Archive for the Castilla y Leon Category

Salamanca – meat eating around Plaza Mayor

Posted in Castilla y Leon, Plaza Mayor, Salamanca, Spain with tags , , , , on March 14, 2015 by gannet39

20130628_222339I’ve been to Salamanca three times, this post is the latest one for March 2014. For my July 2006 and June 2013 experiences (architecture shots and reviews of formal restaurants) please click here. For my Google map please click here.

The heart of the city is the impressive and always busy Plaza Mayor. The square was the blueprint for squares all over the Spanish speaking world.

20130627_141251Sculpted heads of famous scholarly Spaniards can be seen beside all the portico arches all around the square and the main gate with its bells and statues is a spectacle in itself (please click to expand the photo).

20130627_234733Meats of many kinds are the things to eat in Salamanca, but in particular the region’s cured ham which is some of the best in Spain.

For tidbits to take home I definitely recommend you visit the carnecerias and charcuterias in the Mercado Central (just over the road from the east exit of the square).

It’s probably cheaper to shop in the market than in the delis on Calle Rua Mayor but the delis do have larger selections that have been vaccuum packed. Look for jamon from Guijuelo, a small town near Salamanca which is the best stuff apparently.

Sorry about this next bleached out photo but I love the facade of the market’s main entrance and wanted you to see it.

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I avoided the restaurants in Plaza Mayor last time as I thought they’d be tourist traps but when a couple of teachers I was working with told me that there were actually some good places for eating meat, I decided to give them a go.

All the following three restaurants were recommended by meat loving locals. The first was my favourite for the quality of the food, the second was good for its atmosphere and the third for a mixture of both.

Bambu (Interemediate A), 4 Calle Prior (next to Burger King, on the street leading from the south west corner of Placa Major), Tel. 923 260 092, www.cafeteriabambu.com

This restaurant and tapas bar is very handy for my colleagues staying just around the corner at the Hotel Catalonia. It’s still a little hard to find due to its unimposing sign and the fact it’s located in a cellar but don’t let these things put you off, the food is very good.

The décor is bright, white and modern with a trendy green wall in one corner of the dining area. The tapas bar side seems to attract a lot of students which might indicate good value for money. However when I went, there was only one other occupied table in the restaurant besides myself which meant the service was very attentive.

To begin with I had the Torrija de Foie con Cebolla Caramelizade y Jamon Iberico which looked terrible but tasted great (A-), although I would regret using up stomach space for it later.

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Torrija is a traditional local dessert made for Lent; bread soaked in a mixture of sugar, spices and wine or milk, then dipped in egg and fried in olive oil, and here topped with pate, caramelized onion and cured ham, a great combo that I’d never experienced before.

For the main, Chuleton Ternera Charra, a large char-grilled veal chop, which was excellent as were the fries it came with, although I could have done with a few more of them (A-). A chuleton chop is a pretty hefty slab of meat, and I struggled to finish it due to my novice error of having a starter.

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The bottle of Ribera ‘Valdeuro’ Crianza (2009) went nicely (B+). The total cost was €46.20 which was good value I thought.

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I moved on to the bar which had an extensive selection of international spirits, including several Spanish cognacs, of which I’m a keen aficionado. I’m always keen to try new ones, in this case the Terry 1900, a solera reserva. The normal Terry is one of my least favourites but this reserva was pretty good (B) and a steal at €3.50.

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The waiter didn’t know how to serve it though. When I asked for a saucer he put it under the hot glass instead of on top. The idea being to trap the delicious fumes so you can savour them before taking a sip.

He did tempt me into trying a new ponche (a brandy based liqueur) called Soto. Although better (C+) than the ubiquitous Caballero (C), I remain unimpressed by this liqueur.

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Bambu is a good place to go, especially if you like meat. The tapas are probably pretty good too. On the list for next time.

Meson Cervantes (Interemediate B), 15 Placa Major (on the east side, up some stairs to the second floor)

In terms of décor and ambience, this busy place with its olde worlde feel, is the exact opposite of Bambu above. It’s all dark wood with shelves and walls heaving with semi-interesting junk like flintlock rifles and old coffee machines. If you’re lucky you can avoid looking at it all by bagging a table with a window looking out over the square which is much more atmospheric.

