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Las Rejas


Bux
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Las Rejas has one star in the Michelin Guide. In an area not packed with stars, one star can often mean it's not so bad as the prevailing food in the area, but when it was mentioned in eGullet by vserna, it was with the sense that something important was happening here -- something important enough to warrant at least a detour and change in plans. Going with our gut reaction, we decided to drive from Madrid to Andalusia rather than fly or take the train. Our gut was well rewarded, although it was probably an even greater treat for our palate. In any event there were enough sights we had never seen along the way to justify our route although we ran into one snag planning the itinerary. Michelin doesn't list one recommended hotel in town and the Campsa guide didn't have one to recommend either, although it gave Las Rejas two stars (sols, or suns, actually). A quick e-mail to travel industry colleagues in Spain brought a reply that wasn't much different than if we had asked if we should run naked clockwise or counterclockwise around the restaurant before having lunch. Where to stay in Las Pedroñeras was a question just too preposterous to be taken seriously. Las Rejas however, was well known and from the foodie in the office came that advice that it was well worth any detour. Gastronomic travel in Spain is just very different from what it is in France. Charming inns are not connected to the best restaurants in the provinces. Fortunately so many things conspire to suggest one take the most important meal of the day at lunch quite often. Post lunchtime siestas however, dictate one should rent a larger car with reclining seats than one wants when trying to navigate the historic centers of older towns and villages.

Life is full of compromises. Manolo de la Osa's kitchen is not. Nine courses and dessert greeted us and not one of those courses seemed to have slighted creativity although it was clear the chef wasn't trying to dazzle us with outlandish innovation. It turned out that we had a mutual friend who called ahead to alert the chef of our arrival. The standard tasting menu is evidently less than 9 savory courses. At some point around the seventh course, Mrs. B stopped mopping up each course with bread and the waitress noticed her inability to finish a couple of dishes. The server whispered to her that she shouldn't feel bad, the chef had added a couple of courses to the meal for us. Had each course been served family style, I would have had more than my share of each one from the delicate, but refreshingly brisk amuse of a cylinder of clams in fish aspic with blood orange juice to the unctuous boned and roasted lamb's foot that was reassembled, glazed with a meat jus reduction with a hint of sweetness (quince?) and served with with roasted red peppers and a "quenelle" of crushed potatoes and sauteed onion. The composition of the meal itself was as much a work of art as the individual courses which generally proceeded from the light and contemporary to the more rustic and traditional dishes with disarming diversions along the way that not only kept our interest, but which left us wondering in what direction the side trip would take us.

From the amuse we proceeded to a poached plump oyster, gently spiced calabasa sauce with candied lemon peel. This may or may not have been the Ostras, citricos, curry y azafran listed on the carte. The spicing was extremely delicate, as was the poaching of the oyster. The use of candied lemon peel which although outrageous to the mind, was correct to the taste buds.

Foie gras with apple puree and balsamic vinegar and toasted hazelnuts. This was not a dish that said "Spain" to me. The garnish was much simpler than most French chefs are using these days, but the quality of the terrine needed no garnish to be appreciated. The toasted hazelnuts were nice with the foie gras and although we intended to drink very little with an eye to getting back on the road after lunch, the dish merited a nice sweet wine which we didn't order.

Queso fresco de pastor, trufas, hierbas y frutos secos. Manchego cheese soup with nuts, apple, tomato confit and chopped truffles suspended in olive oil. The dominant flavor was of a sharp cheese in combination with the complementary flavors. We found this to be a unique dish and a tour de force.

Crema de patatas, hongos, trufas, especias. Potato cream/puree with truffle/viande jus, tocino (pancetta), migas (bread dice) and chopped truffles. The rich tocino brought out the earthiness of the truffles. This was another impressively delicious dish. How any chef could reduce potatoes to the smoothest possible puree and not think of adding bread crumbs to restore some character is beyond me, at least now that de la Osa's cooking has demonstrated it so well.

Sopa de ajo 2002 caliente. Garlic soup that seemed quite traditional, at least in origins if not in execution. Garlic bread croutons, Serrano ham and poached egg were brought in a bowl and the waiter added a chorizo and tomato flavored broth at the table. This was a dish whose success was dependent on the depth of flavor of the broth. The simplicity of the dish and it's arrival at this point in the meal was a key factor in it's effectiveness as well.

