika and that wonderful Galician bread at the ready to take advantage of that juice on the plate!

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Ameixas Babosas na nosa “Mariñeira” – Babosa Clams in our own “Marinera” sauce

Ó’Fragón presents their own unique take on the classic dish Clams Marinera by omitting the tomatoes that usually make a sauce for fresh babosa clams (a Galician variety).  The just-barely-there sauce was a fragrant mix of caramelized onions, black pepper, white wine, and clam broth. So lightly dressed, the clams remained at center stage on the plate.

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Dessert and Cheese menu

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Xeado Cremoso de Limón – Creamy Lemon Ice Cream

This was anything but a traditional lemon ice cream. As much as we loved the flavor we found the texture was perhaps the most interesting aspect of this dessert; creamy like a lemon sherbet, but with a marshmallow-like consistency.

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Biscoito de Laranxa Amarga-Mandarina – Bitter Orange Cake-Tangerine

Fran advised that this wasn’t an ordinary cake. This would be a lightened up cake. A cake that’s been turned inside out, so that the ‘cake’ (more like a crumbled cookie) is the base but the cream and the orange would be the stars: one scoop of orange sorbet and two quenelles of bitter orange heavy whipped cream each decorated with a caramelized mandarin orange slice. Very unique and, true to Fran’s word, very light.

Fran at work (left) and taking a moment for a photo op (right).

With the clean, streamlined preparations of first class Galician products accompanied by fine Galician wines, Fran has truly created a unique and relaxing space for memorable destination dining. Way back in a 2010 interview with La Voz de Galicia newspaper, he stated that he had the idea to create a kind of gastronomic temple in his hometown of Fisterra (“facer en Fisterra unha especie de templo gastronómico”). That is precisely what he has done here on this hillside overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at the end of the world.


Ó’Fragón Restaurante
Lugar San Martiño de Arriba, 22, 15154 Fisterra (map)
+34 981 740 429

Website: www.ofragon.es
Facebook: www.facebook.com/ofragon/
Instagram: www.instagram.com/ofragon_restaurante

English spoken: YES

Our reservation was made 3 weeks in advance via email for our springtime visit. If you plan to visit in summer, I would recommend booking at least that much in advance.

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Date of Visit:  Friday, September 14, 2016

There are many routes to Santiago de Compostela on the Camino de Santiago. In 2015 the Camino de Invierno was named an official camino route. The name means “Winter Route”, named as such because it is the route that Pilgrims of yore would take to avoid the snow in O Cebreiro, located on the French Route. The Camino de Invierno passes through the Ribeira Sacra wine region, including the town of Chantada. A mere 3 kilometers before arriving into Chantada pilgrims will pass right by the front door of Vía Romana Adegas e Viñedos (Ví­a Romana Winery and Vineyards), that I visited with José of Turismo Verde de Galicia last September.

Map on the left showing Chantada in the geographical center of Galicia. Map on the right showing the path of the Camino de Invierno. Vía Romana is being pointed to.

img_2914-1Before a pilgrim can pass by this charming winery, he or she must first make the climb up from the village of Belesar after having crossed the Río Miño (as seen in this photo), then make the ascent of 131 meters (430 feet) to the winery. The rest of us might find it easier to arrive by car zipping up the zig-zagging road to the winery.

Galicia is home to several distinct wine regions, one of them being the Ribeira Sacra in the province of Lugo. There approximately 2,900 hectares of vineyards in the Ribera Sacra wine region, which is comprised of five sub-regions: Amandi, Chantada, Quiroga-Bibei, Riberas do Miño and Riberas do Sil. Ví­a Romana is situated in the sub-region of Chantada, on the west side of the gorge created by the Rí­o Miño. It enjoy spectacular views of the river and the terraced wineries all along both sides.

 

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Galicia’s wine regions. The Ribeira Sacra in blue.

 

Stunning views from the Vía Romana winery of the Río Miño and the steep land terraced with vineyards in the Ribeira Sacra wine region.

img_2898-1The location is absolutely beautiful, but it does present some difficulties (I mean, look at the photos just above and to the left that show just how steep those hills are!).  Over the centuries that grapes have been cultivated here, strategies (such as terracing) have been implemented to allow the wineries to thrive and grow. The steep terrain and slate soil guarantee good drainage for the vines, but also necessitates that the grapes are harvested by hand. Each fall during the vendimia (grape harvesting time), grapes are cut by hand and carried by workers up the steep hillsides to the winery. Because of the difficulties in these areas, they use a phrase locally to describe it: viticultura heroica (heroic viniculture).

