Suckling pig – those are magic words to those who have had it. True suckling pig is a rare treat in the United States. It is in Spain too, but there it is a delicacy that is well known and well appreciated. In Spain where the pig is practically worshipped, suckling pig is an art that is especially esteemed. And few have the reputation of doing it better than Candido Lopez and his ancestors at the acclaimed Segovian restaurant Meson de Candido. I have had the distinct pleasure of meeting Candido twice before and tasting his piglets twice before, but never on site at his restaurant. The first was in in 2006 in California at the Spain and The World Table Conference at CIA Greystone and the second was in NYC at the StarChefs ICC when he presented alongside Joan Roca, each preparing suckling pig in their own styles. I’m happy to say that I recently had the chance to try Meson de Candido’s cochinillo on site at their restaurant in the ancient city of Segovia in central Spain.
The restaurant sits directly below an amazingly well preserved ancient Roman aqueduct in the center of the old part of the city. Walking into the restaurant is like walking into another era. It has been in the same family for generations. While some places may suffer by that, not so, Meson de Candido, which has built layer upon layer of tradition, both in the décor and in the food. The restaurant is stuffed with layers of dark brown wood, stone and acres of awards and photos. It is a place that resonates tradition that way that a struck bell resonates soundwaves.
Our lunch was served in one of the atmospheric upstairs dining rooms within sight of the aqueduct. The atmosphere was reminiscent of the even older Casa Botin, but it was an hour or so outside of Madrid.
Candido is most well known for their cochinillo and deservedly so, but that was not the only culinary weapon in their arsenal. A dish of sautéed mushrooms Segoviana was rich, meaty and soul-satisfying in its own right.
A plate of huge white asparagus from Navarra with vinegar and mayonnaise explained why the vegetable is as popular is it is in Spain and it is very popular.
Huge white lima beans were stewed with various pig parts, most notably gelatinous ears. It was hearty and delicious and worthy of a scarpetta with the excellent bread that had been placed on the table.
I wanted to try the lechon or roast suckling lamb that is also quite popular in the area, so we ordered a plate of that. It was good, but not life altering.
The cochinillo, which is what their reputation is based on, was an instigator of ecstasy. This is a reason for returning to Spain over and over again. Crisp skin, moist meat, tiny bones and incredibly satisfying deep flavor had me cleaning those bones until they sparkled.
Washing it all down was a marvelous 2001 Rioja from Monte Real that was on the list for only 24€. This was fabulous juice that would have been worth much more retail, if one could find it.
Somehow even dessert stood out as excellent. We shared a torrija, Spanish French toast that is a combination of crème caramel, French toast and crème brulee. Accompanied by a scoop of serviceable chocolate ice cream, it was difficult to keep myself from eating more than I did, but as this was the first day of an exploration of Spanish Jamon country, I had to pace myself. It wasn’t easy, but given what came later that night, I was very glad that I did.