The service here was better than at Bambu, and I was well taken care of by the friendly old chap waiting on my table.

On the downside the food wasn’t as good. The Chuleton here (essentially a large chop) was one of the biggest hunks of meat I’ve ever been served, it must have weighed a kilo!

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Size was not an indication of quality however and I could only score it a B- due to the lack of flavour. The fries with it were a bit brown  overcooked brown but edible (C) and I got a lot more of them than last time, but still less can be more.

The 2011 ‘Senorio de Nava’ Ribera roble I had to go with it was a good match (B+).

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I should have had one of the homemade (casersas) desserts offered but wanting something to go with the last of my wine, I had the Tarta de Tres Chocolates, which was bog standard out of a packet fare (C).

They know how to serve their brandy here though and the Carlos I (for €6.60) transported me to heaven (A). Total cost €51.60 which was fair enough for the amountI had. The quality wasn’t good enough for me though so I don’t think I’d go back.

Don Mauro (Advanced B+), 19  Placa Major, Tel. 9233 281 487, www.restaurantedonmauro.es

I came to this big popular place on the west side of the square on my last night. The spacious tapas bar was heaving with locals and the menu looked very tempting, but I went instead to the formal restaurant at the back to rest my weary bones.

I got good service from the slightly severe waiters although I wasn’t too keen on the crappy table they gave me by the kitchen door.
On the plus side I did get an unordered sample of Jamon Curado, which of course was fantastic (A).

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Wanting a big beef hit I had the stewed oxtail aka Rabo de Toro. It’s one of my most favourite Spanish dishes, and although this one was ok (B), I’ve had more flavoursome and better presented versions. The unattractive chunks of potato (C) strewn across it didn’t do much to help the appearance of this ugly but very tasty dish.

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It’s hard to go wrong with red wine in Spain, and the 2009 Marquis de Caceres Rioja crianza I had here did the business (B+).

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The final glass of Magno cognac finished things nicely. It’s a good third tier brandy I usually get in bars, but at €5 it was a bit pricey here, although it probably would have been cheaper in the tapas bar.

Total cost €36.30, pretty good value again. I’d come back.

I really wanted to go to the art deco museum Casa Lis on this trip but was thwarted by their opening times. The earliest visitors can enter is at 11am every day which sadly was when I had to start work. The pictures I found on the net are beautiful.

It’s always good to leave something for next time…

 

Scrambled brains in Salamanca

Posted in Castilla y Leon, Salamanca, Spain with tags , , , , on February 22, 2014 by gannet39



Salamanca is a university town, the Spanish equivalent to Oxford or Cambridge. The university was founded in 1218, making it the fourth oldest in Europe after Bologna and Oxbridge.

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In the summer the city has a really international flavour as students pour in from around the world. Many come to attend short courses in Spanish, something I’ve been very tempted to do myself as it’s ground zero for Castellano.

Salamanca is known as ‘La Dorada’ or ‘the Golden City’ due to the glow of the sandstone used in the construction  its old beautiful buildings, which led to it being designated a UNESCO world heritage site (video here).

The stone carvings above the doorways of many buildings are simply stunning.

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I particularly like the carvings on the tower of the Palacio de Monterrey...20130627_161257

…and the shell-studded walls of the  Casa de las Conchas.

20130628_183332I’ve been here three times for work, in July 2006, June 2013 and March 2014. For my 2014 post on eating meat in Placa Mayor please click here. For my Google map please click here.

20130628_183251In 2013 feeling the need to treat myself for working hard, I decided to try out two of the best formal places in town. The first problem you face is that both of them have tables outside and are both opposite each other, so whichever terrace you choose, you will end up looking at the other place and wishing you were there!

Casa Paco (Advanced A-), 10 Plaza del Peso, www.casapaca.com
The bigger and more famous of the two, service was efficient but not likable. I began with Setas de Cardo Salteadas or ‘thistle’ (perhaps oyster?) mushrooms sautéed with cured ham (A).
For the main, Rodaballo Salvje a la Plancha or grilled wild turbot (B+).

