Three years ago, my wife and I were driving around Basque country in northern Spain, and we stopped at an asador, a restaurant specializing in grilling and roasting meat over aromatic wood and charcoal fires. When we had polished off a beautiful chuleta (a chop, which is what the Spanish call a bone-in rib steak), the owner-chef boasted that his meat had come from an eight-year-old buey from the region of Galicia in northwest Spain; the animal had worked all its life and had been fed both grass and grain throughout. As the chef was speaking in Basque and his sous chef was translating into French, I was sure I had misunderstood. And so I spent the next 10 minutes cross-examining him until I became convinced at last that, yes, I had stumbled upon a seriously major and novel gastronomic phenomenon, both revolutionary and earthshaking, and probably outmoded at the same time.
His quest was later aided by two member of the eGullet Society, Pedro and Rogelio.
I read everything I could find, which was nothing, and questioned everyone I could think of. My curiosity mounted into a preoccupation, and then into an obsession. Relief finally arrived a year later in the form of Lydia Itoi, a Japanese-American friend who writes about food and travel for the European edition of Time. Lydia introduced me to two of her Spanish friends who had been to a remarkable rural restaurant named Bodega El Capricho ("The Whim"), which specializes in serving the meat of aged bueyes and even cows. One of them, Pedro Espinosa, is an IT executive who also writes a weekly restaurant review for El Mundo, Spain's second-most-popular newspaper; his friend, Rogelio Enríquez, had blogged about the same restaurant on his own gastronomy site, pistoynopisto.com. Over the following six months we formulated a plan. I would fly from New York to Bilbao, where I would meet up with Pedro. After three days of dining at several of Spain's leading asadores, we would drive most of the way across northern Spain and eat a buey at El Capricho.
Speaking of his meal at El Capricho:
There was a chuleta from a 12-year-old Rubia Gallega ox, then a smaller chop from a 14-year-old Mirandesa, a more diminutive breed. The very apogee was a vast chuletón (a gigantic chuleta) that draped across the platter and onto the table, taken from a massive 16-year-old Rubia Gallega. This was the animal we had been promised weeks before, and it was probably the greatest steak I've ever eaten. It was followed by another small chop from a 15- to 17-year-old Mirandesa. The parade of flesh concluded with an unsuccessful experiment, a chuleta from a cow so old it had probably forgotten its day of birth; the meat of the poor thing had been unable to withstand the 90 days of aging, and its flesh had become mushy.
Those strong words certainly had me salivating, though I have never experienced what they had. Is there corroboration from others here? What kind of experience do people here have eating ox meat either in Spain or elsewhere? Does anyone have any particular recommendations on restaurants other than El Capricho where one can find steak this good? Any thoughts on El Capricho?