Ravioli of small game with cepes and asparagus and a little meat jus. Very thin, translucent pasta rolled around a filling of small game braised and finely shredded to make it a deeply flavored unctuous stuffing. It was a bit like the morteruelo we had experienced a night before, but unlike the morteruelo, it had no bread, large game or domesticated animal flesh.

Sea bream (besugo) with tomato compote, pesto sauce and meat jus. The fish was cooked à point, and although one of the more traditional dishes simply presented, it would not have been a disappointment at a two star meal.

The savory course concluded with the boned lamb's foot, which I found compelling in spite of being completely sated at this point. When I first realized how full I was and just how rich this piece of meat was, I assumed I'd just taste it for the intellectual experience, but it was so delicious that I polished off my dish. The accompanying potatoes and roasted pepper could not have been more "Spain." I was rather astonished that a meal that had impressed me earlier by it's creative spirit ended up being all the more impressive for it's rendition of what seemed an old fashioned rustic dish.

It should be understandable that it was hard to pay attention to dessert, but a millefeuille of chocolate layers sandwiched with banana mousse, vanilla ice cream and a saffron cream sauce was pretty well finished, perhaps to the surprise of our servers. Coffee was a disappointment. We've found the coffee in most bars and cafes superior to that in fine restaurants and wondered if the top restaurants were importing their coffee.

In all fairness to Las Pedroñeras, it should be appreciated for being widely known as the garlic capital of Spain.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

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  • 3 months later...

Bux: "Queso fresco de pastor, trufas, hierbas y frutos secos. Manchego cheese soup with nuts, apple, tomato confit and chopped truffles suspended in olive oil. The dominant flavor was of a sharp cheese in combination with the complementary flavors. We found this to be a unique dish and a tour de force."

This is a brilliant dish, one of the best deconstruction type dishes I have encountered in Spain.

"One of de la Osa's most memorable creations is an inspired twist on the classic Manchego cheese, fruit or membrillo (quince paste)-and-nuts theme. It incorporates Manchego cheeses into a creamy sheep's milk base onto which hazelnuts, diced green apples, Spanish black truffle slices, a dollop of tomato compote and herbs have been artfully arranged. The dish retains all the flavors of the simple original, but refines them to a level that would be standout in any great restaurant in the world." - - from an article by Gerry Dawes

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"Sopa de ajo 2002 caliente. Garlic soup that seemed quite traditional, at least in origins if not in execution. Garlic bread croutons, Serrano ham and poached egg were brought in a bowl and the waiter added a chorizo and tomato flavored broth at the table. This was a dish whose success was dependent on the depth of flavor of the broth. The simplicity of the dish and it's arrival at this point in the meal was a key factor in it's effectiveness as well."

Unless, it was a departure from the recipe as Manolo usually does it, there is no chorizo in his Sopa de Ajo. That "chorizo" flavor comes from excellent Spanish pimentón, or paprika, which of course is one of the flavors (and the coloring agent) in chorizo. Smoked pimentón de Vera from Cáceres province is one of the best paprikas in the world.

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Yeah, that pimenton is unbeleivably smoky stuff. I was able to sample some at Gerry's wine tasting last week at Artisanal Cheese Center in NYC and it really does impart an incredible flavor to stuff. What was that cheese again that had the paprika crust on it? Was it the Ibores?

I can definitely see how someone could mistake that flavor for Chorizo. I mean, it IS the flavor, short of the porkiness, right?

Edited by Jason Perlow (log)

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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That "chorizo" flavor comes from excellent Spanish pimentón, or paprika, which of course is one of the flavors (and the coloring agent) in chorizo.

That would explain why we could discern the flavor of what we associate as the taste of chorizo, but not find any evidence of the sausage itself. Thank you. While much of my fascination with food in Spain is the excitement of discovery, at some point my full appreciation will require more in depth knowledge about what I am tasting.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Yeah, that pimenton is unbeleivably smoky stuff. I was able to sample some at Gerry's wine tasting last week at Artisanal Cheese Center in NYC and it really does impart an incredible flavor to stuff. What was that cheese again that had the paprika crust on it? Was it the Ibores?

