Galicia—Spain’s northwestern region—culminates in a town on the far north coast known as “A Coruña” in the Galician dialect. It is not far from the municipality known as “Finisterre,” so named, as it was believed that this is where the Earth ended.
Galicia is a land full of mystique, forests and trees, vast beaches and one of the longest coastlines on the Iberian Peninsula. It is best known for its “materia prima” cooked in a simple way with little manipulation. Its seafood and shellfish are legendary as is its aged beef. Galicia is a bit disconnected from the rest of Spain, as it requires a 7-hour drive by car—from Madrid—and it tends to rain year round. It is a magical place that can only be appreciated by visiting its pristine lands. And of course it is well known for its historic “Camino de Santiago.”
A beach in central La Coruña - Photo by James Stolich
This brings us to a very unique restaurant called Alborada, located in the vibrant and very dense city of La Coruña. Head chef Iván Domínguez, a native of Galicia has crafted a relaxed and yet sophisticated dining experience that brings to light all of the elements he considers fundamental to the “Cocina Gallega.”
Domínguez does not mess around. He spent many years in the Spanish armada and understands the discipline of running a fine-dining restaurant. “No soy un soñador, soy un trabajador.” I am not a dreamer, rather a worker. “Mi equipo tiene que entender que una receta tiene un alma.” My team needs to understand that each recipe has a soul.
Restaurante Alborada is located at Paseo Marítimo Alcalde Francisco Vázquez, 25, just past the Torre de Hercules, facing the sea. Guests enter the restaurant through two large glass doors that lead to a contemporary dining room with clean lines, white table clothes, a glass wall showcasing the impressive kitchen. The ambience is relaxed and the service is impeccable and yet down to earth. We elected for the “Espíritu de Galicia” menu and were treated to a series of dishes that delighted us in their simplicity and creativity and yet never overwhelmed or exhausted our palates.
Cured caballa (mackerel) over patata Coristanco - Photo by James Stolich
Buñuelo de calamar en su tinto (a fritter of calamari in its own ink) - Photo by James Stolich
It is always welcome to start a meal with a bit of broth or soup like the rich consommé of Celtic chicken that arrived at our table. What followed was a series of thoughtful and intriguing dishes that left us extremely happy. Highlights include the cured caballa (mackerel) over patata Coristanco, presented like sushi and accompanied by queso San Simón de Costa with quicos and toasted corn, as well as a buñuelo de calamar en su tinto (a fritter of calamari in its own ink). A bit later came the “bread” course. Pan is of course of utmost importance in Spain—particularly in Galicia—and so we sampled various local breads along with butter from Jersey cows “Airas Moniz” with Kombu seaweed.
The bread course at Alborada - Photo by James Stolich
While I will not delve into every course the vegetable croquetas with salsa verde, topped with a piece of cooked merluza (hake) were remarkable. Next up was a Cigala (scampi) roasted and accompanied by seaweed and tomato water. The lombarda (cabbage) dish with erizo (sea urchin) was good but I found the vegetables to be a bit heavy. I would have preferred something lighter to accompany the very pristine urchin. The penca (almost like an enchildada or empanada) de acelga (Swiss chard) rellena con caldo de sus hojas y minchas was light and enjoyable in every way.
Vegetable croqueta with merluza (hake) - Photo by James Stolich
Fabas (beans) de Lourenza and setas (mushrooms) with an emulsión of clams from la ria de Arousa. Photo by James Stolich
My favorite dish, perhaps—well almost—was the fabas (beans) de Lourenza and setas (mushrooms) with an emulsión of clams from la ria de Arousa. It was just exceptional. The texture and everything were perfect about this dish, including the plate upon which it was served. I didn’t take a photo of the whole fish but the cabracho or bispo (scorpion fish) cooked with a sauce of clementines was unbelievable. I literally could not stop eating it. The last savory course was liebre (we would call this wild hare) and was deceptive at first. What I discovered was succulent stew meat with a crispy exterior accompanied by milhojas (puff pastry) filled with the kidney, liver and heart. It was an exquisite dish and surprising to have as our final savory course that in many places might have been a giant hunk of beef.
Cabracho or bispo (scorpion fish) cooked with a sauce of clementines - Photo by James Stolich
Liebre or wild hare with a puff pastry of all the organ meats - Photo by James Stolich
We wrapped up the meal with a queso “del país,” a young Galician cheese aged 30 days that had a pleasant, sour quality to it. Then came a postre of apple and granita with a bit of mint (my memory is fading) that was incredibly light and refreshing. The second dessert of castaña, calabaza, zanahoria and helado de cantarelas was stunning. The flavors were delicate and well balanced by the chestnuts, pumpkin, carrots and yes believe it or not ice cream made with chanterelle mushrooms!
Postre of castaña, calabaza, zanahoria and helado de cantarelas - Photo by James Stolich
The service and staff at Alborada could not have been more accommodating. It was a special treat to sample Chef Iván’s take on the cuisine of Galicia and to also dine in such a relaxed and refined environment. There is no doubt that Alborada will continue to draw in adventurous and curious diners from around the world. Alborada is open daily for lunch and dinner. http://restaurantesalborada.com/
James is a food writer and Bay Area chef who owns and runs a private dinner party and cooking class business specializing in regional Italian and Spanish cuisine. See CookWithJames.com