José Maria Restaurante
On a recent visit to Spain, I spent a day touring the historic town of Segovia which is renowned for its extraordinary Roman aqueduct and the famous Castle of Alcazar. It was 42 years since my last visit and it was wonderful to return to this fairytale city. On that first trip, the top venue for suckling pig was the Maison Candido, which is still located facing the aqueduct, although the proprietor/chef who made it famous passed away many years ago. Today, the top restaurant for baby pig is José Maria, named after the chef and owner. Chef Maria owns a ranch where he raises his suckling pigs and butchers them at three weeks of age when they weigh approximately 3-4 kilos. While the process of butchering makes me a little queasy, I must admit that the suckling pig served here is worth the trip to Spain ... it’s that sublime. It transcends anything I have had in other parts of Europe or in America where farmers are adverse to killing piglets. In fact, suckling pig in the United States is more like teenager pig. This four hour lunch was washed down with José Maria’s Ribera del Duero Pago de Carraovejas Crianza. His 2008 Crianza was delicious, but the 2007 Reserva was even better, offering beautiful blackberry and black currant fruit intermixed with notions of licorice, subtle oak and earth. That was followed by his 2005 Selección, a spectacular single vineyard offering that is still young and rich. I believe Kysela Père et Fils imports these wines in the United States. We then moved to the luxury cuvée of old vine Grenache, the 2007 and 2006 Aquilon. The 2006 is a winner, but the 2007 is absolutely spectacular. About as concentrated a Grenache as I have ever tasted, it eclipses the old vine Grenaches of southern France in terms of its pure power, richness and density. It should last 2-3 decades. Obviously I was committing infanticide by drinking it now, but I was doing that with the baby pig as well.
As for the food, you can not go wrong by starting with what I believe is the greatest Iberico Bellota in Spain, the Joselito, which José Maria served with crusty bread accompanied by an interesting light tomato marmalade mixed with olive oil. We were encouraged to put the slices of ham on the bread, which was very good. However, the ham is so remarkable it can stand by itself, the way I prefer to have it. I am not a big fan of kidneys, but I must say that the baby lamb kidneys that José Maria served were the finest I have ever eaten ... which is saying something. These offered remarkable flavor, but none of that gamey/urine type taste that I find so distasteful. We then moved to the best pork and bean dish I have ever had. Basically a rich soup, it was filled with gigantic white beans and big slabs of pork belly and sausage. I would have had a second bowl, but I knew the pig was coming next, so I resisted. In the tradition of Segovia, the baby pig was carved with a plate edge as opposed to a knife, and it must be tasted to be believed. No one does this dish better than the Spanish. I had wonderful memories of this from years ago, and while expectations can often prove disappointing, that was not the case with this dish. The pig was so unreal we ended up ordering a second one (although we couldn’t quite finish it).
This is a highly recommended venue on the back streets of Segovia, well away from the aqueduct. If you’re looking for a more touristic spot with a view of that extraordinary Roman-built site (built in 100 A.D.), Maison Candido is probably a better choice as there is no real view from José Maria.
By the way, we stayed at the Eurostar Hotel, facing the aqueduct, which had very nice rooms as well as a view to die for.
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