I can definitely see how someone could mistake that flavor for Chorizo. I mean, it IS the flavor, short of the porkiness, right?

Yes, the Ibores often is rubbed with pimentón de Vera, that superb paprika that I let everyone have a whiff off the other night.

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Unless, it was a departure from the recipe as Manolo usually does it, there is no chorizo in his Sopa de Ajo.  That "chorizo" flavor comes from excellent Spanish pimentón, or paprika, which of course is one of the flavors (and the coloring agent) in chorizo.  Smoked pimentón de Vera from Cáceres province is one of the best paprikas in the world.

There is one flavor prevalent in most Puertorrican cooking (Spanish influenced) chorizo. Excuse my ignorance but I had never heard of "smoked pimenton" until now. Next time we go to Spain I will look for it. So many times I don't have any chorizo handy and the dry pimenton would be great to have around.

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Actually it isn't smoked, just dried. But it does lend a somewhat smoky flavor.

It is smoked

In eastern Spain, where it is drier, the pods can be dried in the sun. But in Extremadura, fall rains raise the humidity to the level where the pods would rot or mold. So in the La Vera valley, they are placed in burlap sacks and then loaded on flatbed trucks that haul them to the drying buildings.

The pimientos are slowly dried over smoldering pedunculate or holm oak logs for ten to fifteen days and are hand-turned twenty-four hours a day before they are ready to be processed into pimentón. The smoke-dried pods are then ground into powder (the pimentón) and packed in bulk containers. The majority of the pimentón goes to the sausage factories, where it is used to spice up, flavor, and brighten up the famous Spanish chorizo. But it is also packed in tins for the consumer market. There are three varieties of pimentón--sweet (dulce), hot (picante), and bittersweet (agridulce).

Mrs. B, you can buy this paprika in the US. I get the the La Chinata brand.

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Sorry, I do admit the correction: indeed in La Vera they hot-smoke the peppers over holm oak fires.

But La Vera is not the only style or source of pimentón in Spain. In Murcia, with a drier climate, pimentón is always sun-dried.

Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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Typically, we use two different kinds of pimentón, one sweet and another hot. You can find more about Pimentón de La Vera here:

http://www.pimentonvera-origen.com/i_intro.htm

and it seems that you can get some in the States from tienda.com .

Another well-known regional dish where pimentón, both sweet and hot, plays a starring role is "pulpo a feira", that is octopuss cooked in Galicia style. Sliced boiled octopuss and cachelos, a special kind of potato, olive oil, pimentón and sea salt. Simple and tricky, at the same time.

PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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I've had "pulpo a feira" several tmes in Galicia and in other parts of Spain and here in NY and yes, there is a lot of pimenton, or paprika looking red powder, but it never tasted "smoked" or like chorizo. Is the Pimenton de Vera from Caceres the only one that is smoked?

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From Guajolote's Pimentón link:

Pimentón de la Vera was the first chile pepper product to be granted a Denominacíon de Origen, or controlled name status. (The second was the piment d’Espelette, which was granted a French Appellation d’Origine Controlee). Controlled name status means that other varieties of pimientos cannot be called pimentón, and that consumers are guaranteed that the product is made in the same, time-honored manner.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Is the Pimenton de Vera from Caceres the only one that is smoked?

Yes it is.

I, for one, always prefer dried pimentón. That may be why I (sorry not to be very nationalistic there) almost always prefer a fine 'különleges' paprika from Hungary to a Spanish pimentón.

Edited by vserna (log)

Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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Unless, it was a departure from the recipe as Manolo usually does it, there is no chorizo in his Sopa de Ajo.  That "chorizo" flavor comes from excellent Spanish pimentón, or paprika, which of course is one of the flavors (and the coloring agent) in chorizo.  Smoked pimentón de Vera from Cáceres province is one of the best paprikas in the world.

There is one flavor prevalent in most Puertorrican cooking (Spanish influenced) chorizo. Excuse my ignorance but I had never heard of "smoked pimenton" until now. Next time we go to Spain I will look for it. So many times I don't have any chorizo handy and the dry pimenton would be great to have around.

