Postcard from Salamanca, Spain: Reflecting on restaurants away from the Plaza Mayor

While waiting for a train, an American college student studying in Salamanca asked us how many times we had eaten on the Plaza Mayor. Our answer was not once, aside from a scoop of ice cream. Looking over what was being served atop the tables as we strolled through, we determined to seek Salamancan specialties elsewhere. We were well-rewarded.

El Club Nautico is a simple, straightforward restaurant preparing fresh seafood allowed to stand on its own. No overpowering sauces disguise their natural flavor. The grilled pulpo was seasoned the traditional Galician way, with paprika. Scallops were doused with olive oil and a touch of oregano. And vegetable-hungry, we were presented with a mountainous platter.

Naturally, we sampled a vegetarian restaurant, El Laurel. As with several restaurants, there is one host/waitperson/busser on the floor with the tables. The kitchen is on a floor below, a dumb-waiter linking the two. Somehow one person manages more efficiently than three or four at home. El Laurel’s salad arrived on a platter laden with rounds of goat cheese, fruits and greens. The asparagus risotto was wonderful, but the vegetable paella with its rather ordinary vegetables could be skipped. The ample salad and risotto would have been enough for both of us anyway.

La Hoja 21 has a soothing dining room that drew us in twice. Although we rarely eat three courses at home, afternoon menu del dia combinations represent such incredible bargains in Spain. If you choose the one at La Hoja, you must remain in the front room without the linens. But you will not dine alone in exile; that seems to be where most locals eat as well. Delicate pastry tied up an appetizer of goat cheese-filled “moneybags.” Arroz con pulpo was enhanced with chunks of chorizo, and eggplant risotto was infused with the deep smokiness of wild mushrooms. Both salmon and grilled calamari arrived perfectly cooked, and the sauce of the Mister’s raba de toro (bull’s or ox-tail) was so vibrant and rich not a drop remained on his plate. What looked like an average fresh salad was filled with fluffy light cubes of wild mushroom pate. Definitely a restaurant not to miss.

If dining at El Pecado is sinful, we are doubly-guilty. The Mister fell for the light pizza-crepe bearing huge amounts of seafood; the one on our return visit proved even better than his first. On both visits we were greeted by a creamy lentil amuse-bouche. Tomatoes filled with raspberry jam and topped with rounds of goat cheese made a refreshingly different salad, while a honey-mustard sauce sweetened a plate of grilled vegetables. A rich risotto was among the menu del dia specials, followed by a sweet lemon crème topped with tart grated lemon peel. We would have sinned again if our stay had been longer.

And in Salamanca, jamon Iberico is found everywhere. Considering trying to seduce my sisters away from our traditional Smithfield ham at Thanksgiving….


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