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 Cadiz, Spain: Port city grants chefs license to play

The peninsula restricts available square footage immensely, so some of our favorite spots for eating out in Cadiz were tiny. We actually resorted to reservations so we were not continually shoved out of the local favorites into the tourist zone.

With the grilled pulpo above as Exhibit A, La Candela Tapas Bar became our favorite spot. The housemade croquetas of the day always were great, but, aside from that traditional preparation, the kitchen liberated itself to play. Presentation of dishes always surprised, from the unusual duck “ravioli” to a green tea tiramisu in an espresso pot. The shrimp and mango ceviche was refreshing, and the loaded-up board of roasted vegetables was particularly welcome.

We never go long without pizza and had not found any to our liking in Sevilla. But coNfusione Pizza & Bar offered the Italian accent we had been craving in a spot even smaller than La Candela. Again, there seemed a port-city freedom at play in the kitchen. Freshly caught red tuna flavorfully found its way into lasagna, and salmon reclined seductively atop a house squid-ink bread.

Fortunately, the tables at Sonambulo occupied a larger patch of real estate on Plaza de Candelaria, so we were able to get seated there without reservations. The fried asparagus are not to be skipped, and the salads, including an heirloom tomato one with anchovies, were varied. The wild mushroom tost was ideal for sharing.

The Mister satisfied his once-a-month desire for a hamburger at Ultramar & Nos. Fresh red tuna found its way into a sashimi-type dish for me.

Balandro Restaurante has a tapas side that was packed with locals standing six-deep at its bar, so we settled into the restaurant side. Tortillitas de camarones, mussels with spinach and lasagna with lobster sauce all were flavorful, but the restaurant side seemed a bit stuffy even though it offered a view of the water.

Reservationless at the popular spot we wanted to try, one day we found ourselves with no choice but a restaurant row targeted by hoards disgorged from cruise ships. Pleasantly surprised amidst the sea of tourists, we found the seafood arroz caldoso at Bar La Dorado quite tasty.

Our overall recommendation for Cadiz, however, is to call in a reservation.

Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: Sorry, you must be starving by now

Seems too long since this blog made a food stop.

Fresh red tuna was running while we were in Spain this spring and summer, and the above photo represents an upscale presentation of it from the kitchen of chef Gonazlo Jurado of Tradevo Centro. The name represents a fusion of the words tradition and evolution. An avocado roll, or canelon, filled with shrimp is particularly luscious.

Like Tradevo, ConTendor Slow Food Restaurant is a little more upscale than we tend to frequent, but neither results in particularly high tabs at lunchtime. The long and varied daily menu is written on a large chalk board, and the server reads through the entire thing with you to see if you have any questions. It can be parked on your table briefly for consideration, but on a two-top it is awkward to read and we quickly found ourselves forgetting what some of the dishes were. Everything is presented artfully, such as an unusual deconstructed dessert of eucalyptus ice cream with creamy meringue and basil hazelnut paste on the side.

The winner for our favorite people-watching patio is Quilombo. The casual spot is on an intimate plaza on a mainly pedestrian narrow street frequented by locals. The mussels and salmon burgers are good, but it was the patio that really drew us back.

While one Arte y Sabor Tapas is located on Plaza Hercules, there is an overflow one about half a block away that attracts more locals. The prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and the falafel are welcome changes. Artefacto Grill & Beers is just off the plaza as well, and, as a result, snagging a table at lunch is much easier. Love their cheesy rice-filled zucchini and croquetas filled with spinach and pine nuts. Burgers, from veggie to retinto beer, are their specialties.

We did not realize when we stumbled across Vida Loca that it had only been open a week. The neighborhood evidently was keenly aware, so it was packed. The traditional garbanzo stew and boquerones are spot on, and the plate piled high with fresh vegetables and slices of jamon is uncommonly varied. Tucked away on a side street and seemingly undiscovered by many tourists, tables in Estraperlo are wedged between shelves holding fresh vegetables and other “ecological market” items for sale. We shared a lunch of artichokes with jamon and a stir-fry with shrimp.

We tried more than one Morroccan/Arab restaurant but were shocked to find our most successful meal in that vein right smack in the middle of one of the areas most congested by tourists – a Halal restaurant, Al Wadi. The chilled squash with a pomegranate, honey and lemon sauce is a pleasant starter, and lamb arrives atop the most flavorful savory rice ever entering my mouth. And then, right under the landmark visitor magnet Las Setas, was Malavida Tapas. I almost left it off the list, but the photos rescued it at the last minute. We went on a rare rainy day, so it was empty instead of overrun. The vegetables, the seedy avocado salad and the beef panes are all much better than one would expect to find in the location.

The final stop offered for your meal consideration in Sevilla almost reminded me of the old Europe on $5 a day (pretty nigh on impossible even in the olden days) guidebooks; it was that much a bargain. A simple neighborhood hole-in-the-wall, El Enano Verde offers ridiculously low-priced freshly prepared vegetarian fare. Both our wok-style vegetables and black rice with snow peas resulted in clean plates. I am including this because it is an ideal conscious-clearing spot to balance your budget and your calories after indulging in too many splurge meals.

But, you might ask, where is the pizza? Anyone who knows us is aware we don’t travel for long without pizza. We tried several in Seville but failed to find one we would recommend. But our Spanish options were so abundant we survived easily.