Vía Romana is most well known for their red wine, made from the mencía grape, which results in an intensely colored, velvety aromatic wine. Vía Romana produces Galicia’s first certified vegan wine, their Mencí­a Añada 2015. We toured around the entire facility and learned about all stages of the winemaking process, from where the grapes are crushed, stored (in stainless steel and in barrels), bottled, aged, and boxed for shipping:

Next we enjoyed a tasting of several different wines (as well as posing with a giant bottle of wine!).  We were also introduced to the line of Nordesía vermouth and María Castaña, a sweet chestnut wine, both produced by affiliated companies.

The Nordesía vermouths are quite popular in Galicia. The red is made with mencía grapes and the white made from albariño grapes. A mix of the red and white over ice (called a “mezclado”) makes for quite a refreshing aperitivo or afternoon drink. The sweet dessert wine made with toasted chestnuts, María Castaña, is another delightful sipper.

I look forward to visiting the Ribeira Sacra wine region again, to discover even more wonderful small production wineries in this enchanting location.


Via Romana Adegas e Viñedos
A Ermida – Belesar s/n, Chantada, Galicia
+34 982 454 069 – call to arrange a visit
Visits offered: Monday – Friday from 10am – 1pm and 4pm – 7pm
Saturday from 11am – 2pm and 5pm – 8pm

Website: www.viaromana.es
Facebook: www.facebook.com/ViaRomana
Instagram: www.instagram.com/ViaRomana_es
Email: viaromana@viaromana.es

More information on the Ribeira Sacra wine region at www.riberiasacra.org

More information on the Camino de Invierno at:
https://www.gronze.com/camino-invierno
https://www.csj.org.uk/planning-your-pilgrimage/routes-to-santiago/routes-in-spain/camino-de-invierno/

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Date of Visit: Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Just to the east of Galicia lies the province of Asturias with the charming port city of Gijón on its northern coast. In May 2016 a family cruise included a stop in Gijón. I was very interested in this cruise stop since the Northern Route of the Camino de Santiago passes through Gijón, right along picturesque white sand San Lorenzo beach. The old fishing village (now the recreational marine port) is a short walk away through the charming old quarter where you can find shops and even a few cider bars (siderias – an experience you should seek out when in Asturias!).

But our real mission during our too-short stay in Gijón was to visit the Asturian temple of the fabada – Casa Gerardo.  Fabada is a classic Spanish dish made of large white beans (alubias), pork shoulder or ham, morcilla (blood sausage), and chorizo. Since its founding in 1882 as a roadside tavern, Casa Gerardo has been making this classic fabada at this same location. Located along a busy road in the village of Prendes, about 7 miles from the old town of Gijón, it is operated by the Morán family, father Pedro and son Marcos. They are the fourth and fifth generations, respectively, to operate the restaurant which earned a Michelin star in 1987.

Casa Gerardo’s signature fabada is firmly rooted in a historic past, but the menu veers off into modernity with deliciously executed contemporary dishes. On the printed menu, one side of the menu is labeled “dishes that remain on the menu and are now house classics”, while the other side is labeled “contemporary dishes”.  The amuse bouche that kicked off our meal certainly showed off this modern bent in fine fashion.

The first amuse was this surprising and refreshing “Margarita de Manzana”. Think of a welcome cocktail, just not in a glass. Chunks of apple soaked in tequila (!), sprinkled with salt and with a hint of citrus. The perfect palate cleanser to begin the meal.

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Amuse #1: Margarita de Manzana – our welcome “cocktail”.

Another great example of a modern take on a classic Spanish dish, this surprising savory potato “tortilla” ice cream on crispy rice was intriguing. It perfectly captured the essence of the quintessential Spanish tortilla in a completely unique and enjoyable fashion.

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Amuse #2: Tortilla (potato flavored) savory ice cream!

Consommé made of potato skins served warm and absolutely bursting with potato flavor. The bread service was exceptional. White, wheat and cornbread were offered several times throughout the meal and served with smoked butter.

Amuse #3: Potato Consommé  – Bread service

Our meal started in earnest with some of the most luxurious and flavorful jamón ibérico in all the land: jamón ibérico de bellota reserva Joselito. No need to say more, just look at it! Ok, I’ll say a bit more; Joselito is a brand name, and it is considered to be one of the very best in Spain.

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Jamón ibérico de bellota reserva Joselito – Joselito reserve acorn fed Iberian ham cured for at least 36 months.

The bocadillo crujiente de quesos, a well known staple at Casa Gerardo, are small tents of two pieces of crispy puff pastry held together with a thick line of creamy Austrian cheeses (reported to be a mixture of La Peral, Los Beyos, and cream cheese). Crunchy, creamy, salty and a little sweet – this appetizer hit all the notes and left me wanting another round.

Compango is meat with which the beans of the fabada are stewed. These croquetas contain rich little morsels of the compango in beautifully prepared croquetas.

