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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Casa Juanín

There is a restaurant in the mountains of eastern Asturias that I have been going to for at least 17 years. Taken there by my dear friend and Asturian food guru José Ángel, from the very first visit it took its place as my favorite restaurant in Spain, and, therefore, the world. It’s a very small, family-run place that I tried to keep a secret for years, to impart to only the truly worthy. But since there is now a detailed listing for it in the latest edition of the Guía Azul for Asturias, I guess word can safely be considered to be "out". It seems to be called Casa Isabel now, although it used to be called Casa Juanín, named for the dueño, her father, even though Isabel has always done all the cooking--at least since I've been going there.

I returned there today, and am delighted to see that nothing has changed—most notably, the quality—in 17 years. It’s in a tiny pueblo called Pendones--a handful of houses perched up on a mountainside above AS-117 on the way to the Puerto de Tarna. The restaurant is nothing more than two small rooms that comprise (along with the third small room, the kitchen) the ground floor of their house. Everything is homemade, with what are palpably local ingredients. It’s heavy, mountain fare, so perhaps best enjoyed in cooler weather… but I’ve got to grab my visits when I can! The offerings are always the same, plus or minus a dish or two, but you can generally count on: sopa de pescado (fish soup), fabes con jabalí (the oversized white haricot beans used in fabada, stewed with wild boar), picadillo de venado (sauté of minced venison seasoned with paprika and garlic), callos (tripe), and cabrito (stewed kid goat). As great as the cabrito is, somehow that venison picadillo is even more amazing. Sometimes there’s pitu de caleya (stewed free-range chicken). There’s always arroz con leche for dessert, and Isabel makes the best flan I have ever had. Because every bit of it is local and real and prepared by an expert, the food all has more flavor than one would think possible.

Pendones can be a bit tricky to find—it’s not even on a lot of maps. Heading southeast on AS-117, head past Campo de Caso another 5 kilometers or so to La Foz. Keep going another kilometer or two and keep a sharp lookout for small sign pointing you up the mountainside to the left. And because of the tiny size of the restaurant, definitely call ahead for a reservation.

Casa Juanín (aka Casa Isabel)
Pendones, s/n
Pendones 33997 Caso, Spain
(+34) 985 61 37 25

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