FOOD BITES :: Casa Marcelo, Galicia, Spain
There may be no better way to relax after following the St. James Way to Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia, Spain, than to become acquainted with some of the better restaurants there. Galician cuisine (cocina gallega) is widely known for its simplicity and excellence, with a strong emphasis on seafood, especially octopus and cod. Since both of them are among my favorite foods, and because they were often paired with my favorite wines, Ribeiro and Albari?o, I found myself quite at home in Northern, or 'Green" Spain. One restaurant, Casa Marcelo, is an excellent example of why.
Marcelo Tejedor’s Michelin starred Casa Marcelo
A short block down the hill from the entrance of the Cathedral of Saint James is an unassuming but tidy little restaurant called Casa Marcelo. Chef and owner of this Michelin starred restaurant, Marcelo Tejedor, is a creative and imaginative master of cuisine. He believes the purity of the food should be featured rather than many of the noveau "tricks" that can be found in other restaurants. After we were introduced and I explained that I wanted to ’shadow’ him in his kitchen, he said "my kitchen is your kitchen" and opened his arms to welcome me. That was the beginning of a fabulous evening featuring one incredible meal!
Galicia’s local white wine, Albari?o
Chef Marcelo features local ingredients prominently in his cooking. Mushrooms are plentiful in the moist climate of Galicia, where it rains more than anywhere else in Spain, so naturally they appeared several times in the course of the evening’s meal. He doesn’t believe in a menu, just serves what he feels like cooking from the freshest ingredients he can find in the market each day. Our table was set with an appetizer to share, a local specialty, mushrooms, served raw, sliced in a pile on a small plate with a ramekin of a roasted garlic and olive oil dip.
This fabulously simple treat was served with the burst-in-your-mouth boldness of Galicia’s local white wine, Albari?o (Pazo). I’m always checking to see if this wine has bubbles, because that’s what it feels like as it tingles my taste buds. Its flowery citrus bouquet, not too sweet taste, and long finish goes perfectly with seafood.
Our first course was seemingly a plain tomato, drizzled with oil and sprinkled with a course salt. (Here is the only place Chef Marcelo strayed from his "use local" theme. He finished many dishes with salt from Portugal, England and elsewhere, but never with Spanish salt. However, that may have changed since it was pointed out to him. A small matter... pay it no mind.)
The tomatoes looked identical in their red perfection, sitting lonely in a pool of Spanish olive oil on a big white plate. The delightful surprise here was that they were cored from beneath, with a frozen essence of tomato packed into the cavity, and a dressing reminiscent of Russian, forced in after it. The result was a burst of cold and room temperature ripe tomato, mellowed with dressing and cushioned with oil, with a sharp tang of salt to focus my attention. A little fussy, but fun and delicious.
Risotto & Sea Urchins
The whole meal was a series of little courses like this. Between them I photographed the preparation in the fully open kitchen, then raced (carefully - the floor was slippery when wet) back to my seat to photograph the finished product and taste the exquisite perfection of the dish. In this way I got a good workout as Chef Marcelo prepared one delight after another!
White Local Mushroom Soup
Next was a bowl of liquidy risotto in a sea urchin sauce. It was my first taste of sea urchin, smooth and rich, redolent of the nearby ocean. Next, a course of mushroom soup required a new name, or rather, nothing called mushroom soup will ever be worthy of the name after tasting it. Forget calling it a soup. Small, narrowly conical white local mushrooms were lightly saut?ed whole in butter and served in just enough creamy mushroom broth to showcase their fantastic flavor.
Humorous ’Breakfast’ Course
The next course was ’breakfast.’ A two inch length of what looked like a leek, but was actually potatoes and leeks held together with toothpicks, was deep fried, then topped with crispy lard and drizzled with fresh-from-the-hen egg yolk to create the taste of bacon, eggs and home fries - simply outrageous! He next took a serious turn, though, one I could not completely appreciate.
Beautiful Looking Scallops
I’ve served scallops when guests had to ask if they were fully cooked, and I like them like that. However, the next course was three raw scallops, with a green seaweed sauce, decorated with a line of balsamic vinegar, whole fresh tarragon leaves, two sprouts, tiny dollops of sea urchin eggs, and a curly ribbon of chives. It was beautiful to look at- its perfect composition defying the destruction eating would cause. The flavor was fine, but the consistency, raw in my mouth, kept me from eating the third scallop. (Some days I’m just a whuss.)
Fortunately, the hake course that followed was cooked to perfection. This womderful white fish was served so simply, on a dollop of garlic sauce with just a light, thin green pepper broth, nearly naked on the plate, clearly showing Chef Marcelo’s Galician roots.
Thousand Leaf Pastry
We changed wines here. A sweeter, more subtle white- Muscatel (Monte Cristo)- was poured to accompany dessert. While the Albari?o could stand alone, this needed food to bring out its flavor. Dessert was an artful construction called Pastelito de mil hojas, which translates to "thousand leaf pastry." It went perfectly with the wine.
Three layers of simply sweet phyllo pastry sandwiched a vanilla cream filling that was piped onto the flaky lower crusts before a top crust was laid on, and the whole dusted with powered sugar. It was a decadent, sweet and fitting end to an incredible dinner.
Clean & Pristine Kitchen
I mentioned slippery floors before. In fact, they were tile floors that were cleaned as many times as I entered the kitchen. The kitchen was amazingly clean. I was all over it while dinner was being cooked and served. A hose stretched across a side room, where the fish was cleaned, and soapy water was constantly being rinsed and mopped.
As they were used, every dish and tasting spoon was washed. I was very impressed with the cleanliness of the kitchen, and, trust me, I’ve been in a lot of kitchens. This was the cleanest. Chef Marcelo runs a very tight, pristine kitchen. The fact that he also cooks up a storm makes this restaurant an important stop on any food pilgrimage.
Slightly expensive (more than 40 Euros for dinner), but worth it!