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Croquetas del compango de la fabada (croquettes made with the meat of the fabada)

And finally, the main event! The fabada we came all this way for. Beautifully cooked alubias (large, creamy white beans – see the bottom of this post for more information on what makes these beans so special!) in a delicate yet richly flavored broth. Served with the compango on the side. While listed on the traditional side of the menu, this dish is absolutely a gourmet fabada – a Michelin star fabada – and one that will surely serve as a point of reference upon which future versions of this dish will be compared.

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Fabada de Prendes (white beans with ham, smoked morcilla (blood sausage), and chorizo)

Another traditional dish with the same creamy alubias, this time stewed with clams and garnished with parsley. We enjoyed the delicate and rich broth, which was less intense than the fabada de Prendes, given the lighter seafood flavor.

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Fabes con almejas (white beans with clams and parsley)

Lobster and monkfish salad with vinaigrette and garnished with mayonnaise sauces made of mustard, plankton (seaweed), and red pepper. Seaweed is actually a pretty common ingredient used in Spain’s northern coast. A wonderful fresh, light dish featuring seafood of the highest quality.

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Salpicón de bugre y pixín con vinagreta y mayonesas de mostaza, plancon y pimiento morrón (lobster and monkfish salad with vinaigrette and garnished with mayonnaise sauces made of mustard, plankton (seaweed), and red pepper

From the “contemporary” side of the menu, Mr. Vacation selected this beef tenderloin with quinoa, foie gras, and micro vegetables. A lovely plate with flavorful beef with a touch of decadent fois gras.

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Corte de solomillo con guiso de quinoa, foie y micro vegetales (beef tenderloin with quinoa, foie gras, and micro vegetables)

Even in Asturias we couldn’t help but select an albariño from Galicia. Pazo Baión (left) makes an elegant, slightly citrusy, albariño from 40 year old vines that we thoroughly enjoyed. Mr. Vacation opted for a glass of Beronia Reserva Edición Limitada (right) from La Rioja to accompany his steak. This classic tempranillo is a limited edition wine with less than 35,000 bottles produced.

When one thinks of the legendary dishes as Casa Gerardo, the crema de arroz con leche requeimada de Prendes comes in a close second to the fabada. Comfort food taken to a whole other level. We all absolutely loved this creamy rice pudding with a brûléed sugar top.

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Crema de arroz con leche requeimada de Prendes (rice pudding with brûléed sugar top)

Another dessert came to the table, a gift from the kitchen: Chocolate & frutos secos (chocolate and nuts). A lovely ensemble of creamy chocolate, hazelnut ice cream, chocolate cake crumbles with pistachos and marzipan. A delicious mix of flavors and textures.

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Chocolate y frutos secos (chocolate and nuts)

During the meal father Pedro Morán came by to greet the table and make sure everything was delicious. During dessert son Marcos Morán came by to say hello and chat for a bit.  I’d love to know what I was bending his ear about (left)! He was just as charming as his father and invited us back to see the kitchen (right).

Books make some of the best souvenirs. Last year Casa Gerardo published this tome, Casa Gerardo, 50 Pasos de la Cocina Contemporánea. It won a “best in the world” award for the ‘Chef’ category in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. This beautiful book is big and heavy with gorgeous glossy photos throughout. Way too big to carry around for the rest of our journey, so I sadly left it on the display shelf in the lobby.

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Now for more about those big beautiful white beans. Alubias are not only found in Asturias. During a subsequent trip to Galicia, I ran across a big beautiful bowl of white beans (the ones pictured to the left, in the colander) for sale in Lugo at the weekly farmer’s market. I recognized them as being very similar to the Asturian fabada beans (these were Galician fabas de Lourenzá) and inquired as to how much for ½ kilo (about a pound). The lovely woman selling them could hear my accent and first asked when I would be preparing them. Since I had 10 more days in Galicia then a flight home to the United States she kindly declined to sell them to me, explaining that these were fresh beans and they just wouldn’t last that long.

Even though I wasn’t able to bring their gorgeous cookbook (nor any fresh beans) home, I was thrilled to see that the recipes for both of their signature dishes, the fabada and the arroz con leche, are listed on the restaurant’s website.

A few months after our visit to Casa Gerardo the restaurant and family were featured in Season 1 of the new Amazon series “Eat the World with Emeril Lagasse” that debuted in September 2016. In the show Marcos reveals some of the secrets of the fabada including this: the white beans they use are fresh beans that they freeze until it’s time to use them, not dried beans that have been soaked. He mentioned another important tip: you don’t stir the beans while they are cooking – no spoon! Just shake the pot a bit. The elder Morán went on to explain the proper way to eat the fabada, but you will have to watch it to find out for yourself. It’s a really entertaining segment on the third episode, featuring chef José Andrés, who also hails from Asturias. Definitely worth watching!


