El Portal de Echaurren – 2 star michelin in La Rioja

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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…

PROLOGUE

Sarmientos (vine shoots)- which are actually cheese breadsticks, the idea behind this aperitif is to reminiscence the wood sticks which feed summer grills.

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Black Olives – cheese and anchovies spherical with extra virgin olive oil (I promise they aren’t real olives!!!)

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Croquetas – the classic and much acclaimed croquetas

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Smoke bread – delicious toast served with goat butter made weekly by María and Goyo, topped off with grated truffle

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Echaurren Tradition – five generations

Ezcaray is a small mountain town in the Spanish wine region of La Rioja. Although there are many vineyards and cellars close to the town, Ezcaray is actually better known as a ski town and it is especially known for its wool blankets serving world renowned brands such as Loewe. Honestly, this is a food blog but I must rave about their cashmere and mohair blankets which are a dream to roll up with on a cold winter’s day.

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Right next to the church Santa María La Mayor, pretty much in the center of the historic town you will find, Echaurren, which dates back to the late nineteenth century when Pedro Echaurren and Andrea García started their business and gradually it has become a part of La Rioja’s gastronomic history and this is partly thanks to Marisa Sánchez who has very skillfully, since 1957, alongside her husband, Felix Paniego, managed to make her restaurant Tradición a must-go-to place in the region. Her croquetas are legendary and according to many, are considered the best in Spain. I am not going to argue if they are or are not the best but I will say that they are exceptionally good with a very creamy interior.

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