CASA PABLO. Aranjuez, Madrid.
“I am the third generation,” Sergio explains, “though my father still supervises and controls everything. I am the cook, and my father works the dining room. To each his own.”
I ask Sergio what is the secret behind the longevity of his restaurant in such an uncertain and competitive business. “Great ingredients, excellent service (in that, my father is a master), and closeness. Ours is definitely a family business.”
It immediately comes to mind when the restaurant is mentioned, a favorite among regular clients. One of the challenges of eating the finest Iberian ham is finding a place where they know how to slice it. At Casa Pablo, they cut it well, but also, they do it without a stand, holding the ham with one hand and the knife with the other, an art seldom seen nowadays; it is a spectacle that adds poetry to the millennial pleasure of eating good ham. You can eat ham with or without bread, with or without tomatoes. Every person can choose their own way, create their own style, and ham will always be ham, it will be a special treat for strangers, foreigners and locals. If you want to enjoy true Iberian cold meats of guaranteed quality, Casa Pablo is one of the places.
BARNACLES AND MORE…
Seafood is another magic word around this place. Sergio tells us he buys the fish and seafood at MercaMadrid. I ask him about Spain having the second best fish market in the world. “The answer is in our shores. We are surrounded by water with excellent fish and seafood.” At Casa Pablo, the barnacle is the pampered child. It comes from Galicia, and it is one of the best. And the white shrimp is just as good.
CASA PABLO. Aranjuez, Madrid.
This is a tavern fit for kings, where we talk about exquisite delicacies. How much do we have to invest to eat the best of the best? Not as much as you would think. A serving of ham costs 22 euros. The barnacles are something else: 220 euros per kilo. But the best can be enjoyed in small amounts – 200 grams will do. There is also an excellent wine cellar, with wines for big as well as small pockets. The prices are really not a problem, neither too high nor too low.
Pablo is a place for people who love good food, and not everyone is wealthy. The rich still order great amounts of barnacles, but the middle class customer has switched to asparagus. They are cheaper, but equally as good. “And we bet on produce form Aranjuez”, says Sergio.” “Our asparagus, our artichokes, are absolutely exceptional and very affordable products.”
Sergio Guzmán knows he has to keep the essence of the cuisine, but admits he needs to be creative to stay interested. He maintains the house’s traditions with elaborate goodies that delight his customers; Foie micuit with caramelized mushrooms (a dish he modifies frequently). In 2010 it was a mille feullie of foie with apples and caramelized trumpet. More? Suquet of monkfish with cockles, and algae added at the last moment. “Algae are a complicated product. There are people who have reservations. However, they are healthy, nutritious and great tasting. They provide an added value to many dishes”.
THE GREAT SPANIARDS
Chatting about Spanish restaurateurs with Sergio Guzmán, we obviously have to mention Santi Santamaría, who recently passed away. “The most expensive restaurants in the world are those of Santi Santamaría. You had to see him at the market. It was amazing. He got the best of the best, whatever he was purchasing. There were farmers that only worked for him, and I am not only talking about organic farming, but a biodynamic agriculture based on the cycles of the moon. At his restaurants you eat incredible things.”
“Sometimes the simple things are the most difficult”, explains Sergio. “Santi used to say he didn’t make flowers. He grilled squid because it was fresh from the sea, and didn’t need anything else.” Before his passing, Santi Santamaría was the chef with more Michelin stars in Spain.
When he died, they retired a star from each of his restaurants, and now Martín Berasategui is the most decorated in a profession where there is a lot of stress. “Stress is necessary. I have seen real horrors in a kitchen, and I don’t think we have to get as far as that, but yes, one has to have nerves of steel. Today we served 120 dinners in one hour and a half. There is no time to relax. The expectations are tremendous. You can’t pay 50 euros for a dish that is not perfect.”
Obviously, behind every great chef there must be a great team, and the cooks have to use all their resources to keep things moving, because the patrons must have the best on their plate. “To top it all, it is not a well paid profession”, laments Sergio. “Almost everyone looks for other alternatives. Look at Ferran (Adria). He was not lying when he said that El Bulli was not profitable, despite being the most famous place in Spain and a point of reference in the world. Well, Ferran has to prepare private dinners for millionaires, he’s written books and still works as a consultant for other restaurants.”
CASA PABLO. Aranjuez, Madrid.
It called my attention that the Infanta Pilar, sister of King Juan Carlos, signed with icons on her birthday. “Very good (a drawing of a shrimp), and many thanks for (a drawing of a cake)…”
The King and Queen of Sweden ate at Casa Pablo and asked if there was a hotel nearby where they could change clothes to attend a reception a little later. Sergio’s grandparents offered their humble abode, and the monarchs didn’t hesitate a second. They dressed in their royal garments at the small apartment of the Guzmán family.
Casa Pablo has hosted bullfighters, businessmen, politicians, presidents, old friends, sybarites and people who love a friendly and familiar atmosphere, a good wine and a “tapa” of Iberian chorizo. In this house they know the secret for success is in the customer’s satisfaction. With a smile, Sergio says, “The only difference in the way we treat a king, is that we call him “Majesty”. Otherwise, all our clients are equal.” ■