Restaurante Casa Gerardo
Carretera AS-19, km9, Prendes,  Asturias, Spain
+34 985 88 77 97

Website: www.restaurantecasagerardo.es
Instagram: www.instagram.com/cateringcg
Facebook: www.facebook.com/marcos.moran.casagerardo
Twitter: www.twitter.com/cateringcg

English spoken: Yes

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Date of visit: Friday, September 23, 2016

 

La Casa Barrié – photo taken from the English Route of the Camino de Santiago that passes directly in front. Home to Bido Restaurante.

The city of A Coruña is known for having beautiful architecture and some absolutely gorgeous stately historical buildings. One of the grande dames of the Corunese cityscape is La Casa Barrié (Barrié House), built in 1916. Unique in both size and design, it occupies a large city block near the Plaza de Vigo and is built in an “eclectic” style, which is to say a mixture of different architectural styles (Classic, Baroque, and Modernist). It is within this building that Bido Restaurante is located, right on the English Route of the Camino de Santiago on one of the main thoroughfares that leads into the old part of the city.

Beginning in August of this year, social media in A Coruña started buzzing about a new restaurant set to open in late September by Chef Juan Crujeiras, founder and co-proprietor of Michelin-starred A Estación Restaurante in Cambre, Galicia. Since I was fortunate enough to have visited A Estación twice last year and enjoyed both visits immensely, I was really hoping to be able to dine at Bido during my September trip to Galicia. Alas, it wasn’t to be … the restaurant’s opening was three days after I was scheduled to leave A Coruña. When Chef Crujeiras ever so kindly invited me over to Bido for a sneak peek of the restaurant a few days before the actual opening, I was absolutely delighted to accept!

The name Bido comes from bidueiro, the Galician word for “birch”, as in the tree. The restaurant’s unique logo incorporates a graphic interpretation of a birch leaf (note the blocks that form straight line of the letter “B”, top of the letter “I” and the corners of the “D” in BIDO, below), and also makes reference to the intricate patterns often seen in the old fashioned hydraulic (cement) tile floors of which Chef Crujeiras is quite fond.

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When I arrived early on a Friday afternoon the team at Bido was buzzing about working to finalize all of the last minute details since the restaurant was actually opening in just a few more days. Table settings weren’t yet laid down, but there was already an inviting comfort to the refined airy space. Personalized with birch branches, leather chairs, and natural golden tones, the architecturally impressive interior brings a sense of nature and the outdoors into this city restaurant. While the setting at Bido is a bit more elegant than at her sister restaurant in Cambre, the atmosphere is less formal. There are no tablecloths, for example, and one can sit at the comfortable bar to enjoy a beverage and a bite to eat.

Sipping on a glass of wine at one of the comfortable high tops near the window with a lovely view out onto Calle Marcial de Adalid. Note the birch leaf motif from the logo repeats in the awning.

Bido Restaurante serves contemporary Galician cuisine in quite the same style as the dishes that are served at A Estación. A unique feature of Bido’s menu is that the main courses are all served as media raciónes (half portions), so that guests may try multiple items. As a matter of fact, several of the dishes listed in Bido’s menu are quite similar to dishes we enjoyed at A Estación and, from all accounts, they are executed with the same high level of quality.

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The current version of the menu (menu photos courtesy of Chef Crujeiras):

Para Empezar, Picar O Compartir (To start, Nibble, or Share)
Entrantes (Starters)
Principales (Main Dishes)
Y de postre qué hay? (What’s for dessert?)

 

 

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Well, I did get to try something of the food during the visit to Bido – a seafood croqueta! It was delicious!

Bido takes full advantage of the beautiful well-stocked bar that dominates the front of the restaurant with a specialty cocktail program that covers a great many of the classics. In addition to the cocktails and spirits, they offer a by-the-glass selection of unique and interesting higher end wines. Normally wines of this level are only available by the bottle, particularly in A Coruña, so this is a unique feature allowing guests to sample wines that might not otherwise be found by the glass.

Below, Chef Crujeiras poses with one of the bottles being sampled on the afternoon of my visit and with yours truly (MyLifeOnVacation) for an Instagram post.

In a recent interview on the local Galician culinary radio program Come e Fala, Chef Crujeiras expressed his excitement about this new project and commented that Bido’s opening has exceeded his expectations. With a passionate and devoted team on board (including Manual Otero, the charming maître d’ – head waiter, from A Estación who was featured in this interesting article earlier this year), this new outpost has been established in fine form. While A Estación remains as highly regarded as ever, the arrival of Bido is an absolute boon to A Coruña’s dining scene.


