I limited my top restaurant meals in January to three. Had I added a fourth and I easily could have, it would have been the august 45 year old Principe de Viana in Madrid. Set up as a meal for the foreign press and presenters after the first day of Madrid Fusión, we were treated to a set menu.
I arrived with my friend, Gerry Dawes, to find the restaurant quite crowded with not quite enough seats for everyone in the main dining room. Undaunted, Esmeralda Capel, one of the principals of the Congress herded a few of us (enough to fill a table) back down the stairs to a room with a bar just off the entrance. So after nibbling on some wonderful Jamon Iberico de Bellota from Pedroches upstairs, I joined Esmeralda, Gerry, David Chang, Kevin Pemoulie, Oscar Caballero and a few others at the downstairs table. Not that there would have been anything wrong had I or any of us stayed upstairs, but having our own little table off in its own private room was kind of fun.
Hors D'ouvres passed around along with the Pedroches ham included sinful croquetas, some with clams and others with jamón and veal. Croquetas are one of the most wonderful forms of Spanish comfort food that I can think of, hot, crisp on the outside and unctuous on the inside, all the while packed with flavor. These were extremely fine examples. I had never before had them with clams. I could have happily eaten just those all evening. In fact, I am getting hungry thinking about them now!
The region of Navarra is well known for a number of vegetables, two significant ones being cardoons and artichokes. Our first plated dish was a combination of cardoons, artichokes and marrow. The creamy sauce hid the marrow well, while it was festooned with tasty lardons. The overall dish was wonderful, offering perfectly cooked vegetables that held on to their individual personalities while blending together into a seamless whole.
cardoons, artichokes and marrow
The next dish was another standout. This, a pil-pil de pimientos del cristal con bacalao y yema de huevo, incorporated the vibrant pepper flavors and color with the gelatinous consistency of the pil-pil derived from the cod's special make-up in a clearly Basque dish. The egg yolk added additional depth and color.
pil-pil de pimientos del cristal con bacalao y yema de huevo
The main course, monita de cerdo rellena de carrillera or pig's foot stuffed with veal cheek, was a delightfully delicious and satisfying dish that tasted much better than it looked. It wasn't a bad looking dish.
monita de cerdo rellena de carrillera
The dinner was sponsored by the Navarran winery, Bodegas Julian Chivite. Various wines of theirs were paired with the various courses. We started with a crisp chardonnay, Colección 125 from 2006, moved on to a lovely garnacha rosado from the same Colección but from the 2005 vintage before progressing to their superb Pago de Arinzano from 2001. We finished with a dessert wine, their Colección 125 Vendimia Tardía Moscato from 2006. The wines paired very well with the food that we were served, neither standing above the food nor limiting it. They played like good food wines should.
Dessert consisted of some traditional Navarran specialties including crema frita, canutillo y mascarpone with mandarine. The fried cream was cinnaomony and decadent. The cornet (canutillo) reminded me a little of a cannolo, although the cream filling was decidedly different.
crema frita, canutillo y mascarpone with mandarine
The food was excellent, the wines lovely, the place elegant and the company superb. This was the end of a great first day at Madrid Fusión 2009.
Old World Service in the Main Dining Room
David Chang, Kevin Pemoulie, Gerry Dawes and Oscar Caballero
Our private dining room
Principe de Viana
Manuel de Falla, 5. (Madrid) Tel: 914 571 549.