12 January 2015

n.d.p. in andalusia: casa bigote, sanlucar

What little information was available indicated Casa Bigote was among the best restaurants in Sanlucar. In our defense, Sanlucar is a coastal town in a relatively impoverished region. One feels there ought to be a splendid seafood place, and it ought to be right on the Bajo de Guia, as Casa Bigote is.

One's expectations begin to decline when, on a balmy night in early June, one traverses the bat-infested ruins dividing that section of the Bajo de Guia from the town proper to discover that the restaurants on the quay are quite deserted. Casa Bigote is almost indistinguishable from its neighbors: a sprawling, two-storied complex housing a bar and a restaurant on opposite sides of an small alley. We dined at the restaurant, which may have been a mistake. Perhaps the bar is best. Why else would such we have heard such praise for a genteel seaside tavern offering acceptable traditional fare in Sanlucar at what seemed like Seville prices?

The most memorable part of the meal - which we tried, without success, to repeat - was an older bottle of Manzanilla "GF" from Bodegas Gaspar Florido, an historic bodega whose wines, from what I understand, have more or less vanished since its sale to Bodegas Pedro Romero in 2007. 

Champagne-based wine writer Peter Liem, whose book Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla, written in collaboration with Jésus Barquin, has proved indispensable in navigating the region, writes of Bodegas Gaspar Florido:

"...[Pedro Romero] clearly intended intended to preserve the labels and the distinct identities of [Gaspar Florido's] wines... However, the reality of the economic depression seems to have imposed its own rule: Pedro Romero is having enough trouble trying to defend its own wines... It seems the case, therefore, that Gaspar Florido must be counted among those bodegas that have now vanished."

In my own travels around Sanlucar, I found myself mildly haunted by the relatively recent disappearance of Gaspar Florido. Partly this was just the old hipster instinct to taste what cannot easily be tasted. But in Sanlucar an awareness of this ghost brand is almost unavoidable; its signs still perch above the occasional bar entrance in the Barrio Alto.

Upon entering Casa Bigote I'd espied a bottle of "GF" Manzanilla among an impressive battalion of other sherry bottles on the service bar. I'm not familiar with Gaspar Florido's lot numbering system, so I have no idea from which year the particular bottling we tasted derived. On the basis of the burnished bronze colour alone, I'd guess it had a few years on it.

The nose was cigar and citrus peels, the palate full, olive-fruited, pungently saline. It was gorgeous, and shared some characteristics with a stupendous five-year-old bottle of Grant Manzanilla I've tasted since. (These bottles, among select few others, are the bedrock upon with my hesitant faith in aging Manzanilla rests.)

The Gaspar Florido was so good we tried to order another bottle. You'd think they'd get a kick out of that - a young couple like us, putting down two bottles of fortified wine in a sitting. Yet whether by accident or design, our server told us there were no more bottles in stock, even as the full bottle I'd initially spotted still sat gathering dust on the service bar.

We didn't press the issue, and took what pleasure we could in the rest of the meal. The house specialty, the town's famed langoustine, scanned quite like good-not-great shrimp, at several times the price.

Fried sea anemones were amusing but tasted mainly of fry.

I appreciated the strict regimentation of condiments accompanying the gazpacho; it was like the fantasy plating of a neurotic or fascist only-child.

Wine smorgasbord aside, the charm of Casa Bigote is in its unselfconscious immobility. The décor emulates a small-town seafaring museum.

A collection of bawdy mugs. 

According to its website, the family-run establishment was founded in 1951, only becoming a restaurant with a dining room some twenty years later. I'm more than willing to accept this oblivious pace of change if it means accessing the occasional rare bottle of Manzanilla. I'm still a little skeptical that the restaurant represents the best Sanlucar has to offer. But I might just be an optimist.

(This why I try to avoid using superlatives on this blog. A reader must infer whether the "best" of something is any good on the basis of the surrounding category. Paris, for example, has its own "best burger," "best sushi," "best rodeo clown." Whether any of these delights is worth seeking out remains ambiguous, at best.)

Casa Bigote
Calle Pórtico Bajo de Guía, 10

Some decent pictures of a 2009 meal at Casa Bigote at Spanish blog Viaja y come

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