Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Travel Day! Today we begin our Asturias portion of our trip. We will be taking a short flight (1 hour) to Bilbao, renting a car and heading West. Janel and Dario have planned the entire 5 day trip and I plan to enjoy being told where to go and what to do!
We arrive in Bilbao and hit the ground running. A restaurant reservation has already been made for lunch. Janel tells us that we will be living the rustic life for this portion of the trip. We love it and are prepared for “peasant food” and modest accommodations. When we pull up at the gorgeous restaurant Azurmendi we realize that she may have stretched the truth just a little bit.
However, the 3 Michelin-starred Azurmendi is actually up the hill and we will be taking lunch at it’s equally beautiful little brother – Prêt à Porter Restaurant. This is basically a place where the chef (Eneko Atxa),”seeks to break barriers, to interact with clients by creating haute cuisine, to be enjoyed daily in a relaxed atmosphere.”
There is a set menu and the price for the gourmet offerings is not commesurate with the place or the food – it is only 35 euro for the SIX course lunch!
There are no choices to make – it is a set menu (we like that). The only thing we have to choose is the wine. Dario makes an excellent selection of Txacoli, a wonderful white from the Basque region. We settle in.
When it is time for postre (dessert) we are ushered over to the postre display and we all make different selections. To be fair, none of the ones we picked were standouts. They were all ok, just not great.
This restaurant was a great start to our Asturias adventure (even though we are technically not yet in Asturias…) Time to move on down the road. But first a selfie is in order:
Then taking a cue from Dario Sr (you may recall his selfie from the Meet the Parents day) we decide to take another selfie and do what will beaffectionately known from now on as “pulling a Dario”
A brief stop in Bilbao is a must. The famous Guggenheim Museum is the centerpoint there and should not be missed even if you don’t get to go in.
We wander completely around the awesome building snapping photos.
There is an iconic puppy made entirely of flowers and it is irresistable:
I definitely want to return in the future and actually enter the Guggenheim. But for now we have places to go and things to see. Our next stop is in the lovely town of Santander. The beach is huge and busy. A nice, long stroll is in order here.
We pull ourselves away and drive to our stop for the night in Santillana del Mar. Santillana del Mar is an exquisite little village with narrow cobblestone streets and plenty of Spanish charm. When Dario turns our car down the narrowest street in search of our hotel, we decide that this car is the first one that has been down this street in 300 years. We aren’t even sure that we are supposed to be driving on it! But, Dario manages to pull up exactly at the front door of our hotel – Casa del Marques. This place is magical!
All this and we haven’t even seen our room yet.
It is already after 9:00 and we plan to wander town looking for where we want to have dinner. I snap a few more pics before we venture out.
The village is beautiful in the evening light. We stroll from place to place to pick out just the perfect restaurant for tonight.
None of us is sure what we feel like eating until we spy this bad boy in a restaurant window:
That huge hunk of meat is what is known as a Chuleton. Think of the biggest Tbone steak you have ever seen and then quadruple that. One of the products the Asturias are known for is their meat and this is a fantastic example. I think we all decide on the spot that this is what we want for dinner. However, in fairness to all the other cool spots in town, we continue to peruse our choices.
Of course we end up at Restaurante Los Blasones where we first spotted the beast.
The restaurant is low-key and perfect for tonight. A bottle of Sidra (a traditional drink made of locally grown apples) appears on our table and Dario demonstrates the pouring technique. You have to pour it from a height so that it agitates. Then, you only pour a slight amount because you should drink it right away while it is still fizzy.
Janel gets in on the action:
Just reading the menu has us all salivating. We end up with a tuna and tomato salad to start and when those plates were whisked away we were given a couple of utensils in which to use on our seafood course. This could be good…
The seafood platter arrives and it is a thing of beauty. Dario explains that the bright red “shrimp” (carabineros) are very special and he is so right. They were one of the best seafood-y things I have ever had. (yes, we sucked the heads)
After polishing off the seafood, we eagerly awaited our Chuleton. This thing was crazy. We are given a little burner with a sizzling hot griddle on it. Then the server puts down the largest plate of delicious looking steak that you can imagine. It is cut into slices and has been slightly seared, but not cooked through. She takes a piece of beef tallow and rooms it around on the griddle, then places 4 pieces of steak down. She hands the tongs to Dario and walks away.
The idea is that everyone gets to have their steak done exactly as they wish. Dario is in charge of the cooking and does a fabulous job. As he puts our pieces on our plates we have only one condiment at our disposal – coarse ground sea salt. We sprinkle and eat. OMG!
Wow. The chuleton is awesome. What a fantastic experience. Rich and I are thinking it could potentially go over big in the US. What do you think?
In the name of researching foods of Asturias, we opt for a small piece of Quesada for dessert. Quesada is a traditional Asturian treat made from goat milk or fresh cheese – similar to cheesecake, but lighter. It is, of course, amazing. Do they make any bad food in Asturias?
If this is what life is like in Asturias, I think we are going to get along just fine.