Our one wine-free day during our Ribera del Duero trip last week was when we flew into Madrid and hopped on the AVE train to meet our friends Colleen and Mike in Segovia. We spent a day there to eat a long lunch and do a little sightseeing before driving to Castrillo de Duero, our home for the remainder of our trip.
I was glad to pick restaurants for our trip, but being a non-Spanish speaker left me feeling skeptical about my research. For Segovia, I relied largely on this December 2007 chowhound thread giving Restaurante Jose Maria a slight edge over its rival Meson Candido. The fact that Restaurante Jose Maria’s website lacked an English translation function was reassuring (and it was also an indicator of how little spoken English we’d encounter as we headed further north into the Ribera del Duero).
Lest there be any confusion about Restaurante Jose Maria’s specialty, the facade features a bronze cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig). Definitely my kind of place.
With some help from a Spanish-speaking friend, I’d made our reservations for the somewhat-early hour of 1:30 pm because the restaurant’s next seating wasn’t until 3:30 pm, and while I’m generally a late eater, waiting until 3:30 for lunch was pushing it.
As soon as we sat down, a server brought a basket of bread and a shallow bowl of chorizo crumbles. There was paprika and pepper kick in there, and the pork was tender and meaty. So much better than mere bread and butter, and a fab way to start lunch. And actually, it was tastier than the starters we ordered – a forgettable 14-euro saludable de verdures (you know it’s bad news when 1/4 of your grilled vegetable platter is comprised of onion and carrot) and an overly-breaded Castilian garlic soup.
We did, however, really love our main courses, ordering two portions of cochinillo asado and two of lechazo. Ignoring the obvious piglet ear and hoof, I devoured the light, moist meat and beautiful thin crackling. I loved how, just under the crisp and thin skin, there was a thin, flavorful layer of fat. The star attraction had, thankfully, lived up to the hype. At 21 euros a portion, it wasn’t rustic pricing, but it was worth the money. Another table near us ordered a whole cochinillo, and the servers made a big show of portioning out the piglet by eschewing a knife and using a plate edge instead (“it’s just that tender!”).
Our lechazo, also 21 euros a portion, wasn’t quite as good as the little piggie, but in a lamb-and-piglet face off, I’ll always choose the piglet, meaning I’m generally pre-biased towards pig. That, and the broth for the lechazo plate was unbelievably salty. Nobody at Restaurante Jose Maria could be accused of holding back on the salt.
I didn’t think we could find room for dessert, but what’s a holiday without dessert? The tarta helada al whisky was a surprisingly-yummy nut-covered ice cream cake.
The best value at lunch was, hands down, the house wine, which was a very young, plummy ribera del duero wine. At 13 euros a bottle, we happily made our way through two bottles before getting our bill at around 4 pm.
If you go, skip the starters and lamb and just go straight for the pig, the wine, and the ice cream cake.
Just a block away from Restaurante Jose Maria is Segovia’s main town square (Plaza Mayor) and the just-another-reminder-of- how-rich-the-Catholic-church-was Segovia Cathedral. The 450-year-old cathedral was worth a tour, but mostly for the pretty cloisters and the people-watching. The interior was otherwise really huge and bare.
Walking ten minutes downhill from the Cathedral, we paid 6 euros a person to see the inside of the Segovia Alcazar (where Isabella married Ferdinand, luckily for Christopher Columbus and unluckily for all the indigenous people of the Americas), and similar to that of the Cathedral, the Alcazar’s interior was pretty bare and grim. I like my castles to include lots of crystal, gold and mirrors. This one was much more a fortress than a royal crib.
On our walk back to our car, we took one last look at the old Roman aqueduct, briefly considered all the far-flung parts of the world where you can find these aqueducts, and then headed north to Castrillo de Duero.
Segovia was a pretty and relaxing place to spend a day, and because it’s just a 30-minute high-speed train ride from Madrid, I think it’d make a lovely day trip if you’re visiting that city. And while you’re there, get yourself some of that cochinillo at Meson Jose Maria.
Restaurante Jose Maria, just off the Plaza Mayor (Cronista Lecea 11, Segovia +34 92 146 11 11