Early in January I visited Cantabria, Spain and I was lucky to have lunch at El Serbal, a restaurant in the city of Santander. The restaurant is on the ground floor of an nondescript appartment complex in the center of the city.
I opted for the tasting menu paired with wines.
The amuse bouche was a fishball. I could taste the sea, but I would have liked a bit of acidity to break the saltiness and sweetness of the ball.
The first dish on the menu was a fish stew called “suquet”. As I read in “Spanish Recipes”:
Suquet is the diminutive form of suc, or ‘juice’, in Catalan, which meansthat this wonderfully flavored dish is more correctly called juicy fish stew. The fish and shellfish used vary from cook to cook, and so does the amount of liquid – in fact, some people call this a stew, while others call it a soup – but saffron and almonds are typically part of the mix. – See more at: http://www.spain-recipes.com/suquet.html#sthash.WIbIv7o1.dpuf
It was very light, tasty, and I particularly enjoyed the prawn’s head, the best proof of the freshness of the ingredient. The seaweed was not prominent, and I confess I would have liked its presence to be more emphatic.
The second dish was a deconstructed local stew of the mountains.
Cocido montañés is a delicious combination of beans, greens and compango, a mix of pork fat, chorizo, ribs and black pudding from the matacíu del chon (pig butchering), accompanied by breadcrumbs, egg and other meats.
As you can see there were in the middle one piece of black pudding, one piece of pork fat, and pork belly. On the left you can see the chorizo churro, a piece of deep fried chorizo sausage. On the right is a rather awkwardly placed green bean tempura.
I have never tasted the proper stew, so I cannot relate it to the deconstructed. All the pieces were tasty, the supreme being the chorizo and the fat. The black pudding was too small apiece, and rather dry, whereas the pork belly was rather bland.
Sauteed mushrooms picked in the forests of the nearby mountains. Absolutely delicious! Superb ingredient, cooked with respect and care so that the natural flavors are not overpowered by the seasoning and dressing of the dish.
The catch of the day was merluza. Perfectly cooked, accompanied by some tasty bits and pieces which I now forget.
The Iberian pork shoulder was melting in the mouth. It was served on a bed of cous cous dressed in teriyaki sauce. Japan rules! Splendid simplicity, and taste to the full!
The first desert was caramelized torrija made from brioche. Torrija is a traditional “sweet” in Spain, made form stale white bread. The up market dish that I tasted was made with brioche, not exactly stale white bread, and it was absolutely delicious! I could taste the butter, I could see the caramelized sugar, I could smell the eggs of the brioche.
The nougat pie with ice cream that followed was nice, but I found the pastry a bit tough. It lacked the flaky delicate texture that I would have preferred. The ice cream though was faultless.
The coffee was served accompanied by a chocolate tray. The concoction in the small container was delicious! The trufflw did not drive me crazy, but one cannot have it all!
I went away around 5 o’clock in the afternoon, and realized that although I had been in Santander for three hours only, I already liked the place. Thank you El Serbal! Thank you Rafael!