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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: 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: Sunday, September 18, 2016

When visiting O Grove, Galicia, one can’t help but be impressed by the number of beaches on this gorgeous peninsula. More than 15 beaches with almost 10 kilometers (6 miles) of sand line the shores at various points ranging in size from very long, such as La Lanzada beach (2.5 kilometers / 1.5 miles long!), to the very small, such as the beach at Porto Meloxo (a mere 100 meters / 325 feet in length).  In front of the tiny beach at Porto Meloxo is where you find Taberna Meloxeira.

There is always a long list of restaurants waiting to be visited and checked off whenever I visit Galicia. Taberna Meloxeira had been on this list for a while now and I was excited to finally able to make it there for a relaxed Sunday evening supper last fall. While my visit was in the evening, I would actually recommend going during the day to enjoy the view of the wooden boardwalk and the small Porto Meloxo beach right out front. You might even take a stroll before or after dining along the boardwalk that meanders over to the Port of Meloxo, a charming little fishing port dotted with small fishing boats.

Inside the small comfortable restaurant the wait staff is extremely friendly and helpful. In no time at all I was ready to peruse the menu with a glass of water, albariño wine, and a tasty little empanada appetizer. Immediate seating was available on this Sunday evening, but most other days of the week are booked out in advance at this charming small eatery (there are 9 tables with seating for about 30).

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The menus at Meloxeira Taberna are so cute! Whimsically done in the style of old fashioned Rubio educational workbooks (cuadernillos Rubio), used in Spanish schools since the late 1950’s. Within, the menu contains something for everyone: for the adults, menu items are printed in schoolhouse cursive style. For the kids, there are games to be played, pictures to be drawn, and even a little bit of homework to be done if they get bored. Ok, maybe all of the fun and games are for the adults too!

Fun and games aside, the menu (above) is a treat to peruse featuring a wide variety of Asian fusion dishes along with more traditional Galician items. Lists of appetizers, ceviches, fish, wok dishes, and meats fill the pages. There is a short list of wines printed on the cover of the menu, and the restaurant also dedicated an entire wall (actually a chalkboard) to speak directly to us, the diner, about the various drink options. Titled “And what is it that you like?”, the board discusses the wines available, suggests cava if you are feeling like something a little bubbly, Jerez if you are the adventurous sort, and even a gin & tonic if you might want to visit the beach later. It closes with an invitation to drink, eat, enjoy, relax, and smile. What a lovely welcome!

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A large chalkboard decorates one wall. The evening of my visit, it closed with a welcoming message inviting guests to drink, eat, enjoy, relax, and smile!

It was quite difficult to pick just a few items to try, but the waitress was truly helpful in explaining various dishes to help the selection process along. To begin, La Presa de bellota ahumada, cured and smoked Iberian ham that was served in an absolutely stunning presentation with jewel-like drops of salsas made of: Sriracha, wasabi, mango, peas and radiccio. This plate was stunningly beautiful, but it was even more delicious! The ham was silky and tender, with a light smoky flavor. Mixing and matching the flavors from the various sauces was a flavorful adventure. A really wonderful dish.

 

The next course was zamburiñas Thai a la brasa (grilled Thai variegated scallops). Delicious, fresh from the sea local scallops with a flavorful Thai sauce were perfectly satisfying.

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Zamburiñas Thai a la brasa (grilled Thai scallops)

For the main course, Arroz Thai salteado con gambas y vegetales (Thai rice sautéed with shrimp and vegetables). Very flavorful with a nice punch of fresh herbs and lime to brighten up this savory rice dish that had a nice subtle hint of smokiness from the fire wok in which it was prepared. Meloxeira is also known for their ceviche dishes, no surprise given the quality of the local Galician fish that is used. Ceviche will definitely be on the list to order during my next visit!

 

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Arroz Thai salteado con gambas y vegetales (Thai rice sautéed with shrimp and vegetables)

Just a few days earlier I experienced my first “Torrija” (see the previous post from Culler de Pau), which is a Galician dessert that is more or less a very custardy French toast. That description doesn’t do it justice at all, and when I saw it on the menu at Taberna Meloxeira, I couldn’t wait to try their version!  The Torrija was served hot, caramelized, and with a generous scoop of excellent quality vanilla ice cream.  A lovely close to a very nice meal.

