Monday, November 3, 2014

Release the Cracklin'!

Crispier than a South Beach senior citizen.

The second city on our trip was the historic town of Segovia, where I lived for a summer almost 20 years ago. As our train rolled into the station, nostalgia washed over me dreamily; as our cab made its way into town, and the iconic aqueduct came into view, I could barely contain my excitement. Our hotel, the Parador, sat atop a large hill just outside the oldest part of Segovia (the original Segovia), and the view from our balcony was nothing short of breathtaking. Across the plains, grand mountains rested stoically on the horizon, the old town perched on a plateau above the picturesque countryside. Segovia’s massive cathedral, situated at its highest point, commanded one's attention above the myriad red-tiled roofs, while at the far end of the city stood the castle, El Alcazar, in all its fairytale glory. And of course, the aqueduct: impeccably constructed and a true marvel in the most literal sense of the word, distinguishing the small town as a slice of antiquity.

Julia and I ate dinner in the hotel restaurant the first evening, and I could not help but appreciate the unmistakable style of traditional Spanish fine dining: food prepared with ample skill and care and love, but presented simply, with minimal gilding. Dinner felt like a home-cooked meal, despite the white tablecloth and stunning views beyond floor-to-ceiling windows. We started with soups: creamy mushroom with a garnish of apples and foie gras for me, and a traditional Spanish garlic soup for Julia. While my choice was certainly tasty, Julia’s was absolutely outstanding: a soft-cooked egg floated in aromatic, garlic-for-days and paprika broth, hiding tender morsels of bread that soaked up soup and created a scrumptious, toothsome texture somewhere between consomm√© and pudding. Julia would barely share with me… I couldn't blame her.
Because there's no such thing as too much garlic.


Sorry, Pumbaa...
It took me only a moment to locate the entree calling my name: a ragout of wild boar cooked with Toro (my aforementioned favorite) wine. Rich, hearty, and absolutely delicious, it reminded me of my youth, eating my mom’s pot roast (see: Anton Ego's ratatouille moment), with tender pieces of carrot nestled among the delectable morsels of boar. Julia decided on the pigeon, prepared in traditional Segovian style, braised in a pureed sauce of tomatoes and carrots. Gamier than most wild fowl I’ve tasted stateside, the bird was likely hunted mere miles (or less) from where we ate. Both dishes reflected the land around us and the history of Spain’s cuisine, providing a welcome and indicative salutation to Segovia.

Saturday morning we ate a (relatively) light breakfast at the hotel, reveling in the cured meats and local cheeses set up across the buffet. Blood sausage, chorizo, and fried eggs also made an appearance… I think Lipitor may be missing out on a vast, untapped market in this country. We did our best to show some restraint, wanting to save plenty of room for a long, leisurely, siesta-oriented lunch in town. After a couple hours of walking around the city, visiting the haunts of my youth and exploring the castle, we had no trouble finding our appetites. We snagged a table at one of the restaurants on the Plaza Mayor and settled in for a legitimate Spanish midday meal: eating slowly, people watching, and with a duration of no less than two hours.

How many pork products can you count?
First came a gorgeous plate of cured Spanish meats: lomo, chorizo, Jamon Iberico, and Jamon Serrano. The marbling in the Jamon was like nothing I’ve ever seen, its visual texture akin to a perfect ribeye steak, its creaminess creating a mouth-feel unlike that of any charcuterie I’ve tasted.


Pulpo for the people!
Next came braised octopus with paprika, so tender it almost melted in your mouth, and giant beans stewed with pork, another traditional Segovian dish. As we savored both the flavor and the authenticity of the food in front of us, we sipped seemingly bottomless glasses of vino tinto and delighted in the simple act of a long meal eaten leisurely.


Our main course was the most traditional and iconic of Segovian specialties: roast suckling pig. It arrived to the table in the form of an entire hindquarter, tail and all. Its skin was the most gorgeous shade of amber, perfectly crispy over every square inch (see the leadoff photo). The meat itself was tender and delicate and fell from the bone easily; it sat in a broth of its own juices, which tasted like a beautiful ballad of equal parts pork and garlic. I sopped it up ravenously with bread, my taste buds delighting in the savory, comforting flavor. We ordered flan for dessert, along with cafe con leche; the flan was well-prepared (you can tell by the proper jiggle), and sprinkled with cinnamon, a superb end to a spectacular meal.
Look, Ma! I can fly!

The next day was overcast, and rain loomed across the plains in the distance. We spent the morning strolling through a few more of Segovia's myriad alleys and venturing inside the 500-year-old cathedral, which was awe-inspiring in its architecture, its majesty, and its endless detail. As we emerged, rain was just beginning to fall, and we made our way across the square to a warm, cozy restaurant that was to provide our last meal in town. Julia ordered smoked Iberian pork loin with potatoes, and I had beef tenderloin, cooked to perfect medium rare, with roasted vegetables. The jus on my plate, made from beef juices and red wine, was intoxicating: rich, well-seasoned, with just the right balance of sweet and savory, and swimming with umami. 
Oh. There's the beef.
The nest tasted… like nest.

With every bite, I chased the quickly disappearing elixir around my plate, sopping it up with bread and smearing it across the dish with forkfuls of beef and vegetables. Dessert was the chef’s riff on tiramisu, presented with a scoop of coffee ice cream sitting on a nest of crispy dessert “noodles.” It was decidedly not traditional, but delectable nonetheless, and well complemented by a glass of 20-year-old port.


Dinner was a simple plate of Spanish tortilla and a sandwich of aged sheep cheese on baguette that Julia and I shared. The sheep cheese was exceptional: similar in flavor and texture to a pecorino, strong and gentle at the same time, it was the kind of cheese that made you stop conversing while you ate it so you could fully appreciate just how yummy it was. We ate in our room, enjoying the views one last time before our early departure the following morning.

San Sebastian comes next, our last city in Spain; we are beside ourselves with glee at the prospect of revisiting some of our old favorites there (Fuego Negro & Mil Catas to name a couple) and the culinary journey is surely just getting started… not to mention our impending reservations at Martin Berasetegui!


Pintxos for days!!!

1 comment:

  1. I have been waiting for this article since your writing began! It was worth the wait, although I want more! It's as though I was there once again, but this time as somebody who could enjoy all the food I loved all those years ago with the thoughtfulness to know what I'm truly experiencing. I look forward to following you to San Sebastian and beyond.

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