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Our recent visit to Solana, one of Cantabria´s new Michelin Star restaurants (we now have a total of six).  As it is with any of our Michelin star restaurants, an eating experience that leaves your taste buds perplexed yet very pleased.

FYI.  Michelin stars are a ratings system used in a yearly touring guide published by Michelin (yes, the tire company).  The guide (a little red book) recommends hotels and restaurants by country and some major world cities.  Stars are awarded to exceptionally good restaurants.

Solana is the restaurant of Chef Ignacio Solana Perez.  We had a spectacular meal and experience overall with his creations and his attentive staff.  Its the kind of place you want to go with some time on your hands.  Take the time to eat slow and enjoy every single bite of each dish.  Wonderful blend of traditional and modern cuisine.  Everything about the experience was great; food, wine, service, the place, all of it.  Where do I begin… at the start I guess…

The start of something good

First up, a selection of three breads.  Bread is part of every meal in Spain.  I am a breadophile (yes, I think I just made that up), so right up my alley. A rustic bread, a nutty/seedy whole grain and a buttery goodness tort.  Each delicious in its own way.

Bread selection, heaven for a breadophile

Aperitif One: Our first dish was a deconstructed Cantabrian mountain stew.  It was amazing, first becasue it was incredibly good with all the flavors of a real stew, but in a nice little neat modern cuisine package.  I have to go into some detail because I was surprised at how well it captured the essence of what it replicated.

Cocido Montañes (Cantabrian mountain stew) is hearty and delicious and can be a meal all by itself.  In any regular restaruant it looks something like this:

Cocido Montañes – Catabrian Mountain Stew

Solana´s “Falso Cocido Montañes” (False Cantabrian Mountain Stew) looks like this:

Solana Falso Cocido Montañes

It contained all the flavors of a real stew, but all in different forms.  A mousse of morcilla (delicious sausage I won´t tell you the details of just know it´s yumm) that is hidden underneath, a cream of beans (the orange part), foam of collard greens, and a chorizo crisp.  Incredible falsification, nice to get all the flavors yet still have room to eat other things (which may not always be the case with traditional stew).

Next were another series of falsifications, if you will, of traditional Cantabrian and Spanish dishes. I´ll run through them and try to be a bit quicker not to bore you, although they each deserve more detail…

Aperitif Two: Piquillo Pepper Ice Cream with Cantabrian Sea Anchovy with a Picual Olive Oil Spray

Traditonal anchoas con pimientos del piquillo (anchovies with roasted peeled red peppers) looks like this:

Traditional anchoas con pimientos

Solana´s creation was this:

Solana´s take on anchovy with pepper

He made the peppers into an ice cream! Tasted much like the traditional, but the texture and temp made it a very new experience. A great local anchovy (Cantabria makes some of the best anchovies around, caught offshore in the Cantabrian Sea and salted in the port town of Santoña) and the light Picual olive oil spray made this dish spectacular.  Ok, I know I said I´d be short, but it was just too good!

Appetizer One: Glass of Cantabrian Sea Spider Crab with Pumpkin and Orange Aromas and hints of Vanilla and Dill.

Traditional Centollo (local Cantabrian spider crab) is prepared something like this:

Solana made it into something that seemed more like a dessert than a crab dish.  I am a picky crab eater and it has to be prepared just right for me to like it.  I practically licked the glass clean it was so good.

Solana´s Copa de Centollo

Appetizer Two: Grilled Artichoke Hearts with Giant Scarlet Shrimp and noodles made from local Cantabrian Cuttlefish.  Not a falsification here, just an awesome creation.

Solana´s Alcachofas, Carabinero y Tallarines de Jibia

Carabineros (scarlet shrimp) are one of my favorite shellfish so this was delightful for me (it would be for anyone I would think).  The grilled artichokes were nice on a bed of magical cuttlefish pasta.  Wow.

Appetizer Three: Chunk of Pulled Iberian Pork Belly with Breaded King Prawn tail over Fresh Pasta

The pork part of the dish reminded me very much of the traditional Castillian dish, cochinillo asado, braised suckling pig.

Solana´s Taco de Panceta Ibérica Mechada con Cigala y pasta

The pork belly and skin like crisp on the side were loyal to the flavors and textures of traditional cochinillo. The meat was melt in your mouth and the crisp was just that, crispy like the skin off the cochinillo.  The cigala (king prawn or Dublin bay prawn or Norway lobster, I´ve seen this translated so many ways) was delicious and just happens to be my favorite shellfish.
I have to say, by this time we were over an hour into it with no end in sight.  Next came the main dishes.  I´ll digress into our wine selection as a break… We picked one of my favorite Albariños.  Mar de Frades. A delicious coastal white from the Rias Baixas wine growing region of Spain (Galicia). Albariños are perfect for seafood and the fresh, cool flavors always bring your taste buds closer to the ocean. Love this Albariño in particular, one of my favorites.

Mar de Frades. Albariño. Rias Baixas.

Main Course Fish: Red Mullet Front and Back (Head Meat Puree, Soup, Skin and Liver Oils)

Solana´s Salmonete de Alante-Atrás

This was a strong flavored dish, for fish lovers. The red mullet (salmonete) was given a final basting at our table with the hot soup made from the bones of the fish.  It was accompanied by a puree of the head meat and the oils of the skin and liver.  Very complex and not for anyone that can´t take the strong flavors of every one of the ingredients.  I cleaned my plate 😉
Main Course Meat: Veal Beef Cheek stewed in a Red Wine Sauce with Potato Puree and Fried Yucca

Solana´s Carrillera de Ternera

This is fairly traditional dish with the fried yucca being the only exception.  It was dissolve in your mouth tender and the veal was very flavorful.  Always one of my favorite meats.  Great way to bring everything back around to the known universe.  Loved it.

We then had three desserts. Here are a couple of pics, although forgot to get one of the deconstructed tiramisu… we were crosseyed by this point 😉 They were all delish.

Macedonia Tropical en Sopa de Piña, Helado de Queso Fresco y Espuma de Coco

Pan Broche Caramelizada, Helado de Lima y Crujiente de Fruta Fresca

All in all we spent 2 1/2 hours in our culinary experience.  What a great (and delicious) way to spend an afternoon.

Enjoying a spectacular meal such as this is always a treat for the senses and makes you realize that a chef´s kitchen can be just as creative as an artist´s studio.  We are lucky to have so many options for enjoying a great meal here in Cantabria, from traditional to cutting edge, always wonderful.