 

 

Torrija caliente con helado de vainilla (hot Torrija with vanilla ice cream)

 

In the few short years it has been open, Taberna Meloxiera has earned a stellar reputation as a place to have a good time, enjoying the inventive menu, quality products, and friendly, knowledgeable service. They have been listed in the Guia Repsol and were recently recommended by Michelin star chef Pepe Solla (of Casa Solla in nearby Poio, Galicia). Well deserved!


Taberna Meloxeira
Rúa Porto Meloxo 100, O Grove, Galicia (map)
+34 886 161 389

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/taberna.meloxeira
email: tabernameloxeira@gmail.com

English spoken: Yes

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Date of visit: Thursday, September 15, 2016

With an afternoon free in O Grove, I jumped at the chance to make a reservation at Restaurante Culler de Pau on a beautiful day in mid-September this year. From my table right against the wall to wall windows in a stark white building perched upon a hilltop, I enjoyed an expansive view of bateas (large wooden rafts that float in the waters of Galician inlets where shellfish are cultivated) on the Ría de Arousa.

In addition to possessing one of Galicia’s 13 Michelin stars in 2016, Javier Olleros is known for being one of the most admired chefs in Galicia. Chef Olleros is also part of GrupoNove. As mentioned in earlier posts about YayoDaporta Restaurante, A Estación, Casa Solla, and Alborada, Grupo Nove published a book in 2015, 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 Olleros is pictured amongst the boulders of picturesque Con Negro beach located on the westernmost edge of the O Grove peninsula (with stunning sunsets as it faces the Atlantic Ocean – map) [the landscape] holding a bouquet of fresh herbs [the product] representing the organic wild and cultivated herbs and a Galician variety of tender corn that are cultivated and foraged for by two local nearby farms [the producers] specifically for Culler de Pau.

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Expansive views of the bateas in the Ría de Arousa from the dining room of Culler de Pau.

Of the two tasting menus offered, I opted for the shorter 6 course menu, mostly based upon time … it would take about 1.5 hours for the shorter menu as opposed to the 13 course menu that would take approximately 2.5 hours. An optional pairing of 4 wines was offered as well. Upon making my selection, the aperativos (appetizers) began to arrive. First, olives were placed on the table then a small cup of gazpacho (chilled soup) made with the broth of mussels and a variety of small cherry tomatoes. It was fresh, light, and tasted of summer.

Recaredo Terrers Brut Nature Gran Reserva 2009

The first wine of the afternoon was this Recaredo Terrers Brut Nature Gran Reserva 2009, a dry sparkling cava from the Alt Penedès wine region (near Barcelona).

Bonito de Burela, encurditos, vinagrete de tomate (tuna from the northern coast of Galicia, pickles, tomato vinaigrette)

The first course was a beautiful and absolutely delicious plate of bonito de Burela (tuna from a town called Burela, located on the northern coast of Galicia) with tiny pickled vegetables and a tomato jam accenting two creamy sauces.

The next wine was this Finca Meixeman Guímaro, a Mencia from the Ribeira Sacra wine region.  It was paired with the following two courses.


Huevo, queso San Simón y migas de pan (egg, San Simón cheese, bread crumbs)

Pictured above, a fresh farm sous vide to 63° egg at the bottom of a pool of smoky San Simón cheese ‘bisque’ topped with crunchy seasoned bread crumbs. This was my favorite dish of the day. When I spoke with Chef Olleros at the end of my meal we talked about this dish and how, despite the fact that I’d obviously never had it (or anything quite like it) before, it seemed familiar – like my favorite comfort food. I would not hesitate to make a return trip to Culler de Pau just to have this again. Not a drop went to waste as I utilized the organic white & wheat local bread to sopetear (sop up) every bit!

Merluza, salsa ‘meunière’ y quinoa (hake fish, meunière sauce and quinoa)

Perfectly cooked merluza (hake fish) over a meunière sauce with a dollop of pil pil (an emulsion made from olive oil, garlic and fish broth, in this case most likely the same merluza) and a bit of quinoa on the side was straightforward, perfectly prepared, and absolutely lovely.

Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Reserva – what a unique pairing for roast beef!

Rather than a red wine to accompany roast beef, the next wine pairing broke with usual tradition. A white wine from La Rioja was selected. It was quite a surprise, but this 2003 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Reserva totally worked as a pairing with this next savory dish.

