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event announcing the unveiling of Frank Gehry's plans for Riscal's futuristic hotel.
On the way down to Riscal, I had lunch at Castillo el Colmado, a refurbished 1920s mansion situated on an esplanade along the northeastern edge of Laguardia, the dramatically-situated walled town that is to La Rioja what Riquewihr is to Alsace, Châteaunuef-du-Pape is to the Rhône. For Javier Arcillona, the tall, gaunt, very serious man who owns this charming, hotel-cum-restaurant, being a hotelier is a dream come true and he takes his mission seriously, attending to each table by advising guests of the daily specials, explaining dishes, and taking the orders himself. My luncheon companion was an old friend and fellow americano Thomas Perry, who is the Director of the Grupo de Exportadores de Vinos de La Rioja.
First, Sr. Arcillona sent out tapas of deep-fried, cured-ham croquetas, then a degustación of chef Manuel Rementería’s specialties. The procession of dishes included buttery, house-made pate de foie-gras; a typical Basque dish, revueltos con perritxos (scrambled eggs with prized spring mushrooms); braised pimientos de piquillo (the superb triangular-shaped red peppers of southern Rioja and Navarra); pencas de acelgas con crema (chard stalks in a creamy sauce); hojaldre de mejillones con salsa de erizos (mussels in puff pastry with a sea urchin sauce); and rich mushroom-filled crêpes. The ripe, juicy, Bordeaux-esque Dominio de Conte Reserva 1996 drank very well with these dishes and with my main course, a delicious, tender cabrito asado (roast suckling goat) with roasted potatoes.
While we were having lunch, a big thunderstorm swept along the northern rim of the Sierra de Cantabrica, the steep blue-gray wall that protects the Rioja from some of the fiercer winter storms from the wild Bay of Biscay, an hour to the north. There were huge black clouds with lightning and, probably somewhere over the vineyards of the surrounding La Rioja Alavesa (Basque Rioja), there could have been a hailstorm. At the very least the pelting rain could be wreaking havoc with the just-set flowering of the vines.