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To drink, Marques de Riscal, a famous brand of Verdejo (B+).

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To finish, Sorbete de Limon al Cava, a favourite dessert (A) which I have yet to master at home.

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Total cost €61.70. Fair enough for such top quality food. They also have a separate tapas bar that I’d like to try.

Rio de la Plata (Advanced A), 1 Plaza del Peso, Tel. 923 219 005, www.restauranteriodelaplata.es
Revuelto Sesos aka scrambled egg and brains! It had to be done and they weren’t too bad at all  (B). Apparently Cervantes liked to have them for breakfast.

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Cabrito Guisado Almendras, or grilled goat stewed with almonds, was accompanied by some excellent potatoes (A).

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‘Prado Rey’, a 2010 Ribeira del Duero crianza (A).

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Tarta de Helado, an ice cream cake topped with cream, was even nicer than I’d hoped (A), especially with a glass of PX.

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Total cost €59, good value I felt.

Of the two restaurants, I think I preferred the food and more friendly service in the smaller Rio de la Plata. Both places are a bit expensive but then they are formal places in quite a posh town.

There’s also a Michelin starred place called Victor Gutierrez but I left that for another time.

For wine etc, Palacio de los Licores at 8 Calle Portales de Camiñas, palaciolicores.com had the biggest selection in town. I got a bottle of Luis Felipe, my favourite Spanish brandy, at a cheaper price than usual.

20130627_200849I stayed at the Catalonia Plaza Mayor at 23 Calle Espoz y Mina, which was extremely well located next to Plaza Mayor, had a good breakfast and very helpful staff. The rooms are a bit poky though and there’s no gym. On my second visit they must have been full as I was put at the more opulent but slightly less central Abba Fonseca.

Valladolid – around Plaça Mayor

Posted in Castilla y Leon, Plaça Mayor, Spain, Valladolid with tags , , on February 21, 2014 by gannet39

The main tapas area in town is around Plaça Mayor, especially in the streets to the west of the square, especially around Calle Correos.

Vinotinto (Intermediate B+), 4 Calle Camana, off Calle Correos, Tel. 983 342 291

Recommended by the Michelin and Eyewitness guides, this is a well-reputed place with modern woody decor and a mainly meat based menu.

You can sit at the scant tables outside but will definitely need to reserve first. I preferred to stand at the bar or at the large wooden table in the centre of the lofty room.

The grill makes the atmosphere a bit smoky but it’s nice to watch your food being prepared. Service is dour to the extreme, as is often the case in Castilla, but I did force one or two smiles out of the old guys after a couple of visits.

I couldn’t afford many of the better racion options so stuck instead to the cheaper tapas and pinchos for around €2.50.

20130622_223439The Tostada Jamon was good (B+) but the highlight for me was the Morcilla smeared onto toast which was more moist and flavoursome than in other places (A).

20130622_225739I also liked the Criollo, a thick Argentinian sausage sliced up and served with bread for mopping up the pool of pimenton-laced fat left on the plate.

20130622_224412The Pincho de Cordero (skewer of lamb) was pretty satisfying too though (B) I wasn’t keen on the bread.

20130624_221759I tried glasses of red Ribeira Joven and rose Cigales here which were both fine (B) but the Toro Crianza, their ‘wine of the week’ as displayed on their blackboard, was my favourite (B+) and a snip at only €1.50.

I came back here twice for the Morcilla and Criollo because I liked them so much.

They have a sister bar called Vinotinto Joven over the road, staffed by equally dour but younger staff and with a more radical menu. I stopped in to try it but after being ignored for a several minutes, decided to call it a night. The staff in both places could definitely use a few lessons in customer service.

La Pequena Villa (Intermediate B), 5 Placa Mayor but seems as if it’s on Calle Pasión

Another Michelin guide sticker on the window and also a favourite of the local teacher I was working with. I thought it was just ok but perhaps I could have made better choices.

The saltcod and spinach Croqueta de Bacalao was great (A), just wish I’d ordered another.