Bido Restaurante
Marcial  de Adalid 2, A Coruña, Spain (map)
+34 881 92 28 47

Website: www.bidorestaurante.es
Facebook: www.facebook.com/bido-restaurante
Bido Instagram: www.instagram.com/bidorestaurante
Chef Crujeiras Instagram:  www.instagram.com/crujeiras


Come e Fala Radio Program – September 9, 2016 episode featuring Chef Crujeiras

A Coruña’s Modernist Route (Ruta Modernista) – For more information on the beautiful historical modernist buildings in A Coruña , see the Coruña Turismo site – available here in English.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Dear reader, you may have noticed that my posts are not in chronological order. It was my original intent to write posts in the order in which they occurred, but that plan went out the window and I’ve just been writing about each place as the inspiration strikes. Today, it occurs to me that I really can’t go one more week without showing you the beautiful meal at Casa Solla that I had last year right in the middle of my walk on the Camino de Santiago, on the Portuguese Route. This was my first Michelin star fine dining experience in Galicia and it set the bar high.


On this particular Tuesday, had I walked into the town of Caldas de Reis early, around 12:30 in the afternoon. I could have continued walking in order to make for a shorter stage the following day, but decided instead to call Casa Solla to see if they had availability for lunch. They did! After a quick shower and change of clothes, I arrived at the restaurant in Poio, located just outside of Pontevedra, for my 2:30 p.m. reservation.

 Exterior signage at Casa Solla

My corner table – what a view!

I can think of no better way to kick off this afternoon meal than with this beautiful glass of Raventós i Blanc De La Finca, an elegant and serious cava (Spanish sparkling wine).

In addition to a full traditional menu, there were three tasting menus offered. After not much deliberation at all I selected the middle one, El menú gastronómicoun viaje de temporada (The gastronomic menu – a seasonal voyage), which was described as nine courses plus snacks/appetizers and chocolates served with coffee.

The table setting was clean and simple; the potted cactus made me feel right at home (since I live in Arizona where cactus abound). The first amuses to arrive were really something special. At the top left (above) is a romesco ‘peanut’, top right a cheese ‘olive’, and in the shell plate at the bottom a ‘taco’ made out of a thin slice of what tasted like radish and a tiny piece of toast with two small dollops of fish pâté. Just one or two bites each, these innovative little tastes did impress.

 

A cup of tea?  No, this was actually intensely flavored onion broth served in a beautiful  Sargadelos (or, if not Sargadelos, at least Sargadelos-like) teacup personalized with the name Casa Solla. I savored the rich, intensely flavorful, and soul warming ‘tea’ before the main courses began to arrive.

 

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Choco en ensalada cítrica (cold cuttlefish citrus salad). So light, so fresh.

Vieiras y zamburiñas en degustación (tasting of two kinds of scallops)

Served on this rock. With tweezers. There’s a first time for everything and this was definitely the first time I’d eaten with tweezers. Each separate preparation of the different types of fresh local scallops was unique, and each one was better than the last. Phenomenal.

IMG_3406Called simply la patata (the potato) on the menu, these fried potato batons were topped with “ketchup”, a tiny fried onion ring, and edible garlic flowers. Pretty and satisfying.

IMG_3409El pescado del día, esparrago blanco amargo y salsa rojo picante (Fish of the day, bitter white asparagus with spicy red sauce and macadamia nut). The fish of the day was a lovely local San Martiño (John Dory), from the ría (estuary) that I could see from my window seat.

IMG_3456Why is it that things prepared tableside seem to taste better? Perhaps even better yet when they are smoked tableside. Filloa-fajita de ‘raxo’ adobado y ahumado was takeoff of fajitas using the Galician filloa (crepe) as the tortilla dotted with sauces and edible flowers then topped with intensely flavored Galician style marinated pork that received a final bit of smoke tableside. This may have been my favorite plate of the day.

 

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When in Spain, I generally like to focus on Spanish wines but this Champagne was suggested to accompany the fish courses, and I was wise to not turn it down. With the heavier meat dishes, this Mencia (think Pinot Noir) from Ribeira Sacra region (located in the southeastern part of Galicia) made for the perfect pairing.

 

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Taco de vaca y puré de berenjena asada (Beef and roasted eggplant purée). While the menu refers to this as a ‘taco’, it was just a perfectly cooked tenderloin atop roasted eggplant purée.

 

Beautiful, simple cheese cart. While I may have wanted to spend the entire rest of the afternoon working my way through all of these cheeses, I allowed the server to make a selection of just four cheeses for me.

