Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Chef's Dinner at Casa Pedro in San Juan de Parres, Spain - the Sequel!

Are you familiar with the concept of the “sophomore slump?” This happens when a sports team, a rookie athlete, an author, a film writer or countless other examples so thoroughly impresses the world upon with their debut performance in their respective field (their “freshman debut”), that they create on-going expectations that may be too high to achieve.  Think of M. Night Shyamalan, the director of the movie Sixth Sense. A film with a fantastic twist ending that pleased thousands upon thousands of movie goers, but set up the expectation that future films would not only meet the overall quality and huge surprise ending, but surpass it.  Sadly, often the expectations created are not reachable – and you have your sophomore slump.  These slumps obviously happen quite often, but there is also the concept where the higher expectations are met and even exceeded…and this is what we experienced during our second special Chef’s menu at Casa Pedro in San Juan de Parres, Spain.

My readers may recall that in A Great Gourmet Surprise - Chef's Dinner at Casa Pedro in San Juan de Parres, Asturias, Spain I described how Wino4Life Wife and I first met the Chef and his family who own and operate Casa Pedro.  A “Great Gourmet Surprise” was an understatement for that meal, and to this day it remains one of our very best foodie memories.   Naturally, when we returned the next time for a visit to Asturias – such a beautiful part of Spain – we not only dined at Casa Pedro on a regular basis for their wonderful daily offerings, but asked (OK, begged a little) if Chef Christian would be willing to prepare us another special menu. Luckily he agreed, and one night with great memories of our first encounter with Chef’s special menu, we strolled the short distance from our rental apartment to Casa Pedro. To say our expectations were huge is an understatement. So…, did we experience any signs of a sophomore slump from impossibly high expectations??? Read on to find out…
Our first Chef’s Dinner at Casa Pedro was very much about the great food. Don't get me wrong - of course there was wine and in fact it was at this dinner we were first introduced to Bai Gorri wines from the Basque part of the Rioja wine region. A great wine and a winery that we visited and very much enjoyed on our most recent trip to Spain. This time, food was still obviously a big part of the experience, but happily the wine played even a bigger role.  

Aroa is Chef Christian’s sister, and is responsible for choosing the wine served at Casa Pedro. Throughout our stay we were able to taste many different wines from different parts of Spain. We were also able to share some of our favorites including Praetorian, a wine from ONX winery in Paso Robles that includes Spanish varietals such as Tempranillo is some of its blends.  

Before the big day, Aroa helped us pick out  some wines for our meal based on the tasting we had done earlier, so we were greeted with bottle number one ready to go.  

The first wine Aroa recommended was a 2009 Emilio Moro Malleolus. A Ribera Del Duero wine made from Tempranillo grapes, just like Rioja. Ribera Del Duero wines tend to be more concentrated, fully bodied, and dare I say "New World" than most Rioja wines.  This wine... WOW!  Red cherries, herbs, vanilla, even a little bit of earth - all wrapped in a blanket of beautiful acidity nicely balanced with a good amount of tannin.  Great, long finish...this beauty got the night off to an excellent start.

Alright, wine has been poured and we brought our appetites with us, so...... I believe we are ready…let’s eat!!!  Below is a dish by dish description of our Chef's Dinner the Sequel! 

