brain farts...flotsam...driftwood...and meanderings on hedonistic endevours

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Dinner at Terete

...(this is a story from my trip to La Rioja, I just finished editing it!) enjoy...

Having to this point in my trip conserved my pennies; I decided that at least one night I was going to treat myself to decent meal at a nice restaurant. Every time I am traveling in Spain, I always take along my favorite travel guides, and they both agreed that when eating out in Haro the best bet was Asador Terete. An Asador is in someways the equivalent to a steak house in America but without the steak or potatoes. The Asadors all have wood fire ovens and specialize in the technique of slow roasting meats to create mouthwatering meals. My goal tonight was to try a local specialty of La Rioja, Cordero Asado; roasted suckling lamb.

Yes the same suckling sensation that I had tried in Segovia only this time with a small helpless lamb. Thank you mister lamb for your sacrifice and now back the story...

So, heading out at a reasonable 9pm, the restaurant located in the upper portion of the building did not have its lights on. Thinking that I at least wanted them to be prepared for dinner, I decided to do a quick walk around the city and then headed back. Still no lights. I started to think maybe tonight was not to be and that I might have to frequent one of the many other asador’s located throughout the heart of Haro. Though I wasn’t going to leave without at least asking and upon entering the first floor bar I was greeted by a man watching TV. Asking if I might eat something tonight, I received an enthusiastic, “Si, Si!” while he called up the stairs for someone to turn the lights on. What service! A whole restaurant opened on account of my hunger! Later on in the evening, I was to learn that it might have been better if they had shut the door then and there.

Walking into the room I was greeted by a young man in a nice sweater who made it clear I could sit where I pleased. Looking around, I saw that each wall was lined with butcher block style picnic tables and on each side sat a long narrow bench. So comfort was not what they were going for, hoping that money saved in interior design was put to a more important cause; like food.

After being seated, my server draped a checkered picnic blanket across my table and arranged a complete place setting on top. So far so good and as I scanned the menu I realized that I must make sure to order wisely or else I might just accidentally provide the funds for any future remolding. Quickly found the Cordero Asado and was not pleased to see it in a league of it’s own as far as price goes. Oh well, this one item coupled with wise choices elsewhere would not hurt the wallet too much and so I ordered: soup, lamb, wine, and dessert a simple menu and yet one fit for a king.

At this point, my solitary state was about to be interrupted. Bursting up the stairs came three individuals all tipping their heads to me with a “Hola, Buenos Noches” as is customary when you walk into the room. Replying, I acknowledged them and continued to wait further for my meal to makes its way to the table. Immediately, I knew I had a problem though with these new arrivals. Looking over towards the new arrivals cautiously, I noticed that the “henchman” or “money” for the dinner was a unique man of rather large stature. In and of itself, not a problem, but his voice which was loud and gruff was accompanied by a rather loud breathing problem. Somewhat I assume like an asthmatic buffalo grazing on the plains. Huff, wheeze, snort, huff…wheeeeeeze! Non-stop, and to say the very least incredibly irritating! This was also accompanied by random loud outbursts followed by loud sounds as the buffalo slapped at the portion of his female companion’s rear hanging over the inadequately off narrow bench. Without any music in the background, I resigned myself to the fact that for tonight this would be my ambiance!

By this point in the evening, I had been given a small plate of bread and wine; and while attempting to enjoy these I did my best to ignore my new companions who also chose one of the closer tables to me. But the calm was now over as the buffalo started to talk at a level that indicated he was hoping for my attention. Reluctantly looking over, I noticed him waving and between labored breaths, it appeared that he was trying to communicate something to me in his Span-uffalo language. Getting up, he approached my table, the whole time snorting while his voice grew louder.

I remember being told once that if a moose or for that matter a large buffalo charges you that you should remain calm and do not try to outrun it. Whether this is true or not I don’t know but I thought I would try out the theory! With fear guiding me, I tried my level headed best not to move or say anything. Pointing to my bread in a Clan of the Cave Bears sort of way, I realized that all this beast needed was some nourishment for his already enormous belly. Holding out the bread he feigned politeness and mentioned that only a little would be necessary until the feeding trough was properly situated in front of his table. So to end this encounter as quickly as possible, I quickly split the loaf and handed half to him where with muffled breathing and sounds of moist mastication he loped back to his table. Fortunately, I was able to limit this encounter to a one time event.

Soon after this small storm, I was brought a large serving bowl of soup accompanied by a bowl and ladle. Nice self service. I quickly dug in hoping to kill the most severe part of my hunger so that it didn’t interfere with the main course. The soup consisted of a light broth with small noodles that wouldn’t have surprised me if it had come out of a small bag marked CHICKEN FLAVOR across the front. I can’t in fairness complain as this was the cheapest appetizer on the menu and not one recommend by the waiter. I had hoped to have a vegetable stew that is native to the region but it was also priced a bit closer to the main course than I would have liked. Oh well, tasty and at least I wouldn’t have to worry about this course interfering with my enjoyment of what was to come.

As I was finishing up, the restaurant received the last set of guests for the evening, a party of four and fortunately, all polite and quiet. So with buffalo and party providing the ambience for the evening, I was ready to move on to the second course.

