Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Meal I Will Remember Forever

As most of you that follow the blog know I was recently back in Spain for a few days last week. During my visit I had the pleasure of visiting a very unique winery, the winery of R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia has a history of making wines for over 131 years.These are tru artisan winemakers and to learn more about these wines and the vineyard (or as known in Spain "BODEGAS")click on the link and get ready to transport yourself to one of the most beautiful places on earth.
As beautiful as this vineyard tour was, it was the stop for lunch that will be embedded in my brain for the remainder of my lifetime.
About 30 minutes up the mountain side from Logrono, we stopped at a village that seemed near deserted. The small village of Brinas was were we decided to stop, and the restaurant we were looking for had no signs, no advertisements or directions to get you there, just a small menu that was pinned on a wooden slab right outside the entry way. As we entered I noticed that this place did not discriminate against social status, color, or language. A group of truck drivers sat as we walked in to our left, next to them a small group of french tourists and behind the french men a wealthy group of businessmen. All enjoying the same traditional cuisine enjoyed for 50 years at this restaurant.
As we were seated the first thing that was literally thrown on the table was a whole house cured chorizo link, a dull butter knife to cut it with and a few loafs of french bread bought from the baker down the street. Endless bottles of Rioja wine followed by a description of the "menu del dia" or menu of the day.(A 4 course pre fixe with wine included for 9 euros a person....9 euros?!?) To start your choice of chorizo and potato stew, white beans and pigs trotters or red beans and rice. We all ordered one of each and decided to share all the dishes family style. The next course consisted of braised beef tongue, oxtail and veal cheeks. All prepared in pretty much the same manner, braised in a traditional mixture of onions, peppers, tomatoes and paprika. The intermezzo...get this, a jar of pickled peppers, passed around the table and shared by all! After the peppers we had plancha seared sepia(cuttlefish), baby squid cooked in its own ink and bacalao(salt cod) braised in tomato and olives.....amazing, every last bite was just amazing, I don't know how else to describe it. Now for dessert, a 1 inch thick slice of pineapple with a fork and knife(sharper than the chorizo knife) sticking out of the core, vanilla ice cream, house made by hand cranking machine or canned peaches. They were out of flan and rice pudding, apparently you have to get there before noon time to even have a chance at one of those two desserts. Simple & rustic, traditional and classic, you could feel the love that the chef put in every dish. In fact at the end of our meal the chef came out to say hello to us, although two tables of tourists were there, the chef said it was rare that outsiders ventured into this little village often, and when they do she always comes out to say hello. Now the chef....she was 80 years old, has owned the restaurant for 50 years and has cooked every day it has been opened except for when she gave birth to her kids. Her children run the restaurant and the bar across the street, along with the husbands, cousins and nieces and nephews, a true family business that was not in it for the money, not in it for the fame, in it because they love taking care of people. they love sharing the tradition of authentic Spanish cuisine with every person that eats at this nameless location. I asked her what her secret was, I quote word for word " Mijo, only, and I will reiterate ONLY use the very best ingredients you can get your hands on, only use food that is in season and put every ounce of love that you have into your food." If I close my eyes I can hear her sweet voice telling me the secret to her success.......

(LtoR)My little brother Alex/ Mr. Rodriquez-Former Sommelier at Mugaritz in San Sebastion Spain(gave us our tour of the winery)/yours truley and my cousin Juan Manuel who is the chef and owner of Juan & Juan and Ceasar & Ceasar both restaurants located in Logrono Spain.