Nights like this are ones that just need to be appreciated for the something special that they are. It is no exaggeration that Gerry Dawes, my friend, traveling companion and guide “knows and appreciates Spain more than all but a few Spaniards” let alone people from other countries. That statement came from our host for the evening, Benjamin Rodriguez Rodriguez, the proprietor of the humble appearing, but fully sensational El Rincon de Jabugo situated in the equally humble, but comfortable Gran Hostal San Segundo located just outside the historic walls of Avila near the San Vicente gate.
This was an evening in which we were tired (I had just arrived early that morning from NYC with my son, L.J.) and not particularly hungry after a superb and quite filling lunch at Mesón Candido in the equally atmospheric old central Spanish city of Segovia (I had visited both cities only once, forty years earlier during a school trip). On looking at the place, a first impression might be that it is a place where one might get a good meal, perhaps even very good one, but not a place where one could ever expect a transcendent meal, but that is exactly what we received.
One of the things that makes El Rincón special is that it is the home of a legendary master jamón cortador, Florencio (Flores) Sanchidrián, a man who cuts the sublime jamón Iberico de bellota with consummate expertise and unique, style. Flores started the evening by slicing us different parts of a previously uncut jamón Iberico de bellota from just outside Sevilla. He showed us that by varying the cut and where it came from that the jamón could provide seven distinct flavors. His style was one of grace, flair and showmanship. He is known as one of the world’s premiere cortadors and we could see why. The experience was one unlike any other that I have had and one that has never been exceeded in this regard.
If the evening had stopped there, it would still have been sublime and satisfying, but it didn’t. Flores and Benjamin sat down and ate with us sending out a variety of dishes.
Andalucian olives had been cured with salt, fresh pimentón de la vera peppers, garlic and other things to produce intensely flavorful olives.
Flores and Benjamin were proud of their tortilla with potatoes, onions and sunflower oil and justly so. It was perfectly executed and truly delicious.
Octopus tempura (we may have been in central Spain, but octopus is a cardinal Spanish seafood) was tender, hot and flavorful. It is a house specialty and it was marvelous.
Benjamin feels that winter tomatoes are tougher than summer tomatoes, so he skins them for a well-seasoned salad with onions and gorgeous olive oil. The departed skins may have been tough, but the tomatoes still held remarkable flavor.
House made potato chips put any packaged version to shame. These were addictive.
Lechon a la brasa was amazing. These tiny ribs had been grilled and were served hot and nasty. I had many. These were revelatory.
Of course we couldn’t leave without trying their cochinillo and it too was nothing short of spectacular. I was in heaven.
The heavenly feeling had been abetted by a few of Gerry’s wines, first a marvelous Rosado, Catajarros from Hermanos Merino in Cigales, Castilla y Leon, that was crisp and extremely food friendly and second a delightfully sincere Mencia red, the fantastic Décima from the Ribera Sacra. Both were low alcohol, old style, food gratifying whistle wetters. Dessert was kept happily simple with some fresh fruit and ice cream bars.
Conversation had flowed freely throughout the meal and continued after with the help of a bit of a local Garnacha grape-based digestif…
…and the Spanish national cocktail, a very well crafted Gin and Tonic. This was a beautiful evening as our tiredness melted away and our hunger magnified with each plate presented. Wonderful people, fabulous food, delightful drink and an atmosphere as authentic to a place as it gets can do that. It did. Thanks, Gerry for taking us here!