Simplicity is of the utmost importance in the preparation of certain items in Spain. Roasted lamb is one of these things, and at times, I long for the sprig of parsley that most patrons throw to the side if only to liven up the plate a bit. Before me sat a square white plate with a roasted leg, skin glistening with small rivulets of fat as they cascaded down into a pool of pale yellow water. Nothing more. At first I was a big disappointed by this, no flair, no plates slamming down to cut the leg from the rest of the animal, no flames, or dancing, just bones, meat and juices. Let me explain the process of cooking a lamb a bit as I have heard it told by others.

First, take a lamb still sucking from the teat and kill it then remove all wool and organs. Second, sprinkle with salt water and set in a ceramic crock. Third, sunburn said animal at high temperature in a wood fired oven. Fourth, slowly cook it to perfection at a slightly lower temperature till done. Finally, serve on a plate making sure to sprinkle the juices over the top and adorn with a salt shaker.

(gab start here)
Sound good? Well it is, once you get into it. Granted, I had come hoping to be amazed and at first, I was not. What I did feel, though, was that this was a very interesting and quite tasty dish, though nothing to write home about. On the other hand, I am now writing home about it and for good reason. As you delved deeper into the heart of the shank the meat became more sweet, tender and moist. I lingered at first trying to decide whether or not I liked it and found that as I went deeper into the flesh I was incapable of governing the rate of my consumption. Gentle pieces of sweet flesh melted in my mouth coating it with a decadent layer of milk fed fat, surrounded by crisp delicate skin creating a contrast that my mouth delighted in. To accompany this was a Crianza from La Rioja, a wine made by the same people who owned the restaurant. I wondered if the wine was made with the lamb somewhere in the back of the winemaker’s mind.

Terete, Reserva Especial 1999, Rioja, Haro
Deep purple w/only the slightest browning at the edge. Sour cherry nose with light black pepper. Med body with little in the way of tannins, and a nice acidity. Flavors of dried cherry, light leather, and dried fruit. This wine developed nicely over 2 hours and might still have continued to evolve if I had let it. 8euros

The dried fruit, leather and light black pepper all merged flawlessly with the delicate meat never overpowering the lambs delicate myriad flavors, rather the wine only helped to balance out the richness of the meat with a light spice and lush acidity.

Wheeze, snort, Hurmph, and what I hoped was not a “toot!!” erupted from the next table over, and I was quickly reminded of another reason not to linger too long on this treat. Was this dinner all that I hoped it would be? No, but it did show the potential and give me the desire to seek Cordero Asado out again. Maybe I will go with a group sometime so that the whole lamb could be shared and passed around, allowing everyone to experience the different cuts of meat. One such cut of meat I did decide to pass on this time was the lambs head. In the front display window of the restaurant, there was a peculiar platter set out for all to view. At first glance, I could tell it was meat, though of what part of the animal I was not sure. Upon further inspection, I realized that there were four lambs heads, split lengthwise arranged on a platter in a small circl,e curious I wondered if they were for show or for dining upon. When I looked at the menu later in the evening, I discovered that it was indeed for eating, and although I was not ready for this experience, I made sure to take note of it, while wondering in the back of mind how it might be prepared. Fortunately the second set of restaurant patrons answered this question for me. Looking up I saw presented to one of them both halves of the head with everything inside apparently roasted in the same way my meal was and with as much simplicity. Unfortunately I think that it may take more than a sprig of parsley to make this dish palatable for me, not so much for the taste or texture but rather the appearance!

At this point I was becoming surprisingly full, and I declined all but a small plate of strawberries and cream for an after dinner treat. Slowly enjoying the crisp light flavors of the berries after the richness of the lamb, I felt happy that I had been able to experience suckling lamb. Barring my company, the night had turned out to be a valuable experience and my only regret was not having had someone to share it with.

Leaving the restaurant I said goodbye to the same man still watching the TV and headed out in search of a café to help with my digestion. You see at the end of the meal I went to order a coffee and was told that they did not serve it! Confused I pondered the fact that coffee to this point had been served everywhere I went. It seemed sacrilegious not to have it. Why should a place where I can access the internet have coffee but a restaurant where I have a nice meal not? Oh well, Sipping my coffee I thought of all that I had seen today and tasted and I started to feel better. Not to mention at least the coffee was not interrupted by the occasional snort!

Till soon, Ryan


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I got my full complement of guffaws and belly laughs in today while reading your account of dinner (I am chuckling now just thinking about your description of the "buffalo".)

I have heard the sound you described and it is extremely distracting. One's heart goes out to individual's in that condition even though they probably were responsible in the first place. It obviously hasn't affected the man's appetite.

Speaking of which, I am salivating at your description of the suckling lamb's tender flesh and the interplay with the Rioja. It sounds like you pretty much inhaled the leg! Were you asked how you wanted it cooked, or did they just bring it out? How would you describe the level of doneness?

Very enjoyable reading. I do wish I had been there with you to experience it first-hand. Although it probably wouldn't have been as funny as your description.


4/28/2005 05:32:00 PM


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