Because La Mezquita—the 10th century mosque partially inhabited by a 16th century cathedral—is the biggest attraction in Córdoba, many travelers think they should be eating a North African diet long on eggplant and fried fish. But Córdoba is also in the heart of one of Spain’s chief beef-raising regions, and the venerable Restaurante El Churrasco (Calle Romero 16, Córdoba; tel: 957-290-819; elchurrasco.es) serves some utterly delicious steaks grilled over oak charcoal. We made an overnight stop in the ancient city so we could visit the mosque in the pre-tourist silent hour before the morning Mass (trust us—it’s much more spiritual without the tour groups), and we enjoyed a typically extended Spanish Sunday afternoon feast at El Churrasco.
Before we got down to business with the steak, we enjoyed a sampling of several tapas in lieu of appetizers. That included some fried eggplant with classic Córdoban salmorejo (a gazpacho variant thickened with pureed bread to the texture of a dip) and the restaurant’s pride and joy, a prize-winning smoked sardine with guacamole and tomato compote on a piece of toast. The photo at right shows the morsel. Those sprouts? They’re sprouted poppy seeds, which gives the umami-laden bite a nice snap of spice.
One thing you might notice about Córdoban cuisine is that it sometimes seems that every dish is garnished with a little chopped ham and hard-boiled egg. That included a nice seasonal batch of shell beans sauteed in olive oil (Cordoba also produces some of Spain’s best olive oil). El Churrasco also served an interesting but different take on a Spain-wide standard, patatas a lo pobre, or Poor Man’s Potatoes. The traditional version calls for sautéeing thin slices of potato in olive oil with some minced garlic, salt, and minced parsley. As shown here, El Churrasco used small cubes of parboiled potatoes and sautéed them with bits of serrano ham until lightly browned. At the last second, the kitchen stirred in an egg and soft-scrambled it with the spuds. The approach was simple but the results were delicious.
And then came the steak (and a bottle of Rioja).