 

IMG_3461Three (yes, three) seasonal desserts. First (bottom) cleverly presented balls of pear “caviar” with lime zest served in this ‘imitation caviar’ tin, even served with a mother of pearl spoon for effect. The dish at the top right was simply called ‘mandarin’, an extremely light and fluffy mousse-like concoction with an lovely fresh orange flavor. The top right was my favorite, though. Lianzo de primavera (spring canvas) was a beautiful mélange of fresh spring fruits topped with ice cream quenelles and more edible flower petals served on an actual canvas. I loved the fresh, light ending to this beautiful meal.

 

The coffee service (right, above) was served with even more sweets, an assortment of chocolates in several different forms (left, above). Whimsical, fun, and delicious.

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And with that, the check arrived and signaled the end of a magnificent dining experience in Galicia. Chef Solla wasn’t in the restaurant on the day of my visit, so I did not have the pleasure of making his acquaintance. In his absence the entire team did a marvelous job, exactly as one would expect from a restaurant of this calibre.
Chef Pepe Solla is also part of GrupoNove.  As mentioned in my earlier posts about YayoDaporta Restaurante and A Estación, Grupo Nove published a book in 2015, Nove e
a Nove Cociña Galega, Cociñeiros, Paisaxes e Productos
, featuring all of the various chefs in the group. Each chef is profiled in the context of the landscapes, products, and producers that are meaningful to them, personally. In the book, Chef Pepe Solla is pictured on A Lanzada beach near O Grove, Galicia [the landscape], featuring local mackerel (fish) [the product] and a local fishing company committed to integrity, the sea, and the chef [the producer].

Casa Solla
Avenida de Sineiro, 7, San Salvador de Poio (Pontevedra), Spain (map)
+34 986 87 28 84

email: correo@restaurantesolla.com
Website: http://www.restaurantesolla.com

Facebook: Casa Solla
Instagram: www.instagram.com/pepesolla

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EDIT: A Estación closed in March of 2017.  See Bido Restaurante in Coruña. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

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“Hola. I don’t have a reservation …. but I do follow you on Instagram”, is how I introduced myself to A Estación chef and co-owner of Beatriz Sotelo when I arrived without a reservation to this Michelin starred restaurant on a quiet Saturday afternoon last year.

I had completed my second Camino, walking the Portuguese Route from the Portuguese/Spanish border some 115 kilometers (72 miles) to the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, just the day before so a celebration was in order. After we chatted about Instagram, social media in general, and the Camino for a few minutes, restaurant founder and co-owner Juan Crujeiras came out of the kitchen to say hello to chat a bit. After this extremely  warm welcome, we took a photo (below) and then it was time to embark on what was to be a fabulous meal.

 

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Juan Crujeiras, MyLifeOnVacation, Beatriz Sotelo

A Estación is located in the former train station of the town of Cambre, Galicia (hence the name; A Estación is Galician for “The Station”), just a little past the airport outside of A Coruña. As a matter of fact, it’s situated only about 1 km from the Camino Inglés that goes from A Coruña to Santiago. Behind the bar near the front entrance is a large sign for a despacho billetes (ticket office) and the “station” theme carries into the comfortable dining room which is arranged in such a way that it actually looks and feels like the interior of a train car. Charming.

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Absolutely gorgeous cheese table. Several local Galician cheeses featured, including my favorite San Simón da Costa (front center).

A Estación offers an 11 course tasting menu (with optional wine pairings available) in addition to a full menu. Many of the starters are also available in half-size (media ración) portions and items from the tasting menu can even order a la carte. Since I was dining alone and wanted to be able to try various dishes, several starters in the media ración size were chosen. All were excellent; thoughtfully prepared, perfectly executed, and among the most memorable dishes I have enjoyed in Galicia.

(left) The simple, elegant place setting. (center) What better wine to accompany this lovely Galician meal than another nice Albariño? A glass of this lovely García Caamaño from the Pazo de Rubianes winery made for a perfect pairing with the seafood dishes selected. (right) A tasty variety of snacks to start: cured local olives, seasoned popcorn, and hummus with crispy breadsticks. A second round of amuses, not pictured here, included a small piece of empanada and a cup of soup.

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Vieira marinada, caviar Persé, holandesa de cítricos y margarita

Since the scallop shell is the symbol of Saint James (Santiago), and featured prominently on all of the paths of the Camino de Santiago, it seemed only appropriate that my first dish would be a media ración of marinated vieira (scallop) served elegantly over a citrus hollandaise and topped with Spanish Persé caviar, a bit of scallion, and edible flowers (yellow daisy petals, actually). An absolutely gorgeous plate with phenomenal flavor and textures.

Salmón marinado y ahumado al momento con milhojas de manzana y requeixo de A Capela

This media ración of marinated and smoked salmon with milfollas (very thin layers) of apple stuffed with requeixo da Capela (a local sweet ricotta-like creamy cheese made with raw cow’s milk) and walnuts was up next. The salmon was revealed from under the smoky dome with a flourish. Perfectly prepared and playfully presented, this salmon and its accompaniments have been stuck in my memory ever since.

