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Saturday, July 10, 2010

El Bulevar de la Sidra

The Calle Gascona in Oviedo has traditionally been home to a bunch of sidrerías over the years, but it’s only been in the last decade or so that someone had the bright idea of marketing the two quaint blocks that comprise it as “El Bulevar de la Sidra”. There's even an official website, run by the “Asociación de Hosteleros de la Calle Gascona”. By no means all of the sidrerías on the street are members, and the ones that are seem to me to be more notable for their desire for self-promotion and a certain mediocrity of fare rather than real quality.

I readily admit to a certain perverseness when it comes to these things, so, predictably enough, my two favorites on the street are the oldest and the newest of the sidrerías. Starting with the newest (though it didn't last very long - it's now closed), Sidrería Zandarín (named for a pueblo near Cangas del Narcea) has been open for business just over nine months and has already distinguished itself as one of the better cocinas on the street. I chose it randomly—on the basis of its appealing menú del día, coupled with its appealing price of €10 —when I arrived in Oviedo Sunday afternoon and needed to find a place to eat lunch quickly before everything closed. One of the primero platos was fabada asturiana… I hadn’t had fabada in over a year, and it was a cool afternoon (most important), so I went for it. And to my great surprise, it was excellent. REALLY excellent. I have been served some shockingly mediocre fabadas in the past, in places that should have been serving something much better than goop that could have come from a can, so for years I have confined my fabada-eating to places like La Máquina in Lugones and Casa Gerardo. I was, admittedly, flying blind. But luck was with me: tender, almost perfectly-cooked fabes (beans), and embutidos (chorizo, morcilla, lacon, and tocino) worthy of the very best places. It was good enough to remind me what a great dish it really is. This was followed by an entrecot de buey that actually tasted like ox and not just generic cattle. I went back the next evening for some of the best pollo al ajillo (bone-in chunks of chicken fried with garlic) I’ve ever had.

Sidrería Ferroviario has been around for almost 6 decades, making it about the oldest establishment on the street. And it’s holding up beautifully… no flash, no glitz—just good, reasonably-priced food and, as one review I read said, “buena sidra, bien escanciada” (good sidra, well-poured). After spending time in lesser sidrerías--I even got to watch my friend José Ángel school the waiter in the proper way to escanciar la sídra the other day--it’s easy to forget what a difference this can make. On my most recent visit, they were pouring Peñón sidra (for my tastes, an excellent maker), and these guys know what they’re doing… officially: Ferroviario is well-known for having on its staff winners of international concursos de escanciadores (sidra-pouring competitions). And with sidra, it really does make a difference. Try it for yourself sometime: hit a few of the sidrerías in the c/Gascona, ending with Ferroviario. See if it doesn’t actually taste the best. They also boast an excellent, traditional Asturian kitchen with a great €9 menú del día. And this is one of the few places around you can still get traditional jamón asado. It’s yet another Spanish dish with jamón in the name, but it’s unlike any other: slices of a roast ham, but it is the ham BEFORE being cured. It’s not pink, it’s not salty—just a spectacularly moist, delicious pork roast. It may exist outside of Asturias, but I have never encountered it anywhere else. I had fidegüa there today: a stew of seafood with thick noodles. You NEVER see that on menus any more. And when I ordered arroz con leche for dessert (one of the glories of Asturian cooking—there’s a great recipe for it here), I was asked if I wanted it quemado (with its traditional sugar crust burned on top, like crême brulée). I almost fell off my chair… such a nicety is rarely offered at this price point.

Sidrería Zandarín (closed permanently)
c/Gascona, 22
33001 Oviedo, Spain
(+34) 985 22 77  80

Sidrería Ferroviario
c/Gascona, 5
33001 Oviedo, Spain
(+34) 985 22 52 15

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