Meson Candido, located conveniently right next door to Segovia's gigantic Roman aqueduct!
This is Meson Candido, the most venerable and elderly of Segovia's famous temples to cochinillo pork. A true institution, open since 1905 and chugging along with grit and style ever since, Meson Candido operates like a gigantic and hectic machine, turning out plate after plate of succulent and crisp roast suckling pig to a ravenous audience. The decor, meanwhile is true old-school Spanish, all soulful wood salons stuffed to the gills with wall-eyed animal heads and retro relics from the restaurant's very long life (Rock Hudson liked it!). Indeed quite a few of the occasionally doddering waitstaff seem to have been around during the building of the zillion-year old aqueduct itself. Celebrities, heads of state, and other dignitaries have all devoured the tender flesh of innocent baby animals here, and the tourists and accolades just keep coming, seemingly unfazed by the passing of decades, the financial crisis, or the pitiful wails of animal rights activists. We had to pay a visit.
Reservations are highly recommended at this temple of baby animal consumption, but of course I wasn't bright enough to make any. We simply ambled up right in the middle of Spain's 3:00 lunch rush and asked real nice for a spot. The waiter looked pained, took my name down, and said it might be a, well, indeterminate wait. But we'd driven all the way from Avila just for this shining moment, just for this slap of porcine bliss, and by God we were getting it. All told, it took the staff about twenty minutes to get us seated, as the restaurant operates on a profoundly confusing quadarant system - we went up one narrow flight of stairs, down another, through some doors, back through some doors, and finally ended up parking ourselves on the middle floor, hoping our pathetic and starving visages would help us, somehow. They did. We got a table. Once seated, a tablecloth, place settings, and utensils were thowcked onto the table at mindblowing speed, menus were passed out, and we were compelled to order soon. Don't worry: it's all part of the game at Meson Candido.
We started with a simple mixed tortilla, Spain's beloved egg and potato omelet. This was acceptably tasty, though I've never really understand the vast appeal of eggy substances - perhaps I was menaced by an poorly concieved poached egg during the tender years fo my youth. There were plenty of vegetables in here, and a nicey creamy center.
In the interest of nutrition, we tried a grilled tuna salad escabeche (vinegar) style with red bell peppers beneath. This was a pretty good rendition of one of Spain's most ubiquitous and delicious dishes, featuring big chunks of meaty and nicely salted grilled tuna rather then the usual canned n' olive oil stuff. Both are good when treated with love and tenderness. I liked the tangy vinegar flavor of the escabeche combined with the peppers, a pleasant hit of sweet and tangy working in tandem. This escabeche wasn't a knockout dish, but it was a great counterpoint to the main attraction - the cochinillo.
The cochinillo (roasted suckling pig) was divine, crazy good, the pinnacle of what all good little baby pigs should aspire to be. Roasted en masse in tremendous ovens here, the Candido family is known for cutting the pig "with the side of a plate" to prove how succulent and tender it is. We didn't see this ritual, but after tasting those salty and fatty pork juices, that crispy, crackling skin, that tender, ultra soft meat, hell, I want to believe. My dad proclaimed it the best piece of pork he's ever put in his mouth and as a North Carolina native, he knows that of which he speaks. We got a middle piece composed mainly of teeny-tiny ribs and ultra-rich belly meat, but some luckier diners had a dainty little trotter thrown in the mix. We made a mistake by ordering a single-person person - we should have ordered the quarter pig for two and been done with it. Don't do it. Don't ruin your lives. I suspect it is possible to order an entire pig here, if you feel like commiting cardiac suicide in the most unspeakably divine way possible.
We also had some salt roasted prawns, Spain's variant on China's dearly beloved salt and pepper shrimps. These were quite tasty, although as we would soon have transcedent prawns in Basque country, they suffer a bit in the recollection. Indeed, Spain seems to be some sort of curious epicenter for delicious-ass prawns, perhaps attracted here by mysterious underwater vibrations - secret military technology, I bet. The tail meat is always nice and tender and sweet, that is a given, but I prefer sucking the heads off these beasties much more. There's all that delicious bright red goo inside, the fat that lingers and grows sweet and decadent inside the central bits of the prawn. You can't pass it up.
Dessert was Segovia punch, a cakey dessert dearly beloved in this region of Spain, which seem to have a tremendous, dentist-supporting sweet tooth. Composed of sponge cake bathed in marzipan with a cream center, the punch had a nice creamy, pillowy texture, a slightly nutty, not overpowering flavor, and a pleasant and vaguely salty caramel sauce drizzled all over the top. Not to mention this is a visually striking dessert with its criss-cross top - these are displayed with great and justified pride in the dining rooms of many of Castile's restaurants.
We saw the man himself, Senor A. Candido, as we walked out the door, supported on the arm of his equally redoutable wife. He's pushing 80 or so but he was directing the restaurant all afternoon long, hustling up the stairs and ordering around his staff with what can only be described as unparalled skill. Here's to many years more, buddy.