Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Don't hurry to HOTEL REGINA in Villfonga del Ruicorb,Costers del Segre,Catalonia

The last night of my food/wine meeting tour was in the remote countryside of Catalan and while a beautiful setting was in store for us in the Hotel Regina's grand salon, the food was less impressive. Of course, the chance that any of you would even go to, let alone consider, this place is so remote itself, so I'll keep my comments short and to the point.

The salon has about a dozen huge wall murals by a famous Catalan artist of the mid-19th century that have a very deco feel with some Moderniste influence. The twenty or so of us sat at one huge table and were the only diners as the hotel was open only for us. It is a spa hotel and has few clients at this time of the year.

I discovered a second local sparkling water, San Narciso (how can they name a saint after a guy who was in love with himself?) which was even saltier than the Vichy Catalan brand so common, so I stuck with non-sparkling. The tiny soft dark green olives were salty and apparently the same ones used locally to make the olive oil. Each area is very proud of its oil and we had OLEAURUM which is 100% Arbequina and was aromatic and fruity with no spice or bite; it was divine with the tasty olive bread.

An array of appetizers came which included very salty JAMON IBERICO on a spear with tasty sweet melon. I was beginning to thing everything in Catalunya is salty; maybe I'm right. The ENDIVE with SHRIMP, shredded lettuce and a sauce so reminiscent of Russian dressing was unexciting, but a large spoon of Sauteed (and yes, salty) BACALAO (cod) was a treat. Our wine for the first half of the meal was a very nice RAIMAT 2007 BLANCO FRESCO from the region, COSTERS del SEGRE made from a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Xarello (one of the three local varietals used in making Cava).

A superbly delicious SEAFOOD SALAD came next with scallops, calamari, shrimp, roasted tomatos and red peppers, sauteed onion and leaf lettuces. The local olive oil and balsamic with some pepper made for a great dressing on the quite large dish. I'm glad it was large because the main course was totally inedible. As we sat down the waitress gave us three choices of how we would like our "entrecote" cooked: rare (which she clearly defined as just past raw), medium or well done. I wasn't going near another uncooked piece of meat in a restaurant that I did not know, so I went for the middle of the road. Everyone (and we were from all over the world) save a couple from the States avoided the rare option as well. The meat was somewhat akin to a strip steak and came so well done it was harder than cured ham. It had some salt flakes on it and an ugly brown sauce. Some overkilled and oily zucchini was its neighbor. The dish was beyond repair, and I was grateful for that big salad. An equally undrinkable red BRU de VERDU 2007 from the region made from Tempranillo and Syrah tasted cheap and I can't even begin to consider giving any tasting notes on this one.

Dessert was a huge cake prepared specially for the occasion and came on a trolley (we all took photos). It was a giant cake and creme Catalan-like mixture covered with banana, kiwi and berries which I needed to avoid simply because it looked like too much cream. A superb RAIMAT CAVA BRUT NATURE was served for our farewell toast and we were surprised to see it was made from the typical champagne grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, rather than the three cava grapes.