The world’s best meat is often found in the middle of nowhere. If you want to taste the greatest combinations of flesh and fire—from the steakhouses of Patagonia to the beef pits of Texas Hill Country—you must be willing to travel. And so it is with Bodega El Capricho, a steakhouse down a long, winding path nearly an hour outside of Leon where chef Jose Gordón is quietly raising, aging, and cooking some of the finest meat anywhere.
I’m with R&K co-founder Matt Goulding and his wife, Laura, midway through a 2,500-mile walkabout across Spain that started in the pintxos halls of San Sebastian and will eventually end around a plate of migas in a cave outside of Granada. This journey will serve as the culinary blueprint for Goulding’s new book, Grape, Olive, Pig, a deep exploration of Spanish food culture. Spanish food’s reputation has surged in recent years as both tapas and high-tech modernist cuisine took hold of the culinary world, but we have come to El Capricho to find a lesser-known side of this country’s cuisine: asadores, restaurants in which meat and fish are transformed by flame. More importantly, we have come to meet José Gordon, a man whose extra-planetary proteins can go head-to-head against anything you might have tasted at the top Texas brisket joints, New York steakhouses, or South American churrascarias.
In a country where culinary greatness is often measured by the number of hifalutin techniques on the menu, something as seemingly pedestrian as grilled meat is easy to overlook. But head to the northern regions of the country, from the Basque Country all the way west to Galicia, and you will find one of the world’s finest grilling cultures. These cathedrals of fire and smoke are everywhere in the north of Spain—from fish and seafood specialists along the Atlantic coast to mountaintop outposts specializing in inch-thick steaks called chuletones. The most famous asador of them all, Extebarri in the tiny Basque village of Axpe, is run by Bittor Arguinzoniz, a forester-turned-grill-god who cooks everything from tiny garden peas to massive red prawns over fire.