Francis Paniego was born into a family whose heritage behind the stoves goes back several generations. He grew up among pots and pans, feasting on his mother’s croquetas which are supposedly one of the best in Spain. It came as no surprise when he decided to take up a career as a chef. He started along side his mother Marisa Sánchez but his creativity soon needed another showcase other than the family’s more traditional Tradición Restaurant. So, El Portal was born a place where Francis’s imagination could take off. In 2004 the first Michelin star was bestowed, making El Portal the first restaurant in La Rioja’s history to receive the prestigious star. After years of hard work, this year, 2014, they have the honor of obtaining the second star.
El Portal is an elegantly set restaurant right off the Hotel Echaurren’s lobby. An interesting wine selection accompanies the meal. Alex Hernández, the sumiller who has previously worked at Can Fabes and Atrio, is more than happy to help you choose a bottle(s) or offer a fun wine pairing. We opted for the wine pairing which we enjoyed.
The menu is given to you upon arrival. The eloquent description behind each dish gives you a mental description of what is about to come. We found the menu to be well-balanced and tasty. I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting to like it so much but it has turned out to be one of the best meals of the year. We had the tasting menu EXPERIENCIA – a trip around the valley. This is what we ate…
Sarmientos (vine shoots)- which are actually cheese breadsticks, the idea behind this aperitif is to reminiscence the wood sticks which feed summer grills.
Black Olives – cheese and anchovies spherical with extra virgin olive oil (I promise they aren’t real olives!!!)
Croquetas – the classic and much acclaimed croquetas
Smoke bread – delicious toast served with goat butter made weekly by María and Goyo, topped off with grated truffle
Smoked bread which was amazing, olive oil and a selection of salts accompany the entire meal
IN THE MOUNTAIN
Fresh grass, to eat a high mountain field – sheep cheese cream with frozen foie-gras dust sprinkled on top is herb dust and smoked sheep milk air
Wool – a tribute to Ezcaray’s wool textile tradition. The dish consists of a spring onions puree with baby lamb a la Bordelesa with asparagus tips, fried artichokes and cotton candy
The river fish who dreamt with the sea – trout cured during two hours in salt and sugar with boletus, rocket, algae and ham. On the side, an avocado mayonnaise and a fresh soup of yogurt, cucumber and mint
Under a canvas of dry leaves, reminiscing a walk down a beechwood path – mushrooms with a chestnut spherical and truffle over “leaves” made with dried beets, cabbage, pumpkin, broccoli and rose petals.
Prawns cooked in garlic – red prawns cooked in garlic served with a false garlic clove made with the juices of the prawn’s head. The clove melts when in contact with the sauce.
ARRIVING TO THE VILLAGE
Marine fossils, inspired in areas close to Ezcaray where you can find marine fossils – barnacles, cockles, mussels and zamburiñas (similar to scallop) slow cooked served with potatoes and algae. It is a beautiful dish!
Hake served with potato pil-pil with a slight touch of vanilla
Snout Gyoza served with baby squid tallarines – so sorry but I didn’t take a picture
Petit Fours – olive oil macaroon, Brezo honey macaroon, financier, wine marshmallow, tempranillo and white wine gum drops
The menu and the experience were excellent and highly recommendable. Thank you to Francis Paniego and to all his team for such a memorable dinner.
El Portal de Echaurren
19 Padre José García Street
Ezcaray – La Rioja
Telephone: 941 354 047