The Echapestro brothers opened their restaurant in a hidden village 20 kilometres from Logroño. Such location was no accident; quality, creativity and loyalty to their surroundings are the trademarks of a place that instills calm and demands a leisurely attitude. Armed with that spirit, it is easy to enjoy the soulful creations of Ignacio, a self-taught chef who learnt the kitchen ropes from his mother Rosi, and the hospitality of Carlos, who fronts the house and takes care of the wine service.
Despite the Michelin star awarded to Ignacio in 2011 the restaurant remains unpretentious and retains the flavour and warmth of the old ventas (inns). Vegetable supplies come from the garden -visible from the customers' tables- so dishes vary with the seasons. As well as the à la carte option, Venta Moncalvillo offers two set menus. The Classic menu (€90) includes two starters and seven dishes such as fried artichokes with cod cubes, purple onion and skins' broth -served in a very hot plate so that the raw cod is slowly cooked in the bouillon- and the vine shoot-roasted hake cocochas (fleshy part of the jaw, considered a delicacy) with potatoes, with a delicious smoky flavour.
The Gastronomic menu also changes with the seasons (€ 110) and includes new creations in its two starters and 12 dishes. The summer fare for example offers river crabs with mushrooms and watercress (a childhood memory when the Echapresto brothers used to play baseball and fish for crabs in the village river) and roasted langoustine with courgette and ginger spaghetti.
Presentation is conscientious and harmonious and the wine service -served in Riedel, Gabriel Glas and Stölzle glassware- is extremely professional but warm and friendly.
Both menus can be paired with six different wines which Carlos chooses according to diners' tastes and is definitely worth a try. His intuition and experience as a sommelier -he was a finalist at Spain's Best Sommelier National Award in 2013 and has been awarded the Best Sommelier in the 2016 International Wine Challenge and Spain’s National Gastronomy Award- are a guarantee.
The scarce rosé by López de Heredia was the perfect pairing for the crabs and the langoustine. The delicious starters, served in the refurbished cellar containing hundreds of bottles, many of them are old vintages- were served with a glass of Fino Tradición magnum, a special saca that the Sherry producer makes exclusively for Venta Moncalvillo.
The wine list includes 1,300 references from all over the world, although Rioja has a prominent presence. Wines are organised by valleys and villages and the DOCa map at the beginning is a helpful explanation of the different soils in the three subareas of the region. Carlos likes to have at least three different types of wine -both in terms of style and price- for each region: "One to try, one to enjoy and a third one to indulge." A tour of the cellar is highly recommended, where Echapresto lovingly stores an interesting collection of old Rioja vintages.
Loyal to their roots, traditions and the idea of proximity, the Echapresto brothers work with small producers based in the Sierra de Moncalvillo to recover and add value to artisan products like oak tree honey, supurao wine made by Ojuel or Moncalvillo beef which Ignacio and Carlos include in their food and wine menus. They have recently launched a new range of gourmet honey meads made in a new meadery built in Daría which are served in the restaurant.
The result is vast amounts of enjoyment in the world's smallest Michelin-starred village. It is well worth the detour. Y.O.A.