A Tapas Crawl Down Logroño’s Calle San Juan

Most visitors to Logroño’s Old Town congregate in and around calle Laurel, our legendary tapas street.  Locals, however, tend to have their tapas and drinks on calle San Juan, a short walk away. Until recently, San Juan kept a more traditional profile than its better-known neighbor, a street packed with bars serving traditional specialties such as tortilla de patata (Spanish egg and potato omelet), zapatillas (ham on toasted bread), lecherillas (sweetbreads) and fried mushrooms, while on Laurel and adjacent streets, the fare has evolved toward the modern (at least for tapas), like steak and roast suckling pig.  The wine selection on San Juan used to be firmly Rioja, while on Laurel, you can find wine from just about everywhere, to the chagrin of 600 Rioja wineries.

This clear distinction has become blurred in recent months, as many bars on San Juan are going upscale to follow Laurel’s lead.  Last Saturday, my wife, some friends and I did a short tour of San Juan. Our first stop was Tastavin where the bar was packed with elaborate meat and fish tapas, most of which had been cooked in the kitchen and needed to be reheated in a microwave oven just before service.  I ordered pluma ibérica, part of the feather loin near the shoulder joint of an Iberian pig, grilled and topped with a green pepper sauce.  The rest of our party ordered grilled red tuna drizzled with soy sauce.  We drank Buble, a white made with the godello grape from Valdeorras, a denomination of origin in Galicia in northwestern Spain, near the town of Verín and the Portuguese border.

Tapa of pluma ibérica

Tapa of pluma ibérica

 

Red tuna and piquillo pepper tapa

Red tuna and piquillo pepper tapa

Our next stop was Bar Torres, which had been transformed from a dark, dingy place into one of San Juan’s most popular bars.  Although Torres offers a wide range of tapas, the specialty is a grilled patty of wagyu beef (from cows bred in Japan that are massaged and fed beer).   Here, we drank Sela, a crianza from Roda in Rioja. If you’re a visitor to Logroño, you’ll enjoy looking at the pictures of the city in the mid-20th century that hang on the walls.

Crowd in Bar Torres

Crowd in Bar Torres

 

Wagyu beef patty in Bar Torres

Wagyu beef patty in Bar Torres

 

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It was getting late, around midnight, so our next stop was our last for the evening, although the streets were still teeming with people. We decided to go to La Tortilla, where, as the name implies, the specialty is Spanish omelet.  We ordered our slices of perfectly cooked (meaning that the egg isn’t completely cooked and the potato is al dente) omelet with hot sauce made from a piquillo pepper concentrate on top – that packs quite a wallop!  We washed the omelets down with glasses of Campo Viejo from Rioja. Visitors shouldn’t be put off by the gooey texture of the omelet – it’s how it’s supposed to be!

Tortilla is probably Spain’s most popular tapa.  Here, the local restaurant association sponsors a contest to determine who makes the best tortilla.  There are two categories:  regular –  tortilla using egg, onion, potatoes and salt –  and special, where anything can be used as an ingredient.  Once the winner has been chosen, Inside Rioja will sample Logroño’s best offerings.  My mouth is already watering!

 

Spanish potato omelet with hot sauce

Spanish potato omelet with hot sauce

Tastavin  San Juan 25, Logroño  http://tastavin.es

Bar Torres  San Juan 31, Logroño

La Tortilla  corner of Travesía de San Juan and calle Portales, Logroño

 

Smartphones and tapas bars: an interesting combination

Going out for tapas and a few glasses of wine is always fun, but last week it was especially so because my wife and I decided to follow the Logroño city guide to tapas bars published by Bodegas Campo Viejo as part of a promotion of their wine Alcorta.

Throughout the fall and winter of 2010 and spring of 2011, Alcorta has organized gastronomic routes around the tapas bars in 11 Spanish cities and regions (Gijón, Oviedo, Santiago de Compostela, La Rioja, León, Zaragoza, Burgos, Salamanca, Madrid, Granada and Murcia).

From March 11 to 27 it was La Rioja’s turn.

Rioja wineries promote their wines all the time in the bars in the old part of town, but this promotion was different because of its use of internet and smartphones to win prizes.

The first step was to enter the Alcorta website www.alcortavino.com to read how to participate.  Here we discovered that participating bars would give us a city guide and tell us which tapa they were featuring with a glass of Alcorta.

Our first stop was at El Soldado de Tudelilla where we ordered a capricho, a piece of sardine with a spicy green pepper and our guide was stamped with the name of the bar.

So much for traditional tapas.  We decided that we would concentrate on some of the bars that offered really innovative dishes.

 Our second stop was La Canilla. Here, the specialty was slices of steak with peppers from Gernika and shoestring potatoes.  The Gernika peppers from the coast in the Basque Country were similar to the peppers from Padrón in Galicia, about which the gallegos  say ‘ pimientos del Padrón, unos pican y otros non’ (Padrón peppers, some are hot and others aren’t.) You had better have a glass of wine handy because when you eat a hot one, it makes your tongue burn and your eyes water.  Sort of a gastronomic lottery.

Our third stop was Las Cubanas, which used to be one of Logroño’s most famous family restaurants but has found a new life under the current management as a tapas bar where we enjoyed a piece of crisp suckling pig.

For our fourth tapa and glass of Alcorta, we went to a bar that had just opened:  D.O. Rioja.  Their specialty is a layered liquid potato omelet served in a small bowl.  It was available with just egg and potato, with cheese added or ham.  We ordered a plain one and one with ham.

Since I had gone by myself to El Soldado de Tudelilla, my book had the required four stamps, but my wife needed one more so we went to calle San Juan to Tastavin.  The bar was out of their specialty (foie gras raspberry sauce with caramelized goat cheese) so we were offered a roast artichoke heart with caramelized onion on top. Delicious!

Although we were full and a little wobbly on our feet, there was more to do to to take full advantage of the promotion.

Inside the city guide there was a BIDI code (a square third generation bar code) and a code consisting of an eight-digit combination of numbers and letters.

Our city guide told us that if you took a picture of the BIDI code with your smartphone, the application would tell us instantly if we had won a prize, to be redeemed at the bar.  Sadly I was unable to get my smartphone to capture the code (and I did it when I was still sober!)

When we arrived home, we opened the Alcorta website and entered our codes.  The website told my wife that she had won a gift box with a bottle of Alcorta, a corkscrew, stopper and other accessories.

The last step in this process was to fill out the back of the page with the four stamps and place it in the box located in each participating bar.  After the promotion is over, a drawing will be held, with the winners receiving a personalized gift box of Alcorta.

In our opinion, this promotion had everything:  the consumer can enjoy Alcorta with some great tapas and win prizes.  It’s also attractive to young consumers, who can use their smartphones. For the winery, it means increased visibility, lots of names for its data base, a jump in sales and the opening of new accounts.

We had a lot of fun participating in this promotion, although we couldn’t figure out how to use the BIDI code app correctly.  It probably would have worked if we had been using an iPhone rather than a Nokia. In our case, the phone was apparently smarter than we were.

El Soldado de Tudelilla, San Agustín 3

La Canilla, San Agustín 7

Las Cubanas, San Agustín 17

D.O. Rioja, Laurel 4

Tastavin, San Juan 25