Solomillo de vaca (como roast beef), zanahoria y guiso de champinon (beef sirloin (like roast beef), carrot and stewed mushrooms)

They referred to this beef sirloin as “like roast beef”, and it was – but imagine the most tender, flavorful roast beef you’ve ever had over an intensely beefy pan sauce. Really delicious. The sides, while small, were exceedingly flavorful. A stripe of carrot and grapefruit cream along one side, stewed mushrooms wrapped in Swiss chard, and (my favorite little taste) pasta in salsa de vaina de grelo (turnip green sauce) accompanied the beef.

As we moved into the dessert courses, I noticed that the playlist was including quite a bit of Frank Sinatra. “My Way” started, as if on cue, when the dessert wine pairing was presented, a 2009 Oremus Tokaji Aszu 3 Puttonyos from Hungary.

Fresas con limón albahaca (strawberries with lemon and basil)

Strawberries macerated with lemon and basil topped with fresh blackberries and basil ice cream with an accent of coconut citrus foam. Perfectly refreshing and so lovely to enjoy in the last gasp of summer.

Torrija caramelizada, café, cacao y leche cruda (caramelized torrija, coffee, cocoa and raw milk)

Torrija is a classic Galician dessert, and one I had not yet tasted. What a way to be introduced! It’s basically an extremely custardy french toast (this one stuck me as more of a bread pudding) made of sweet brioche. This version (I had a couple of others after this) had an extremely soft, creamy custard interior (other versions had more obvious bread cubes), and a delicious burnt sugar crust. Served in a puddle of coffee flavored cream with some crunchy chocolate bits and a quenelle of raw milk ice cream, this was an exceptional dessert.

It was truly a pleasure to spend a few minutes chatting with Javi Olleros after this wonderful meal. In a relatively short time we covered a wide range of topics; the importance of teamwork in his restaurant (the team is everything at Culler de Pau; on social media the first hashtag they use is #equipocullerdepau (teamcullerdepau) and on the restaurant’s website, “team” is listed above “chef”), the theme of utilizing the best seasonal products from the region, how food can trigger memories, and the idea of maintaining Galicia’s unique identity while it develops as a culinary and touristic destination. Chef Olleros is extremely passionate about all of these topics, and it’s easy to see after meeting him why it is that he is so deeply respected by his peers in the Galician culinary scene.

MyLifeOnVacation and Javi Olleros


Restaurante Culler de Pau
Calle Reboredo 73, O Grove, Spain (map)
+34 986 732 275

Website: www.cullerdepau.com/en/
Facebook: www.facebook.com/restaurantecullerdepau
Instagram: www.instagram.com/cullerdepau
Twitter:  www.twitter.com/RestCullerdepau

I also spoke with Chef Olleros about his appearance on a recent episode of the Galician gastronomic television program Gastrópodos, hosted by Chef Beatriz Sotelo of Restaurante A Estación. They explored a bit of O Grove (which hosts an annual seafood festival) and shared much information about local centola (centolla -crab). We even got to see Berto from D’Berto Restaurante as a judge during the cooking competition of the show!

View the O Grove – A Centola episode of Gastrópodos here: http://www.crtvg.es/tvg/programas/gastropodos/

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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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Date of visit: Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Arallo (red dot) just a short distance from Alborada (green dot) in the old part of A Coruña.

Arallo Taberna opened in early August 2016 by the same group that operates Alborada Restaurant in A Coruña, led by Chef Iván Domínguez. Since we had such a wonderful experience dining at Alborada in June of this year, I was really looking forward to visiting Arallo during the next visit to Galicia. By late September I was back in A Coruña with plans to meet up with my friends from Turismo Verde de Galicia on the evening of my arrival. We made Arallo our first stop!

Arallo Taberna is a very casual concept featuring an open kitchen (still a bit of a rarity in Galicia) with just one very long high table with seating for about 25 people and large open windows to accommodate patrons both inside and those spilling out onto Plaza María Pita, A Coruña’s largest and grandest square. The jovial atmosphere is relaxed, so much so that guests are not only invited, but encouraged, to eat with their hands. For those who wish to use utensils, chopsticks and disposable cutlery are provided in communal containers. When the long table is full, you take a number (meat counter style) and wait your turn to be seated. We were lucky enough to be seated right away given that there were a few open seats available on that Tuesday evening.

The restaurant calls itself a cocina contaminada (contaminated kitchen). There are even vintage gas masks hung up for decoration. They don’t mean that anything toxic is actually being cooked up in the kitchen, but rather that their dishes made with excellent Galician ingredients are ‘contaminated’ with other cultures’ influences, specifically Asian, resulting in a very tasty fusion. Following that theme, the ordering is completed sushi restaurant style by making hash marks on the pre-printed menu sheet. We selected one item from each of the five sections of the menu.