Apparently the smoked pimenton de vera is not used as a flavoring agent in MOST Chorizos, though. The hot dried stuff seems to be more common in chorizo throughout Spain, as it is in the US and Puerto Rico. The sweet dried variety seems to be more prevalent for standard "al ajillo" cooked dishes and such.

I'd sure love to get ahold of some chorizos that use that smoked stuff.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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I'd sure love to get ahold of some chorizos that use that smoked stuff.

Those from Extremadura (where the Vera valley is) do. But, as discussed elwewhere, the availability of Spanish ham and sausages in the US remains extremely limited.

Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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I'd sure love to get ahold of some chorizos that use that smoked stuff.

Those from Extremadura (where the Vera valley is) do. But, as discussed elwewhere, the availability of Spanish ham and sausages in the US remains extremely limited.

lets hope some of these get USDA certification eventually.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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  • 1 month later...

From Martin Berasategui - 2003 thread

Bux, the Spanish Academy of Gastronomy, which does the ratings for the Campsa travel guide (Spain's largest selling one), has just elevated (for the 2004 edition) Manolo de la Osa's Las Rejas to its top category of three 'suns', where he joins the likes of Arzak or El Bulli. Michelin, on its part, keeps him with just one star.

I'm really pleased to hear that. I think it's human nature to want to have one's taste reinforced with the backing of some establishment judgment. I think I described my meal there as holding its own with any two star restaurant in France, and I've have some meals in two star restaurants that I thought should have had three stars. I suspect this is the English language scoop on this news, so I thank you. I have not read anything on Las Rejas in the English language press. In fact, I believe your earlier mention of the restaurant here is the only thing I've read in English about de la Osa or the restaurant before we went there. As I recall it was two "sols" in Campsa this year and the woman we spoke to in Madrid--a woman who described her husband as obsessed with food--said her husband thought it was underrated.

This has very much become a benchmark restaurant for us. Most of our meals in Spain since, have been compared to Las Rejas. Some of them have been considered to have been "finer," although none have been considered better. The concept of finesse is far more subjective here than even quality and should not really be taken as a necessarily positive. In fact, Manolo's lamb's foot was a more impressive final savory dish in some ways than the ubiquitous pigeons we had last week. Then again the fact that I love pigeon more than lamb's foot and that the latter was unique to my experience worked in its favor. The one difference between Las Rejas and the restaurants in the Pais Basque and even Echaurren that shouldn't be over looked when discussion Michelin stars is the decor, ambience and environment of the restaurant. While I was most comfortable and noticed not a single service fault, with the possible exception of too great an efficiency in presenting the next course, and while I don't think Michelin is as focused on luxury settings as some French chefs seem to think, I would suggest the current environment of Las Rejas will work against Michelin recognizing it as a three star restaurant. While Akelarre and Berasategui might bring diners just for the view, and maybe I'd add Mugaritz to that category, Las Rejas may have the drabbest setting and most unimposing exterior appearance of any restaurant in Spain. The interior is nice enough, but in a provincial way, and lacks the smart chicness or the restored historical situation I'm coming to expect in a top Spanish restaurant. I'd also add that the price tag is a bargain that belies the quality. It's 160 kilometers from Madrid and well worth a detour on any drive south or east of Madrid. It would also make for a reasonable overnight trip from Madrid combining sightseeing in Aranjuez and Cuenca with a possible overnight in one of a couple of Paradors.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I personally don't consider Las Rejas as a definite three-star place (yet), but absolutely two stars, which it doesn't even get from Michelin. The drab surroundings contribute to the entirely original atmosphere, in my view, but I'd think Manolo should move elsewhere to really get a crack at three stars, the way Michelin's collective mind works. He's had opportunities (like that of taking over Zalacain in Madrid, once a three-star restaurant itself), but he doesn't seem to be prepared for the big time pressures.

Edited by vserna (log)

Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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I personally don't consider Las Rejas as a definite three-star place (yet), but absolutely two stars, which it doesn't even get from Michelin. The drab surroundings contribute to the entirely original atmosphere, in my view, but I'd think Manolo should move elsewhere to really get a crack at three stars, the way Michelin's collective mind works. He's had opportunities (like that of taking over Zalacain in Madrid, once a three-star restaurant itself), but he doesn't seem to be prepared for the big time pressures.