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Rape asado, arroz cremoso de pulpo y emulsión de ajada

Galicia is known for an abundance of high quality pulpo (octopus), so I didn’t hesitate to order this dish where octopus was featured twice and paired with monkfish. Thin slices of cooked octopus were arranged in a rectangle (or perhaps it was a thin slice of an octopus terrine?), topped with an intensely flavorful creamy Spanish rice studded with more chunks of octopus, a perfectly cooked piece of monkfish (rape), and a garlic emulsion garnishing the plate. I absolutely loved the combination of the flavors and textures of the pulpo and monkfish in this dish and the generous dollop of that garlic sauce.

Tarta de chocolate hecho al momento con helado de yogur y chocolate blanco y café

Everything on the dessert menu looked so tempting. One offering was even a “gin & tonic in cake form”. This is the exact moment when I was wishing for a dining companion so we could get two different desserts to share. Since there was only to be one dessert, I decided on this chocolate cake “hecha al momento“. Think of a rich chocolate lava cake, deliciously gooey in the middle, served with white chocolate frozen yogurt sprinkled with chocolate pop-rocks (what a delightful surprise!), atop a coffee sauce that was brushed on the plate.

Coffee service came with a nice little assortment of petit fours. The check presented in an elegant wooden box. 

In addition to the very warm welcome from the chefs, the entire staff was friendly, courteous, and went about their duties with a calm elegance during both of our visits. I wasn’t surprised to read earlier this year this insightful newspaper article about their maitre (maître d’ – head waiter) in the local newspaper. In the article he explains a bit about his role as head waiter at A Estación where he serves as the primary liaison between the guests and the kitchen, discreetly helping guests to ensure they have a nice time while enjoying their meals. Dining at A Estación was such a wonderful experience, I knew before this meal was even finished that I would be returning.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

As the title of this post indicates, I did return to A Estación again. Just a few months later my husband and I visited Galicia together so that I could introduce him to my favorite little corner of Spain. We began that trip by attending the Festa do Mariscos (Shellfish Festival) in O Grove, where I just so happened to run into Chef Crujeiras who was there judging the best mussel dish cooking competition on Saturday night. We had a friendly chat and made a plan for us to visit the restaurant later in the week.

Unfortunately, I had fallen ill in O Grove on Monday night. On Wednesday evening I was still quite unwell, which tempered my excitement about returning to A Estación quite a bit. Not wanting to deprive my husband of the experience of dining here, I pulled up my bootstraps and set out to enjoy as best I could, given the circumstances. Chef Sotelo was not in the restaurant the evening of this visit but Chef Crujeiras was. It was nice to see him again and exchange a few pleasantries. After amuses that were quite similar to those received a few months earlier (and described above), we began the meal in earnest with a couple of classic appetizers.

(left) jamón Iberico (Iberian cured ham) accompanied by (center) toasted pan de molete bread and tomato jam and (left) zamburiñas (variegated scallops) with a crunchy onion topping. Two very simple, high quality dishes.

left – rape asado, arroz cremoso de berberechos, emulsión de ajo – limón
right – atun rojo a la parrilla, semillas, setas de japón y crema de apio-nabo

First to the table was the rape asado (roasted monkfish) served with a delicious creamy rice with berberechos, greens, all atop a lemon garlic cream. Next was the grilled sesame seed crusted atun (tuna) steak served with Japanese mushrooms and a creamy celery root sauce. This dish also received high marks. The sesame crust was perfectly crisp while the tuna remained rare in the middle, just as it ought to be.

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For dessert – local Galician cheeses accompanied by a glass of port wine.

While not in the mood for dessert myself, my better half opted for a cheese plate. The cheese cart this evening was quite similar to the one pictured above during my first visit, and from it came a very nicely composed plate featuring three cheeses and three sweet accompaniments. Of course, I really wish I had been feeling well enough to enjoy this second visit a bit more, but I’m so happy that my husband was able to experience A Estación for himself. He was quite impressed and I’ve no doubt we will make another return visit in the future!

Since these visits in 2015, I’ve kept up with the two chefs via social media, primarily Instagram and Facebook. In addition to social media, Chef Beatriz Sotelo can also be found in the regular media, on local Galician television as the host of her own cooking competition show called Gastrópodos. In each episode, she travels around to a different part of Galicia in a refurbished 50-year-old English bus to discover a unique ingredient common to the area she’s visiting, and then has a cook-off on the bus with a different local chef each episode. Judges aboard the bus declare a winner at the end of each episode. It’s quite entertaining, and she is a natural. The second season of Gastrópodos is airing now (the fall of 2016) on the CRTVG television network.

