Where to Dine After a Good Bull Run: Tubal, Navarra, Spain

All I knew about Navarra, Spain was that it is where Pamplona’s Fiestas de San Fermin, the annual “Running of the Bulls” is held. Then I heard that the American Institute of Wine & Food was flying in Nicolás Jimenez, from Tubal Restaurant to prepare two special wine pairing dinners, (one in NYC and one in San Francisco) as a culinary tribute to the rich offerings of “The Kingdom of Navarra?.

The Birth of Tubal
Restaurante Tubal is located in the historic town of Tafalla, about 20 minutes from Pamplona, and was lovingly created by Nicolas’s mother, Atxen Jimenez. Her parents had originally opened a small neighborhood bar where a handful of locals would hang-out, drinking wine and nibbling on pinchos (appetizers.) When they retired, the couple wanted their eldest son to take over the business, because “the work was much too hard for a woman.”

Completely undaunted, in 1976, their head-strong daughter left boarding school and moved back home to run the family operation. When the talented Atxen started adding her own personal touches to the traditional cuisine, word began to spread. To keep up with the crowds, she kept expanding the restaurant, until Tubal now holds up to 400 guests.

After growing up in the kitchen of the Restaurante Túbal, Atxen’s son Nicolás wanted to do some culinary exploration on his own. He worked alongside two of Spain’s greatest chefs at restaurants Zuberoa, (under Chef Martín Berasategui) and at Arzak (under Chef Jose María Arzak). He then returned to Tubal to take over the kitchen, incorporating what he learned from these masters chefs, along with the teachings of his mother (whom he still says is his #1 favorite chef.) His style is further enriched by combining innovative, avant-garde twists to his beloved traditional cuisine.

The Food & Wine of Navarra
The medieval towns of Navarra are becoming a favorite among traveling food and wine aficionados. The region’s sun-drenched fertile valleys produce superb farm products and wines of the highest quality. While their food has a marked Basque influence, one decidedly Navarran trait is the strong emphasis of the high-quality local vegetables, mainly white asparagus, artichoke, cardoon, lettuce hearts, red pointed Piquillo peppers, and white beans.

Their most famous dish is Menestra, a vegetable pottage, which the locals say is nothing more than a selection of vegetables directly from the fields, and cooked in the same water that was used to water them. Along with the livestock, dairy products, distinctive olive oils, fish and wines, these home-grown products have been cultivated for generations, still using heritage artisanal methods.

Navarre’s first documented wineries date back to the 1st century. In the past, Navarre has lurked in the shadows of the neighboring Rioja , slightly known for their Rose wines. But in recent years their well-priced Red’s have started to receive international attention. And the story’s just beginning to unfold: the D.O. produces some good-value cask-fermented Chardonnay, some Complex cabs and Merlot, and sweet, fragrant Muscats.

With this newfound recognition, many old wineries are building new bodegas to receive guests and host wine tastings. Two of them are Principe Deviana and Bodegas Macaya.

Next: My interview with Chef Nicolas Jimenez.

By Vagablond’s Token Redhead.

Posted by Janice Nieder on February 22, 2007 in Food

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