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I Want to Eat Spain in Spain

Chef Gina Stipo teaches Eric and A.W. how to make pici pasta.
Chef Gina Stipo teaches Eric and A.W. how to make biscotti.

Almost two years ago, I took a group of friends to Italy to learn how to cook Italian food at Ecco La Cucina just outside of Siena. Yes, we learned how to cook, but, more importantly, we learned how to eat. We traveled to small pig farms, saffron fields, and other artisanal businesses. We all went into shock when we came back to Dallas and tried to find real Tuscan food. (Thus the inspiration for the menu of the SideDish Supper Club on Thursday. Join us!)

Anywhoo, now we want to eat our way across Spain. I’ve spent time in Barcelona but nowhere else. Anyone out there care to suggest an eating itinerary? Kent Rathbun took a group last spring and I looked at his itinerary, but I’d prefer to mix in smaller producers and restaurants with the obvious big deal spots. (Has anyone tried Rathbun’s new Spanish menu at Abacus?) Today is deadline day at the magazine, so you can expect me to be here on the blog doing what I do best.  And looking back at our Italy pictures. And planning another escape.

12 comments on “I Want to Eat Spain in Spain

  1. See if you can get hold of Anthony Bourdain’s recent episode on northern Spain from the Travel Channel. He was totally blown away by the place (which did not include El Bulli!) decribing it as the pace setting culinary area of the world.

  2. I lived in Spain for a while and have also visited a number of occasions and definitely recommend it.

    I think that anywhere you go in Spain you’re going to find great food and wine. However, I’d definitely recommend you guys going to the following regions and their corresponding cities: El Pais Vasco (San Sebastian, Vittoria, Bilbao), Valencia (Valencia), Rioja (Haro) and Andalucía (Cordoba, Sevilla, Malaga, Granada).

    I can’t recommend specific restaurants but you can certainly find excellent restaurants in all regions. There are a lot of regional guides that offer great recommendations on restaurants.

  3. I would highly recommend a visit to La Rioja and a thorough exploration of the wine and food to be found in its small villages and towns (Laguardia, Haro, Elciego, etc.). Francis Paniego’s innovative interpretations of traditional fare, at Echaurren Restaurante in the small town of Ezcaray, are pretty fantastic. Many of your readers might like the Frank Gehry-designed hotel in Elciego, but my preference is the smaller and significantly less expensive Hotel Villa de Abalos, with an outstanding restaurant (gotta love platters of jamon iberico for breakfast) and with its outstanding own wine bottlings. The NY Times just had a great piece on Haro’s oldest winery, Lopez de Heredia, which is well worth a visit. A tapas crawl in the regional capital, Logrono, is also a must for excellent garlic mushrooms, patatas bravas, skewered pork and 50-cent vino joven.

  4. Similar to what Worzel suggeted… I would recommend Jose Andres’s series on PBS. Very informative regarding regions and local fare… The other PBS series with Batali, & Paltrow not so much.

  5. I spent a week in Madrid a few years ago, so I am not an expert, but I would definitely suggest Casa Mingo. The long, wooden tables are perfect for cozying up to fellow diners/strangers and enjoying a shared food experience. The only things on the menu are roasted chicken, cheese, chorizo, maybe some olives, but they do everything to perfection (and serve it with hard cider – fresh, simple and dangerous!)

  6. All of the suggestions above are good ones, but unless you and your friends have unlimited time and budget, I highly recommend that you concentrate on just one of the cultural/culinary regions. “Eating your way across Spain” could take years!

    Though united in some ways, Spain is more like 10 or 12 autonomous countries, with ethnicities ranging from Celtic in the northwest to Moorish in the south. The foods and wines are equally — or more — diverse, and each region has its own specialties.

    So pick which one you want to explore this time, and concentrate on that area. Once you’ve done that, I think you will get much more focused recommendations.

  7. I second Kirk’s suggestion and perhaps you could start with the Basque Country. It is the unofficial gastronomic capital of planet earth and you can learn bomb-making between cooking classes.

    You will also acquire a newfound respect for the letter ‘X’.

    You can also get into Frank Gehry’s mind at the Guggenheim at Bilbao. They also have their Calatrava complete ahead of Dallas.

  8. The Basque Country would be my pick, too, but great food can be found in almost every region of Spain.

    The letter “X” inspires great respect, but — here’s your trivia for the day — there is no letter “F” in words indigenous to the Basque language.

  9. I would focus on the Basque region also. Marmataka, for example, is rustic and wonderful. But there is a variety of sophisticated offerings as well.

    Stay in the Parador at Hondaribia for at least a night, swing by San Sebastian for lunch, and focus on Bilbao.

    It’s just a bit over an hour to get from Bilbao down to the Rioja (south, then a touch east to Haro, Logrono) region, so you could swing down for a glass of wine if you get thirsty.

  10. Duncan’s suggestions are good, although I would spend more time in San Sebastian (Donostia) than just one lunch. It is a beautiful city, with a number of fine restaurants.

    For general information about the region, start here: http://www.turismoa.euskadi.net/s11-18805/en

    If you hurry, you can make it to Octopus Day in Zumaia this Saturday.

    Re: “X” … it’s a frequently used consonant (pronounced like “sh” or “ch”) in the Basque language.

    It has nothing to do with paella. And I wouldn’t waste my time on paella in the Basque country; too many other great things to eat!