Aperitivo - Fish Mousse in a Savory Cone.  Our meal started with a very nice amuse bouche served in a specialized holder that reminded me of those used by Alinea and Next Restaurants in Chicago. Very delicate in flavor and very delicious.
Cebiche de Chicharro con Guacamole a Modo de Ensalada - Ceviche of Mackerel with Guacamole and Salad.  What? Fish and guacamole?  That's right - and what a surprisingly wonderful combination. The tenderness of the fish, creaminess of the guacamole, and freshness added by the micro greens garnish created a delicious bite - that paired wonderfully with our very concentrated red wine.  The optional dot of Sriracha sauce added  a spicy element that lifted the flavor even further. 
Yogur de Bacalao y Setas - Yogurt of Salt Cod and Mushrooms.  I am very much a fan of red meat, and most of the proteins I cook and entrees I order are red meat. Dishes like this one will turn me into a fish eater.  The earthiness of the mushrooms provided a nice contrast to the Cod. The layered presentation allowed me to taste the components separately, but then mix everything to get the full effect of flavor.
Croquetas Cremas de jamón y Gamonéu - Creamy Croquettes with Iberico Ham and Gamaneo Cheese.  Gamaneo is a Spanish blue cheese from Asturias - that although it can be difficult to find a good one - when you find a good one it is sublime.  A nice personal touch to include these - as they are one of my absolute favorites from the Casa Pedro menu.  And the blue cheese flavor with the fruitiness of the wine was a stellar pairing. 
Cocochas de Bacalao en Pil Pil de Tomate Ecológico - Salt Cod Cheeks in a Pil Pil (Basque) Sauce of Organic Tomatoes. First we had fish and Guacamole, and now fish with a tomato sauce? Pil Pil is a Basque sauce that is typically made with the oil the fish is cooked in, with chilis and garlic added. The acidity of the Tomatoes in the Pil Pil cut nicely through the rich (but delicate) taste of the Cod cheeks. I am now officially a Cod cheek fan... who would have guessed? 
Huevo a 70 Grados con Boletus Salteado y Espuma de Patata Trufada - Egg Sous Vide at 70 degrees Celcius (158 F) with Sauteed Porcini Mushrooms and Espuma of Truffled Potato. Having recently joined the Sous Vide fan club, I was very happy to see this dish which included an egg cooked by Sous Vide.  In my opinion, the absolute best way to cook an egg! One of my favorite dishes from our first dinner was the truffled egg yolk dish.  This dish took the concept of that dish and added a whole other level of sophistication. All the creaminess of the dish from dinner #1, plus the earthy element of the mushrooms, and the beautiful presentation.
Cigala Asada y Noddels Salteados con Ajo, Lima y Juego de Carne - Roasted Langoustine and Sauteed Noodles with Garlic, Lime and a Meat Sauce.  The creativity of this dish is as high as any dish I've had in the world, and I've been lucky enough to dine at quite a few establishments sporting Michelin stars. Tender, sweet, delicious Langoustine meat, with pasta - all stuffed back into the Langoustine shell.  The intensity of flavor of the pasta meant only a little was needed, and the proportions were perfect.  I used the term "Meat Sauce" in the English translation of the dish's name - but more literally the translation is "Juice of Meat."  Again just a touch of the "Juice" to add flavor but not overpower the protein.  This dish was a definite contender for my favorite dish in a meal where I thoroughly enjoyed everything.
Nothing Sadder than an Empty Wine Glass! At this point, we needed more wine! Aroa's suggestion was from the Canary Islands and a blend of mostly Listan Negro and a touch of Tintilla, two grapes that are found mostly on the Islands.  Wine has actually been made on the Canary Islands for over 500 years - but their wines are not easy to find outside of Spain.  These wines are fermented in cement vats, and then only part of the wine used in the final blend is aged in used oak barrels. The result - a very fruity, floral wine with a touch of a mineral finish (from the concrete vats? not sure).  I was very pleased with this suggestion, as anywhere else I may have given a pass on Canary Island wines, assuming they would be over-ripe warm weather wines (the Islands are quite a bit south and west of mainland Spain).  OK, glasses are full again (and this wino was starting to get full of great food as well) - let's continue!
 Bonito con Ajo Blanco y Ajo Negro - Bonito Tuna with White and Black Garlic.  Just like I love a daring wine pairing, I also love a dish that can also be considered daring. A beautifully cooked piece of Bonito Tuna flanked by two sauces - a delightfully garlicky and creamy white garlic sauce, and now the daring part... a sauce made with black garlic. Black garlic isn't a different type of garlic - it is regular garlic that has gone through a fermenting process.  The process intensifies the flavor and adds an almost molasses like component with garlic notes, but none of the bitterness  of raw garlic. It must be used sparingly, especially in a fish dish. Using just a touch gave the Tuna a whole different flavor profile and the sweetness of the garlic reacted nicely with the fruity notes of the wine.  Plus a beautiful monochrome meets color presentation...excellent!
Carre Crocante de Cordero Xaldu Asado con Miel, sus Mollejas Salteadas y Crema Gratinada de Pregondón - Locally Raised Lamb Chops with Honey, Sautéed Lamb Sweetbreads and a Goat Cheese Sauce.  The portion size of this dish was thankfully small for this dinner, but I would be quite happy to come back another day for buckets full of both these deliciously spiced lamb chops, and the sweetbreads. Pregondón is not a cheese I am familiar with, but the acidity of the cheese provided a welcome contrast to the rich sweetbreads and wonderfully fatty ribs.
 Panceta a Baja Temperatura con Jugo de Sriracha y Parmentiere de Setas - Pancetta Cooked at Low Temperature (Sous Vide) with Sriracha Sauce and Potato Puree with Mushrooms. A day with a little pork belly is a good day. This beautiful cube of pork belly was a nice ending to the savory part of our dinner. The slow cooking rendered the taste of the pork fat into the meat, leaving it juicy and delicious.
Brownies con Fresas a 65 Grados, Ron y Regaliz - Brownies with Sous Vide Strawberries, Rum, and Licorice. Sous Vide dessert? This is something I have to try.  A wonderful, lightly sweet end to an epic meal. The cooked strawberries disintegrated in my mouth to provide a wonderful sauce for the brownie.  Add rum and licorice and I am a happy wino. I often forgo dessert for an after dinner cocktail - but this is one dessert I'm would trade that cocktail for every time!
The Wrap Up. Sophomore slump??? No way - quite the opposite in fact!!! The level of sophistication and creativity in the dishes we enjoyed showed us a Chef applying a healthy dose of both technique and creativity.  I didn’t think about it during our first Chef’s dinner – but what a challenge to cook for a couple from another country (although my wife is Spanish through and through) who you have just recently met.  I felt that in this second menu, the Chef was showing us that he felt a bit more comfortable in going some different directions, and really let his creativity show through.  Also the inclusion of very personal touches such as two dishes cooked using Sous Vide, a cooking method that Chef Christian knew I use quite a bit made this wonderful meal even more special.

The additional element of wines being selected for our meal based tasting various wines throughout our stay with Aroa added an additional wonderful, and very personal element to the meal.  My recommendations remain unchanged from my first posting – if you visit Spain (and you should), visit Asturias, the beauty of this part of the country is matched only by the hospitality of the people you will meet there.  When you visit Asturias, make the trip to the little village of San Juan de Parres to eat at Casa Pedro. If you want classic Spanish dishes of the area, you will find them there. If you want to try some examples of creativity and technique you wouldn’t expect in a restaurant like this – go a bit deeper in the menu beyond the classics.  If you want the biggest reward – ask about a Chef’s menu of your own. I can’t guarantee they’ll be able to honor every request, but if you are lucky enough to arrange a special dinner – I expect you will be very pleasantly surprised as we were.  We won’t be returning to Spain until 2016, but you can bet that we will be ready for round three with food from Chef Christian and wine recommendations from Aroa. I only hope they will be able to make time to prepare a meal for us – because I don’t think the secret of the kind of food you can get in the little village of San Juan de Parres in Asturias will stay a secret for long!

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