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I neglected to report on the trip to northern Spain that I took with my partner late last year.
We had just under two weeks and, except for a one-night foray to the province of Leon in order to visit a restaurant near Astorga that has been touted for serving some of "the best steak in the world," we spent the visit entirely in Asturias, a region that now ranks up there with my favorites in Spain. I had previously dipped into the region for a brief stay in Cangas del Onis, in the foothills of the Picos de Europa, but I'd never pushed further than that, despite many trips to Spain over the last few decades.
Since I procrastinated so long, many of the details have vanished from my memory so I will try to put down a few thoughts gleaned from from what I can remember, scraps of restaurant bills, and from the very few notes that I made while there.
We spent four nights in Oviedo, so had three meals in the city, and one lunch outside the city at the marvelous Casa Gerardo.
CASA FERMIN. This was to be our first dinner in Asturias, at what I believe is the most famous restaurant in Oviedo. Happily since we ate here the first night and were wiped out from jet lag, the restaurant is located a couple of steps from our hotel, the NH. Even though I did lots of reading beforehand, I was totally surprised by our dinner here. I'd been expecting a traditional restaurant--all dark wood beams, whitewashed textured walls, terra cotta pots--something similar to Casa Ojeda which we had sampled a couple of time the year before in Burgos. Casa Fermin is nothing like what I'd imagined. It's located in the back of what looks like a sterile office building and although I did not notice any windows, the space is bright and airy, with good lighting and a cool contemporary look. More important, from the minute we entered until we said our last "Hasta Luegos," we were treated with such professionalism and warm hospitality that I imagined things could any go downhill from there. (Although I titled this "Food notes, in Brief," I was diligent in my note taking after this meal, since it was the first, and I had such good intentions to mark all details down so I could complete this report after returning home; unfortunately, the meals after this one will be a lot less heavy on the detail, for better or worse!)
The dining room was overseen by the wife (María Jesus Gil) of the owner/chef, Luis Alberto Martinez, who is very well respected in the Spanish food scene and, indeed, Fermin has two suns in the Guía Repsol. I wanted to try so many dishes, but we were counseled that we were about to order too much food, so we winnowed down our choices and in three cases, were able to order a half ración.
Amuse of a beet gazpacho topped by a sardine en escabeche.
1/2 order (media ración) of Croquetas de Jamón Iberico. 6.50 euro.
My partner orders croquetas in almost every restaurant we enter in Spain, but these were so far above the norm that we ended up using them as a benchmark for croquetas for the rest of the trip. No croquettes that we tried subsequently came close to the creamy deliciousness of these fried nuggets of bechamel and Iberian (not the usual serrano) ham. We would return just to try these, with a glass of wine! They might be some of the best in Spain.
Ostra escabechada. 4.50 euro.
One Large oyster in escabeche, served with seawater and passion fruit foam. Presented in an alabaster dish whose shape mirrored that of an oyster shell.
Taco de Salmon con yogur. 1/2 order…10 euro.
This dish is shown on the restaurant’s website. I had been puzzled by the word “taco,” which in Spain turns out to mean not a folded tortilla, but a finely cut square of protein (a chunk (??) in this case, a rectangle of smoked salmon from Norway. Apart from the gorgeous presentation, I would not say it was a terribly memorable dish although the salmon was first-rate.
Cigalas with leek cream. 1/2 order. 15. euro
Now THIS was a memorable dish. Two impeccably cooked prawns atop a bed of leek puree would prove to be another highlight of the trip.
For main courses, we chose:
Confit of Suckling pig (25 euro) which arrived beside a tangle of brik noodles dusted with ras al hanout.. Excellent!
Even better was the Asturian veal with potato and roast onions. (25 euro). I cannot say enough about the quality of the beef we sampled on this trip. I chuckle when I hear Americans pontificating about how beef in Europe is inferior to that of the US. Obviously they have never been to Asturias, or the Basque region!
I’ve never seen corn bread in Spain but sure enough, a dense and delicious sample arrived with our meal, and we would see bread made from a mix of corn and wheat flours at most of the eateries we visited over the course of the trip. (We saw piles of dried corn cobs inside the ubiquitous raised granaries, known as "hórreos" that are an integral and architecturally compelling fixture in the Asturian and Galician countryside).
With the meal, I drank the favorite Asturian tipple: Cider. (Although Asturias is sometimes incorrectly referred to as one of the only regions in Spain that does not grow olives or produce wine, we did see Asturian wine on a couple of menus, and I later learned that there is a pocket of eight wineries in the Cangas del Onis area. But I never did sample any Asturian wines, preferring the whites from Rueda and the reds from Ribiera del Duero, and with many meals I stuck to cider)
And for the finale, the dessert that shares the mantle of “best on trip;"
A sphere of decadently rich chocolate cake with sheep’s milk cuajada (milk curd) ice cream and poached pear that had me closing my eyes in ecstasy. We talked about this sweet confection for days afterward and almost all of our desserts consumed afterwards were inevitably, and unfavorably compared to this one. 7.50 euro
With bread, bottled water, and tax, the bill for a stellar dinner totalled 103 euro. The skylit dining room is sleek and contemporary and service was exceptional. If you eat one meal in Oviedo, I’d recommend that you take it at Casa Fermín.
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