Chef Juan Crujeiras has also been keeping busy. Among other things, he is in the process of opening a new restaurant located in the city of A Coruña. At the time of this writing, the location of the new place has been announced (near the Plaza de Vigo), but the name has not yet been revealed (although there are hints being posted on Chef Crujerias’ Instagram account). All reports indicate it will open towards the end of September 2016. I will edit this post with the information once it is known. EDIT: About a week after this post was published, the name of the restaurant was announced.  The name is BIDO, which is the Galician word for “birch”, as in the tree. One newspaper article explained that the restaurant will feature media raciones so patrons will be able to try several dishes, which is exactly my style of dining. If I’m lucky, it will be open in time for my next visit back to Galicia in September. Best of luck to Chef Crujeiras in this new venture!

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The chefs at A Estación are also part of GrupoNove.  As mentioned in my earlier post about YayoDaporta Restaurante, in 2015 Grupo Nove published a book, Nove e
a Nove Cociña Galega, Cociñeiros, Paisaxes e Productos
, featuring all of the various chefs in the group. Each chef is profiled in the context of the landscapes, products, and producers that are meaningful to them, personally.

In the book, Chef Crujeiras is pictured next to a stream in a mountain forest near the town where he grew up in the Coruña province of Galicia [the landscape], featuring the highest quality fresh-baked wheat, corn, and nut breads [the product] all baked by Mocho, the restaurant’s baker [the producer]. Chef Sotelo is pictured splashing in the sea near her hometown in the Pontevedra province of Galicia [the landscape], featuring the Galiña Piñeira, a native Galician breed of chicken which is prized for the quality of its meat [the product], that was saved from extinction by a local veterinarian [the producer].

Marmontaña (sea and mountain) exemplifies Galicia itself, geographically speaking, so it seems quite appropriate that these two themes are at the heart of the cuisine at A Estación, and the soul of the restaurant itself given the provenance of the two chefs.


A Estación
Estrada da Estación, 51, Cambre (Coruña), Spain (map)
+34 981 67 69 11

email: estaciondecambre@gmail.com
Website: link                           Menu: link

A Estación Facebook: Restaurante A Estación
A Estación Instagram: www.instagram.com/aestacion

Juan Crujeiras Instagram: www.instagram.com/crujeiras
Juan Crujeiras’ new restaurant: BIDO (scheduled to open September 2016)
Marcil  de Adalid, 2-4, A Coruña, Spain (map)

Beatriz Sotelo Instagram: www.instagram.com/beatrizsotelo
Beatriz Sotelo on Gastrópodos – CRTVG: www.crtvg.es/tvg/programas/gastropodos

 

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If there’s one thing that Americans know about Spain it’s that “the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain”, which comes from the musical (and movie) My Fair Lady.  But when I walked the Camino de Santiago’s English Route from Ferrol to Santiago de Compostela in June 2014 one of the first things I learned was that the rain in Spain doesn’t fall mainly on the plain, it falls in Galicia!  Galicia, through which the last 100 kilometers of any route of the Camino passes, is known for lush green hillsides, thanks to copious amounts of rain.  It’s absolutely beautiful, but can be very (very) wet.

Which only makes it even more of a miracle that we had 10 (ten!)  sunny days as we made our way slowly to Santiago.  It did rain in Coruña and Ferrol as I visited those charming cities before the walk.

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Some people call A Coruña “la ciudad gris”, the grey city. I think I see why…

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Rainy pedestrian street in A Coruña.

To be honest, I have no photo of the rainy afternoon in Ferrol because I took a nap and slept right through it.

But then, TEN sunny of days of walking!

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Just look at that sun shining on the town square in Betanzos!

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Sunny overpass outside of Betanzos.

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A sunny day makes you appreciate a shady forest path.

And so our arrival into Santiago was also bright and sunny.

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Sunshine! Rays of sunshine!

Well, our rain-free streak ended that evening in Santiago when it absolutely DOWNPOURED!  Everyone took shelter in cafes and stores, except those who were entranced by the ferocity of the deluge (like me) and perhaps took photos (also like me).

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Just look at that downpour!

But the funny thing is that the rain could not dampen our spirits (pun intended), at all.  We had such a fun night enjoying our last evening together, having a lot of laughs, getting silly with maybe a bit too much wine (or was that just me?), and reminiscing over the week’s walk.

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Having a good laugh despite the rain.

And so, as I prepare to return to Galicia to walk the Camino again, I’m now working on putting together my rain gear (which includes trying to figure out how to strap an open umbrella to my backpack …. yeah, that’s a work in progress!).  While I’m doing that, and when I get to Galicia, I’ll be sure to keep in mind the famous phrase that they have there: “E si chove, que chova!” And if it rains, let it rain!

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