From the Frio (Cold) portion of the menu:
Un rollo este bonito picado.
Chopped marinated tuna and mackerel.  A dish as beautiful as it was delicious!
Utensil used: Chopsticks

img_7047From the Vapor (Steamed) portion of the menu: Siomay de congrio en caldeirada.
Steamed Indonesian style dumplings, made with local conger fish, decorated with peanuts and green onion and served with a savory peanut dipping sauce.
Utensil used: Hands

img_7051From the Brasa (Grilled) portion of the menu: Ventresca de jurel con pimientos del Couto.
Mackerel belly with roasted Galician Couto peppers and a Hebrón pepper sauce. This hearty portion of fish had a nice char on the edges but remained perfectly cooked throughout.
Utensil used: Chopsticks

img_7048-1From the Fritura (Fried) portion of the menu:  Croqueta nigiri de merluza salpresa.
Yes, these are the same fantastic green salsa croquetas topped with marinated hake nigiri that had been on my mind for months, ever since we first had them at Michelin starred Alborada earlier in the year.
Utensil used: Hands

From the Guiso (Stewed) portion of the menu: Curry de Choupas.
Galician squid in a slightly spicy Thai style curry stew, with a bowl of rice on the side.
Utensil used: Spoon

Cocktails on the table and Estrella Galicia beer on tap in the background.

Arallo doesn’t have a dessert menu, but there are cocktails, which I find perfectly suitable in lieu of dessert to close the meal. The gin con vermút (gin with vermouth) was simple and delicious and the frutas de pasión con licor café (passion fruit with Galician coffee liquor) was a little more complex and refreshingly delicious.

Chef Iván Domínguez wasn’t in the kitchen the evening we were there (he was actually in Madrid working on the opening of the group’s newest restaurant), but we thoroughly enjoyed chatting with Executive Chef Cristian Santiago Breijo (pictured above in the hat). He was a delight to talk with as we discussed his hometown, the opening of the restaurant, and all of the food and cocktail options over our first round of drinks.

All of the local celebrities hang out here! Deportivo La Coruña fútbol (soccer) star Manuel Pablo (center) joins MyLifeOnVacation (left) and José from Turvegal (right) for a photo. Just to clarify, Manuel Pablo is the celebrity. 9-)

Arallo Taberna is one of the hottest spots in A Coruña with a great location, inventive cuisine, creative cocktails, and a fun, casual, extremely welcoming environment. The militancia atlántica keeps marching forward … the group that opened Arallo in August has also just inaugurated Ánima, in the capital city of Madrid, in September.


Arallo Taberna (map)
Plaza de María Pita, 3, A Coruña, Spain

Email: hola@arallotaberna.com
Website: www.arallotaberna.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/arallotaberna
Instagram: www.instagram.com/arallotaberna

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Eclectic is located right in the heart of the old town of A Coruña.

Date of visit: Friday, September 23, 2016

Eclectic Lar Gastronómico is a relatively new addition to the culinary scene in A Coruña, having opened in June of 2016 on a quiet little pedestrian street right in the middle of the old town. Chefs Francesc (Paco) Chicón and Sergio Musso previously had a successful restaurant in Barcelona and decided to make a move from the hectic lifestyle of the big city to the comparative tranquility of A Coruña. To describe the restaurant, one needs to only look at the name itself:

Eclectic refers to the global cuisine, that blends techniques and tastes from all sorts of different cultures where the roots of varied cuisines are brought forth onto the plate using quality local products.

Lar comes from the Galician word Lareira, the word for home. Not house, but home, where you have that feeling of being at ease and comfortable, like visiting your grandma’s house. The dining room is small, very comfortable, decorated eclectically (exactly as the restaurant’s name implies), with an open kitchen that is still a unique feature in Galicia.

Gastronómico because of the true gastronomic experience delivered by these two talented chefs.

 

Eclectic offers two tasting menus. The corto (short) is comprised of five savory plates and one dessert while the largo (long) is seven savory and two desserts. A unique feature is that the tasting menu changes monthly but remains fairly static during the month with certain proteins or vegetables changing depending upon the availability of seasonal products at the market. Because of the dependency on the market ingredients, reservations are required 24 hours in advance. Eclectic takes their wine program quite seriously and boasts a wide range of carefully selected options with a large variety of grapes represented in their cellar.

