For those of us who grew up eating meat, it is certainly wonderful to find a place that will lead us back to our childhood, to those joyful moments around the family table when our grandfather would skillfully carve the most delicious steaks and roasts for the amusement of us all. Well, believe me when I say that those feelings, emotions and memories came back with delightful force when I visited Bodega El Capricho, a peculiar Spanish restaurant out of the beaten path.
This place is a real temple for meat lovers. Their beef brings gourmands from all over the world to this small corner of Spain to fulfill their carnivore fantasies. They come from distant lands in the U.S., Australia, Singapore, Mexico and Venezuela, even Afghanistan.
The restaurant’s meteoric success began a few years ago, when a series of esteemed gastronomic journalists recognized El Capricho as one of the best steakhouses in the world. It is located inside a wine cellar in the town of Jimenez Jamúz, in the Spanish province of Leon. Its entrance is flanked by an oak forest, and in the background pine covered mountains dominate the landscape. Throughout the centuries, many groups such as the Romans, Moors and Visigoths have conquered the area, leaving behind traces of their lives and culture.
The master roaster and chef, Joseph Gordon, owner of the establishment, is in charge of manning the kitchen. A discreet and serious man, Gordon brings to mind those aloof Castilian characters in Miguel Delibes´s novels, but when he starts talking, he exhibits a surprising knowledge and understanding of the excellent characteristics of beef, particularly ox, a noble meat rich in protein and vitamin B12, which provides much needed nutrients for our bodies as well as essential amino acids and minerals, including potassium, phosphorus and magnesium. Spanish ox meat has unique properties that make it an exceptional product: it is beautifully marbled and has less water retention in the muscles than beef. The meat cooks flawlessly as it does not release water when cooked.
The succulent cuts served at El Capricho go through a long period of maturation that lasts weeks in order to achieve the desired texture, aroma and flavor. They are then roasted on oak charcoal and cut to perfection. By the time it arrives at your table, Gordon will personally be in charge of the carving ritual.
Ox meat is also used to create a unique type of cured beef called cecina, a fine and very tasty product similar to the world-famous Spanish ham, but with a different flavor. The quality of the local product is such that it is estimated that 95 percent of the cecina consumed in Spain and exported to different European countries is produced and processed in Leon. The premium cecina from El Capricho, cured for three years, is a real treat for the palate.
El Capricho’s menu features traditional cuisine and takes into consideration the products available during the seasons: excellent stews with local produce, hard to find mushrooms, delicious cod and spectacular lamb. For dessert, do not miss the amazing beef biscuits or the coffee served with white chocolate mousse. To complement this majestic dinner, fit for a king, nothing could be better than some of the best wines of the area, arranged in two denominations of origin: Tierra de León and Bierzo. These are fine wines are aged in oak, full-bodied and elegant.
El Capricho is a heavenly gift, one of those magical places that stand out for their commitment to quality, a restaurant that all self-respecting gourmands should visit at least once in their lives. ■