Food: avant-garde reinterpretations of traditional food from La Rioja
Address: Calle Padre Jose Garcia, 19, 26280 Ezcaray – La Rioja, Spain
Phone Number: +34 941 354 047
Guide Michelin: 2 stars
What I paid: 299 € (tasting menu for two persons including water and wine-pairing)
Visited: June 4, 2014
El Portal de Echaurren is one of two main restaurants run by the Echaurren
family and is also the first in Rioja to get a star in Guide Michelin. The other
restaurant is named echaurren la tradición and is headed by mother Marisa
Sánchez and is, as the name implies, a more traditional one in comparison to the
more creative El Portal where son Francis Paniego is the head chef. Both
restaurants share the same kitchen. There is also a bistro named bistrot comilón
and a Tapas gastro-bar.
Now (in 2014) El Portal has achieved its second star and there are also a couple of
other restaurants in Rioja that have one star (e.g. the Marqués de Riscal Restaurant
where Francis Paniego is the gastronomic consultant).
Apart from the restaurants there is also the excellent Hotel Echaurren (where we stayed).
Echaurren is located in a small village named Ezcaray in the southern part of the Rioja region surrounded by mountains.
At present time (i.e. beginning of June, 2014) El Portal had three tasting menus to choose from, of which one is called “Menu 2013, Exploring the Valley”. As the name suggests, this menu is kept from 2013 and this because the 2014 menu is based on tripe and offal, which may not suit everyone to the same extent as the 2013 tasting menu.
We decided to have the “Exploring the Valley” menu (i.e. the 2013 one) that is inspired by the sensations produced within the ten kilometers of nature that surround Echaurren and everything that you can experience during a life in Ezcaray (the village where the restaurant is located).
Menu 2013, Exploring the Valley
During the months of January and February the pruning of vines takes place in La Rioja. The branches of the vine shoots are kept to create the typical sheaves used to make the traditional chops grilled in vine shoots during the summer. Others are burnt in fires to make vegetable coal. Restaurant El Portal wanted to recreate this idea with this aperitif (that actually consists of cheesy breadsticks).
These “black olives” were in reality cheese and anchovy balls in virgin olive oil.
This aperitif of classical Echaurren croquettes are from a recipe by Francis Paniego’s mother.
SMOKED BREAD, ash and a piece of Tondeluna.
Goat´s cheese butter; María and Goyo, the artisans who make Tondeluna cheese, bring this to the restaurant every week. For this menu El Portal asked them to make goat´s cheese butter which is served on a grilled toast with grated truffle.
In the Mountain
FRESH HERBS, or eating a mountain meadow.
At the bottom is a sheep´s cheese cream, on it frozen foie-gras powder, dressed in the same way as a steak tartare, powder of fresh herbs and around it, on the outside, smoked sheep’s cheese foam. “A breath of fresh air from a high mountain meadow”.
WOOL, a small tribute to the textile tradition of Ezcaray.
Bordelaise-style lamb sweetbreads with sautéed green asparagus tips, fried artichokes and a sweet touch of candy floss on chive mash.
THE FRESH WATER FISH, that dreamed of the sea.
1.5 kg trout raised in captivity, but fed naturally, which is why they lack the typical salmon color of farmed trout. El Portal clean the fillets well and cure them for two hours in salt and sugar in a ratio of 80 to 20%, then season them with Bolete mushrooms, rocket, seaweed, Wakame seaweed and Serrano ham. Served with avocado mayonnaise and fresh yoghurt, cucumber and a mint soup.
UNDER A BLANKET OF DRY LEAVES, recreating a walk through a beech forest.
Sautéed seasonal mushrooms, a sphere of chestnut soup, truffle, and a blanket of dry leaves, made of beetroot, cabbage, pumpkin, broccoli, rose petals and lollo lettuce, cooked in the traditional way and then dehydrated. Representing a stroll through an Ezcaray beech forest.
THE SEEDS, Crayfish, avocado, cherry, quinoa, and ajo blanco.
Wedges of cherry, avocado and pieces of crayfish around the edge of a quinoa center thickened with reduced crayfish juice and covered with ajo blanco (a popular Spanish cold soup) and a few drops of extra virgin olive oil. Reminiscent of a seafood stew on the palate.
GARLIC PRAWNS with an optical illusion.
Red prawns cooked in garlic and garnished with an imitation garlic glove, made from the juice of the heads of the prawns. The clove melts on the contact with the heat of the garlic prawns, giving them all the flavor of the heads.
Coming to the village
Barnacles, cockles, rock mussels, scallops and periwinkles, vacuum cooked so they keep their juices. El Portal serve them with the sour and blue potato varieties, both preserved in olive oil and lime, parsley sauce and seaweed.
On top of all this, you can see the raison d’être of this dish; edible fossils, made from seaweed and seafood broth. In Ezcaray, it´s very common to find small gastropod fossils in some areas of the nearby mountains. El Portal used this fact as an excuse and found inspiration in the land to create a cuisine they call “from the land, minus to soil”.
ROAST HAKE, on garlic potato mash with a slight touch of vanilla.
Line-caught hake roasted at 120C for 5 minutes, on potato mash, thickened pil pil style with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and a hint of vanilla.
GRILLED LAMB CHOPS
On a lamb juice base, some pieces of pepper charcoal, garlic mayonnaise and lamb chops smoked in vine shoots.
“GUIOTZA” SNOUT, and squid noodles.
To finish off a traditional stew; these are not just any snouts but exclusively pig snouts. Cooked like tripe, but without tomato or anything to make them spicy, so they’re not too strong. El Portal mix them with pear candled in white wine and lime sauce and serve them in the form of guiotza.
GRAPES UNDER ICE
A fresher first dessert. Fresh grapes lightly cooked in red wine, with a technique called impregnation and which enables the grapes to be impregnated with flavor of the wine while maintaining their structure as fresh fruit. Finished off with wine and red berries ice cream, all under a fake layer of ice.
On a grilled pineapple cream sits a nest of kataifi pastry and leek. On top of this, two eggs made of coconut cream, a sprinkling of soil and dulce de leche ice cream.
Olive oil macaroon, heather honey macaroon, financier, wine marshmallow, tempranillo and white wine sweet.
In summary: according to most people the best restaurant in La Rioja and I fully agree. For me, El Portal is easily on pair with most other famous top restaurant in the nearby Basque region (e.g. Arzak, Martin Berastagi, Mugaritz and Akelarre). A family restaurant with great hospitality, good service, excellent food and set in a nice area makes Echaurren a well-deserved visit!