 

 

 

This appetizer was called ‘chicharron’ de cerdo, but it was actually a pot of flavorful pork rillettes served with onion and olive toast. An excellent start to the meal.

Parrillada de marisco, migas y crema de avellanas – seafood mixed grill with bread crumbs and hazelnut cream 

The first course of the largo version of the menu was a variety of seafood (mejillones – mussels, berberechos – cockles, sepia – cuttlefish, pulpo – octopus and a large camarón – shrimp) impressively displayed on an elevated grill. All were cooked perfectly a su punto (just barely done). The hazelnut cream anchored the pile of migas (fried bread crumbs) seasoned with pimentón (paprika) and garnished with a carbón de yucca, a ‘blackened’ (in color, not flavor) piece of the South American root vegetable. A bit of flavorful mayonesa de algas (seaweed mayonnaise) on the side as a dipping sauce brought creamy to the already briny and crunchy plate; a wonderful combination of textures and fresh flavors.

Galicians are quite particular about and proud of their bread. While not actually Gallegos, the chefs at Eclectic follow suit with this thoughtfully composed high quality bread basket. From the top clockwise, pan malta de trigo, pan de centeno, pan de payés, and my favorite of the basket, pan de broa which is a typical Galician corn flour bread made only on Saturdays at a certain local bakery, so the slice arrived freshly baked and still warm.

Cococha de bacalao, pate xoubas y aceite de hierbas – throat of salt cod, sardine pâté and herb (arugula) oil

Yes, you read that right, the throat of the cod. Salt cod always tends to be a bit firm just because of the drying process it goes through, but this version was very carefully done, not too firm and very flavorful. The pâté beneath the cod, made from local Galician sardines, had a strong smell but a surprisingly mild taste even before introducing the arugula emulsion that decorated the plate and balanced the palate.

Crema de pochas con jamón ibérico, brotes y gotas de allada – cream of white beans with Iberian ham and drops of garlic paprika sauce.

With this dish I really came to understand what the chefs mean with eclectic; taking traditional ingredients and using them in (sometimes) surprising non-traditional ways. Here, a cream of white bean soup was made using dried white beans that are cooked then puréed into a soup. Totally traditional. Once the spoon dips in, another layer lies beneath; this one a cream of the fresh green version of that same bean that are in season right now. A total surprise! Garnished on top with deliciously salty Iberian ham (two ways – soft slices of the cured meat and little chunks fried until nearly crispy), scallion, fresh whole baby green beans, and drops of allada (a sauce made from adding paprika to garlic browned in olive oil). Given the length of the menu, I endeavoured to leave something on the plate in each of the courses that came before this one, but it was a losing battle with this delicious soup. I resigned myself to delicious defeat and enjoyed the entire bowl, sampling each of the breads from that tempting basket in the process.

Ravioli de calamar y espuma de pimiento rojo asado – Squid ravioli with roasted red pepper foam over sofrito

Very traditional Spanish ingredients took on a slightly Asian flair in this ravioli made of a wonton wrapper stuffed full with tender flavorful squid placed atop a bed of tomato, onion, and red pepper sofrito (which you can’t see in the photo, bit it’s under there) next to a roasted red pepper cream (the menu called it foamy, but it was actually more creamy). The squid ink painted on the plate is a reminder of what the delicious ravioli filling is made, lest you forget. Once again, I was helpless to the deliciousness and just couldn’t leave anything on the plate; the combination of flavors was just too perfect to leave any behind.

Chefs Musso (left) and Chicón (right) in the open kitchen at Eclectic Lar Gastronómico.

Pescado del día envuelto en hoja de higuera, crema de mejillones con calabaza y emulsión de bróculi – Fish of the day wrapped in fig leaf, cream of mussels, squash, and ginger with broccoli emulsion

While perhaps the least visually interesting plate of the day, this dish had a beautiful depth of flavor. The fish of the day, palomita (butterfish – a firm flesh, slightly oily fish), was cooked at low temperature (sous vide) and finished in a fig leaf to impart flavor (the fish was presented wrapped in the fig leaf, the photo was taken after it was unwrapped). The fish may change daily depending upon whatever is available at the market that morning as the chefs seek out producto de primera (first class product). Once again, the sauces and creams that grace the plate bring in additional flavors that work together seamlessly with the subtly prepared fish.