I've seen the big time pressures from a close enough point and I can't say I blame him. I"ve always valued enjoying life on a day to day basis very highly. One can discuss the Michelin stars from any number of angles, but I suspect there's a certain kind of rationale working here. On one level that red book is what it was meant to be 100 years ago. I reference of places to stop and eat as well as sleep on the road. In France at least, it's become a map of destinations, but my guess is that Las Rejas, anywhere in that area, would become a destination place for tourists faster if it moved to a Relais et Chateaux inn with swimming pool than if it got two or even three stars. I say that from an impersonal view. In fact, it's the rich surroundings and expensive rooms that keep me from spending more time in French inns with great food. In another thread, I noted one of the disconnects between the French and French foods is that the best restaurants are pricing themselves out of the local market. In the Pais Vasco, with possible exception of Akelarre for some reason, I heard very little English in the best dining rooms. The two and three star places were as well used by locals as by tourists and it was a pretty at-home sort of crowd. Lots of shirtsleeves and informality. Perhaps I'm being a little unfair to the French in comparing Paris to the Pais Vasco, but that was my impression.

I'd like to see a place like Las Rejas in the country with an inn attached or in a small town with a few bars and choice of reasonably priced hotels. Echaurren is a good example of a place to stop for the night, or even as a base for a short stay.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I eat there a couple of weeks ago and felt a little disappointed. We went for the "menu degustacion"and the timing between courses seemed an eternity to us and worked against the whole experience since we were no longer hungry half way through. I found service extremely clumsy. Nevertheless I would go back just to have a full portion of "Lechona confitada", a true delicacy

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... the timing between courses seemed an eternity to us and worked against the whole experience since we were no longer hungry half way through. I found service extremely clumsy.

I don't recall the service being clumsy, although it's less polished than at some of the more elegant restaurants, perhaps. In any event we found the service friendly. If I had any complaint about the arrival of courses it would be that they arrived too soon after I had finished the last one. From my notes "Once again courses arrive one after the other. Almost as soon as a course is cleared, the next one arrives." I wonder if this was a sign that we were receiving VIP treatment. If so, than it tend to confirm my impression that Spaniards eat at less leisurely pace than I normally like to do. Onions' complaint seems to reinforce that as well. At all of the "better" restaurants (one star and above) in which we ate, we never felt the food service was too slow. We often felt it was rushed.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Yes, we like to eat a lot faster than the French do. That's a fact. It's often a problem with foreign clients.

This from Josep Pedrell, the chef-owner of the delightful Joan Gatell restaurant in Cambrils, south of Barcelona - one of the greatest spots for smackingly fresh seafood-based traditional Catalan cuisine: "We serve a lunch here in little more than one hour. But the moment I hear French spoken or a French accent when someone occupies a table, I warn the kitchen staff, 'Attention, French at table 15!' They automatically know what to do: we will not serve them lunch in less than two hours. Otherwise, the French will feel cheated. They don't understand anything but a very leisurely meal when in a restaurant gastronomique."

The French are right, no doubt; we are way too impatient, we gobble up food. But we Spaniards come from a society where, less than 50 years ago, many people were still on a survival diet amongst great poverty. And it takes centuries for the habits of newfound prosperity and culture to take hold... :shock:

Edited by vserna (log)

Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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I hate being rushed or stuffed. I don't want people to clean the table the moment I put my fork down...however we all know that if you eat a little bit wait for a while eat another bite wait and so on, the hunger feeling will disappear (not that I need to be hungry to eat, you understand). There is a balance and they definitely didnt come close.

If I recall well, we arrived slightly before 3:00 and left the restaurant at 6:40. Just to give you an idea. No long "sobremesa" afterwards with drinks and cards, just eating.

At the end everything boils down to perception. It is a little bit of a trip from Madrid if you are just going for lunch...and I was expecting nothing but a top experience. Although some of the dishes where really good, If I have to celebrate myself I will stay closer to Madrid.

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