Postcard from Ronda, Spain: Best croquetas and pizza award?

croquetas at Gastrobar Deja Vu

Ronda’s hilltop setting is drop-dead gorgeous (photos to come in next post). Unfortunately, that means it is no secret. Hordes of day-trippers from Seville or Malaga descend upon it. Tourists have taken over the old town to the point of forcing most locals to abandon it to live in somewhat “newer” neighborhoods down below.

So most of the restaurants in the historic center cater to tourists, with little need to worry about repeat business. Normally, in places we stay only a couple of days, I do not post separate restaurant reviews.

At this point in time, we had been in Spain about seven weeks. But here, in petite Ronda, we were shocked to find two “bests” in a pair of restaurants. The best croquetas, in our admittedly amateur opinion, and the best pizza we had found in Spain so far.

Gastrobar Deja Vu presented an assortment of croquetas. I think there were squid ink, traditional jamon and two more varieties. The presentation with numerous sauces and salad greens was handsome, and the croquetas were incredibly good. And we tried them twice to make certain.

Everything we had at Deja Vu surpassed expectations, from gorgeous salads to a bison burger. Perfectly cooked salmon with an imaginative combination of vegetables. Remember Fruit Roll-Ups? Deja Vu employed a beet version to wrap up a truffled-up barley risotto like a enchilada. The understated dessert described as a “brownie” consisted of rich chocolate multiple ways. And we enjoyed the hospitably-offered finish of Licor de Hierbas.

And pizza? We cannot blame Spain for not living up to our unrealistic expectations for that. If we want pizza, we should go to Naples (where I am now typing this). But here, in little Ronda, we encountered the first one to appeal to us on that trip. Prepared by an Italian on the main tourist row of restaurants, the pizza at Il Forno a Legna hit the spot.

Postcard from Cordoba, Spain: Regional flavors dominate menus

Torching of seafood atop paella at Al Grano Arroces y Mas

The distance from Cordoba to Seville is less than 100 miles, but the cuisine distinctions seem much greater. The regional favorite tapa is flamenquin. A slice of pork loin is topped with a slice of jamon and a piece of cheese and then rolled up and deep-fried. Fried eggplant drizzled with dark honey is found everywhere. The traditional salad consists of wedges of romaine topped with fried garlic with vinegar and oil for dressing. Sephardic-style preparations are abundant, and oxtail, rabo del toro, reigns.

A by-the-book traditional Cordoba menu removed from the main Mezquita tourist zone can be experienced at Restaurante Sociedad Plateros Maria Auxiliadora. Nothing trendy. A place where large family gatherings are held to celebrate First Communions or high school graduations.

Bodegas Mezquita, of which there are several, proved a popular spot for sampling Sephardic dishes. The warm garbanzo salad was wonderful, and we enjoyed a hardy lamb stew and fried merluza, hake.

Following a delicate appetizer of red tuna carpaccio atop a wispy crust, the Mister got his rabo del toro fix at La Fuente 12.

Restaurante Campos del Mar was far off the tourist grid, and it was well under-populated during its fixe prix lunch hour. The chef was so disappointed we did not order his habas (giant lima beans) con chorizo, he brought us a healthy portion to sample. I sometimes am blood-sausage-challenged, but, in his richly flavored broth, it was wonderful. The goat cheese salad was overdressed, a regional tendency, but the dressing was so good we managed to polish it off.

Reservations are needed to sample the rice specialties of the small Al Grano Arroces y Mas. Grilled apples were a nice change on our salad with the usual generous portion of goat cheese. Rather than try to replicate Valencian paella, the chef throws out the rule book. Seafood is placed atop the cooked pan of rice and dramatically scorched tableside.

In addition to the Mercado Victoria, our favorite spot to eat was the somewhat funky laid-back El Astronauta. A plate of grilled vegetables, always welcome. Perfectly cooked grilled tuna. Moussaka. And a luscious preparation of Moroccan savory-sweet chicken pastilla.

Postcard from Cordoba, Spain: Strolling through 80 years of photographs on the way to lunch

images from “50 Fotografias con Historia,” XVI Bienal de Fotografia de Cordoba

Fifty images providing a glimpse of the past 80 years of the history of photography in Spain stretched out along Paseo de la Victoria earlier this year, flavorful tapas for us on the way to Mercado Victoria.

The large photographs were assembled for the XVI Bienal de Fotografia de Cordoba. Rather than try to show you snapshots of photographers’ famous works, I grabbed a few details caught in passing between panels. There are a few whole images on the website, including my favorite of the flying seminarian playing soccer taken by Ramon Masats in Madrid in 1959.

We wandered among the photographs twice as we made our way to pick out lunch from among the 30 stalls housed in Mercado Victoria. Cordobese delicacies and international dishes are found in the culinary market that opened in 2013 in a wrought-iron and glass zinc-roofed pavilion dating from 1877.

Normally we tend to find food halls of this type too touristy, but Mercado Victoria has the advantage of being removed from the main tourist zone around La Mezquita. Most customers were locals on their lunch hours, and tables were abundant. And with real plates and wine glasses, lunch there was pretty civilized.

Apologies for scrambling up culinary and photographic art, but for us they were a shared experience.