The lighter courses up to this point were paired with this Viñas del Vero Somontano (a Macabeo Chardonnay blend). The heavier courses from here on were paired with this award winning Viña Peón by Adega O Canceliño (a Mencía Garnacha blend). Eclectic serves local Aguas de Mondariz mineral water. 

Costilla al ras el hanout con verduras – Pork rib with Moroccan ras el hanout seasoning and vegetables

From the moment it hit the table, the air filled with the smell of incredibly rich and unctuous confit of pork tucked within crispy phyllo dough. The rib bone was there for mere decoration; the meat had long ago fallen off of that bone during a slow, cocina lenta, process. Middle eastern influences came to the table here in the hint of Moroccan al ras el hanout spice in the intensely flavorful sauce over the pork and the yogurt sesame sauce on the side. A brightly acidic cabbage salad balanced out the flavors perfectly. I really loved this dish.

Travel tip: many spices are very inexpensive to buy in Spain and make wonderful souvenirs and gifts to bring home. After eating at Eclectic, I stopped at a spice shop to pick up some al ras el hanout (a spice blend which translates as “top of the shop”, since it contains the best spices of the market such as nutmeg, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, coriander, ginger, etc.) to take home and experiment with.

Taco de ternera stroganoff con espuma de mostaza – Beef stroganoff with mustard foam

Here, the word ‘taco’ is referring to the placement of the tender sous vide beef into a square on the plate. The two cultures represented on this plate worked perfectly in unison; a flavorful Russian inspired beef stroganoff and a French inspired mushroom and onion duxelles wrapped in a crisp savory pastry crust. A traditional stroganoff incorporates mustard, so here the mustard appeared in three interesting forms (regular Dijon mustard, mustard foam, and mustard in the rich sauce over the marinated steak), along with a pop of sweet and tart in the tiny encurdito (pickled) pearl onion.  A perfect final dish; rich, savory and surprising.

Mojito (crema de lima, pasta sucre, gelatina de ron y aire de mojito) – Mojito (cream of lime, crumbled sweet crust, rum marshmallows and mojito air)

The theme of “there’s a lot going on here” continued with the dessert courses. Both desserts were quite complicated, but in the best way possible – full of fun, surprises, and flavor. The first dessert, called “mojito”, was lime cream (with an egg yolk base) topped with crumbled pasta sucre (a brown sugar crust) then a quenelle of cold merengue (that played like ice cream, even though I was told clearly that it was not ice cream) brightly flavored with mint and yerba buena (spearmint). These marshmallows would absolutely not be appropriate for children, but this adult really enjoyed the big punch of rum in each little square. Foam mojito ‘air’ really just provided a little extra texture, as this dish didn’t require any more flavors. Lots going on, but it all came together very nicely.

“La vie en Rose” (mousse de lichis, red velvet de remolacha, hibisco y frutos rojos) – “La vie en Rose” (lychee mousse, beet red velvet, hibiscus and red berries)

It takes three days for all of the components of the “La vie en Rose” dessert to be prepared. The assembly begins during the middle of the meal (in the photo of the chefs above, you can see this plate under construction). Two of the ingredients are beets and mushrooms. (Yes, maitake mushrooms in the dessert!) It’s complicated and exotic, looks like a work of art, and is an absolutely amazing dish. Normally in a tasting menu the final savory dish is the star of the show and then things calm back down in the dessert course. That is not the case here. Lychee cream is on the bottom with red velvet cake crumbles (made with beets), candied hibiscus on top, with a garnish of a maitake mushroom infused with hibiscus on the side, and a ball of hibiscus mousse glazed in a sweet beet sauce at the center of it all. This exceptional dessert was the star of the show and the pinnacle of a truly exceptional dining experience.

The chefs were extremely hospitable and attended carefully to every detail throughout the afternoon. The creativity of their eclectic kitchen, their love of the craft, and respect for the local Galician products are illustrated plate by plate in their menu. At the time of this writing, the menu for October 2016 has been published, and it looks equally amazing. I would love to be able to visit every month to experience what new magical dishes the chefs at Eclectic come up with!


Eclectic Lar Gastronómico
Calle Oliva, 3, A Coruña, Spain (map)
+34 617 62 14 23

Website: www.eclecticrestaurante.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/eclecticrestaurant
Instagram: www.instagram.com/eclecticgastro
Twitter: www.twitter.com/eclecticgastro

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