The Good, Bad and Ugly in Logroño

Back in October, I visited Rioja and Navarra on a 2-day INSEEC class trip to learn about Spanish wines. Our group spent the evening in the seminary of Logroño, a rather grim-looking building, which seemed particularly cold after an afternoon of tastings and warm moments with new friends. A quick pre-game with Tempranillo freshly purchased (ex-chateau) at Marques de Riscal and sipped from plastic cups while listening to the then-new “Havanna” by Camila Cabello, and we were out of there, headed for what would be a very long and eventful evening in town, hitting some of the city’s tapas bars along the way. Having heard much about Logroño’s vibrant food scene (apparently, most popular among stag parties visiting the region), I had prepared a google map outlining the various tapas bars worth a visit, along with the specialty of each.

The first stop was Bar Sebas on the bustling Calle Laurel, which ended up being my favorite in terms of food quality. The thing to get here is the tortilla de patatas, served with a dollop of spicy chili sauce, similar to the red stuff paired with aioli on patatas bravas in Barcelona. As far as this very simple Spanish specialty goes, Sebas’s version was wonderful. The eggs were fluffy and smooth with a gorgeous bright yellow color, and the potatoes inside cooked to the perfect texture – tender but not too mushy, and offering a nice textural contrast with the egg. I honestly would not have minded staying here and eating just this one tapa all evening…

We also tried the pimiento relleno con carne, which is a tender red pepper stuffed with seasoned ground pork and deep-fried for a crunchy browned crust. Not the most gourmet of tapas and a tad on the greasy side, but satisfying enough in a moment of hunger to order two of.

Next, we moved to El Soldado de Tudelilla, which resembles a tavern more than a conventional tapas bar. This place has onda. The rugged Spaniard and his lady behind the bar are welcoming, all the while joking around incessantly. The bottles lining the shelves behind them encourage one to actually drink wine in Rioja’s capital instead of the even more ubiquitous caña. Their specialty is a tomato and onion salad drizzled with good local oil, but we tried the bocadillin of sardines with a spicy green chili pepper. The sardine was fine, plump and juicy enough, but overwhelmed by way too much of the somewhat stale, fleshy bread to really shine as it should have. For the mood though, this one was a winner.

And then there’s Bar Soriano, which – I guess- makes only one tapa and has become rather famous for it: three cremini mushrooms dripping with garlic butter and a small shrimp in the center of each, mounted with a toothpick on a slice of baguette. A pain in the ass to eat, since it’s impossible to do so without removing each mushroom with your bare hands, there’s not much in terms of flavor to make it worth the challenge anyway. It’s just kind of rubbery, burning your mouth if you bite too soon and the limp shrimps have quite clearly been defrosted after a long time in the freezer. The mushrooms are too greasy to eat on their own but with the bread they form a bite too thick to fit your mouth. Pass on this one.

Overall I was disappointed by the level of quality encountered at the tapas bars of Logroño, a city whose specialties I had very much been looking forward to sampling. With the exception of that first tortilla at Bar Sebas, there was nothing that wasn’t too greasy, too chewy, too sloppy, too boring. Nothing seemed authentic. Perhaps I’ve been too spoiled by tapas in Barcelona, in Basque Country, in Andalusia to really take these seriously, but for being the capital of a very visited wine region, this city didn’t have much to offer in terms of food. The gin-to’s on the other hand…

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