20130625_221149The half racion of sausage and skinny chips, or Pincho de Salsicha y Patas Fritas,  was nice too although they didn’t look quite as good as those served to the bloke next to me that I’d copied (B-).

20130625_215451The half racion of Boletus y Huevo seemed like a good choice given the local reputation for mushrooms but I wasn’t that keen on their rubbery texture or the combination with stirred in semi raw egg (C).

20130625_220752The glasses of Verdejo and Ribeira (Vegantigua) I had were fine but unremarkable (B).

Total cost, a reasonable €18.70. Definitely a place to try again.

Lechazo in Valladolid

Posted in Castilla y Leon, Spain, Valladolid on February 19, 2014 by gannet39

20130624_215947Valladolid (pronounced buy-a-doll-ith, stress on the last syllable) is the capital of its own province and one of the major towns in Leon, in the province of Castilla y Leon, and the twentieth largest urban area in Spain.

Very little of the ancient town remains but the Plaça Mayor (see next post) has the distinction of being the model for the squares of the same name in Madrid and Salamanca, and as such it represents a major contribution to Spanish urban planning.

20130624_231143In terms of gastronomy, Valladolid is to suckling lamb (lechazo) what nearby Segovia is to suckling pig (cochinillo). Lechazo de Castilla y Leon has it’s own IGP and producers must meet strict criteria in order to be able to use the name. Meat in general is very good here, although seafood plays a prominent part in the diet too. Mushrooms of various kinds are also a speciality, as well as sheep’s cheeses.

The city is surrounded by four major wine growing regions; Ribera del Duero, Rueda (famous for Verdejo), Toro and Cigales.

I couldn’t really come here and not try the suckling lamb so, following a stroll among the peacocks and statues of Campo Grande Park, I went to…

La Pedriza (B+), 10 Calle Colmenares Tel. 983 397 951. open on Sunday.

This is the lesser-known sister restaurant of El Figon de Recoletes, one of the best asadors in town, but it was closed that day and I was the only customer here on a Sunday evening! (Sunday lunch is when locals would be more likely to eat out). No good for people watching but it meant that I got good personal service from the kindly waiters here. This was good because I’d gone without lunch to prepare myself for a hefty meal here.

20130623_204148I warmed up with a generous portion of local Morcilla. It was perfectly fine but nothing special (B).

20130623_205209For the main event, a whole eighth of Lechazo Asado, which is more than enough for one. The lamb had been roasted in a special wood-fired clay oven, rather like a pizza oven, at the front of house and in a scorching hot earthenware dish with a cup of water poured over it. The result was three large beautifully cooked chunks of lamb, one with a solitary kidney still attached, swimming in salty oil and juices. An absolutely awesome meat experience (A).

20130623_204428Such good meat absolutely demanded a top quality red so I went with the waiter’s indication of Mauro, a Temprenillo/Syrah blend for €34 which did a fine job  (A).

20130623_205012Traditionally lamb is eaten just with a simple Ensalada, here made with top quality tomatoes, lettuce and onions (why aren’t our ‘Spanish’ onions as white and tasty as these?), which was great (A-) but served ready dressed and salted and swimming in the requisite pool of water (both pet hates of  mine), as is usually the case in Spain, hence the minus.

I upsized with a large plate of tasty pale chips on the side (A).

20130623_213544And finally a slab of Tarta de Hojaldre de la Casa y Crema, or flaky puff pastry with vanilla cream (B), a shot of local firewater and a bowl of unnecessary sweet buns.

20130623_220207Once this done, I finished off the perfect meal in the bar with a balloon of Independencia brandy, a new one to me, and not bad at all (B+).

Total cost, €80.35, which is a lot, but you have to do these things sometimes.

Here is a link to a list of  top asadors in Castilla y Leon.

I stayed at the Hotel Juan de Austria at 108 Paseo de Zorrilla. The rooms are modern, the staff helpful and the breakfast is pretty comprehensive but it’s a fair walk to town (2o mins). There’s a bar downstairs where you can sit outside on the wide pavement.

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