As our party of four drove along the freeway towards Playa de Vega, we already were in a lighthearted mood. We were ready for a memorable meal at our destination and I was dreading that any sudden flaw would ruin our expectations. Too much high praise, and the ensuing experience could well end in anticlimax.
Güeyu Mar –Eye of the Sea in Asturian dialect- stands with four other constructions on the edge of the dunes opening up to one of the most ravishing beaches on the Asturian coastline, Playa de Vega. The spot is unpretentious and solitary, surrounded by an idyllic scenery. Here, Abel Alvarez takes seriously the business of food without the paraphernalia surrounding other culinary destinations. And yet, the first impression is puzzling: the home printed menu warns that the restaurant does not serve meat dishes. Strictly adhering to a locavore code without marketing the attitude, the place is the entry point to all the ingredients of the surrounding sea.
It is fish or back to the car towards neighboring Ribadesella for other choices. We began our meal with a simple dish of marinated anchovies displayed as the arrows of a clock with a colorful mound of grilled peppers in the center. Succulent and lightly salted they melted in the mouth. To follow we ordered two large cuts of red bream and grouper delivered that morning and masterfully cooked ‘a la plancha’. Cooking fish is an art in itself. Abel places the portions on a very hot plate barely oiled, and after flipping them, retires them when they have reached the perfect point. Savoring this uncomplicated dish helps to learn what we should look for in restaurants: excellent ingredients unobtrusively prepared.
The end of the meal reserved another surprise for us. Abel’s family makes one of the most famous Asturian cheeses, Gamonedo or Gamoneu, produced from a mixture of cow, goat and sheep milk with blue veins running through it. Its smoky and slightly ashen flavor extends into the palate the perfumes of the neighboring grass and earth.
We washed this banquet down with a crisp and aromatic Verdejo from the cellars of José Pariente. It was the perfect partner to a meal that reorganized the five star criteria of my gastronomic experiences. Güeyu Mar is at the undisputed top of the fish ranks. And luckily, an absence of anticlimax.