"Exceptional cuisine. It's worth taking a detour!", warns the Michelin Guide to define the double Michelin star, within that barrier that brings chefs and restaurateurs of haute cuisine in search of distinctions upside down. It 'measures' the interest of one- to three-star restaurants, so going from the first to the second is equivalent to a rise within the elite of gastronomy, to a level where the itch to dream of the third star is surely beginning to bite.
In the distribution of awards carried out on the night of November 28 in Barcelona, only one Spanish restaurant premiered the second distinction, while 31 won the first and a couple – the Barcelona Disfrutar and the Cordovan Noor – entered the coveted triple star section. That business that is installed in the two-star is Venta Moncalvillo, the house of the brothers Ignacio and Carlos Echapresto, in the tiny town of Daroca de Rioja.
The name defines the origin of this project: an inn at the foot of the road, which closed in 1997 in a small village just fifteen minutes from Logroño, where two self-taught professionals of just 18 years old dared to undertake, accompanied by their mother, Rosi, their mother, "without whom none of what we have achieved so far would have been possible". Roles were distributed: Ignacio Echapresto assumed the role of cook; his brother Carlos became sommelier-head waiter. His initial idea? To deliver traditional Rioja cuisine, in the format of a food house, with the idea of "carving out a future" and the intention of staying in his village, instead of leaving as other young people of his generation said at the time. At that time, Daroca de Rioja had 24 inhabitants, a figure that today the Echapresto say is maintained, although the official census is around 50.
Now, it already has a double Michelin star, within a section of the French guide that adds up to 32 establishments in Spain, such as the Madrid Ramón Freixa, DSTAgE, Paco Roncero Restaurante, Smoked Room or Deessa, the Galician Culler de Pau and Pepe Vieira and the Catalan Les Cols or Miramar, among others. "We feel this second star as a recognition of the work we have been doing for twenty-seven years, but we feel it, above all, as an award for our mother, Rosi, without whom we would not be here, because she, who passed away a few years ago, was the one who helped us in the kitchen in the beginning, our inspiration and our engine. But also to our father, who has supported us in everything from the beginning and is always by our side unconditionally," they acknowledged upon receiving the recognition.
Today, almost twenty-seven years after its opening, this sale is a haute cuisine space, with a building remodelled in a modern key and one hundred percent integrated into its surroundings – on the northern slope of Sierra Moncalvillo – after a renovation that was completed a few months ago and has lasted two years. The main dining room overlooks its vegetable garden through large windows overlooking the landscape of the area.
Destination for a getaway
To begin with, Venta Moncalvillo can be a perfect getaway for these autumn-winter months, within a plan in La Rioja, which could include visits to wineries or stops at other Michelin stars in the region: Kiro Sushi, Íkaro and Ajonegro, in Logroño; Nublo, in Haro, and El Portal, in Echaurren, which with the novelty of the house of the Echapresto guarantees two two-starred wines to the Rioja market. Thus, La Rioja consolidates its position as the autonomous community with the most stars per capita.
And, from the headquarters of the Echapresto, they provide another piece of information: when in 2010 Venta Moncalvillo received its first distinction, that "made Daroca de Rioja, which at that time officially had only 50 inhabitants, the smallest town in the world to house a Michelin-starred restaurant", they say.
From the garden to the plate
What is Venta Moncalvillo like, what do you eat and how much does it cost? The location in the middle of nature of the Echapresto house absolutely determines its kitchen and pantry. A wealth of vegetation, a "fertile vegetable garden" that feeds spring and summer dishes with vegetables, but also those of the colder months, "mixed forest that offers a great variety of mushrooms" in autumn, native fauna in the mountains that guarantees game in winter recipes... Thus, this family business has its own vegetable garden, which has been growing in recent years and which, located outside the restaurant, is part of the gastronomic experience designed for the customer. Since 2010, they say that they have applied organic farming criteria and, since 2018, "principles of biodynamics", so that the lunar cycles determine sowing and harvesting, while thus avoiding the use of chemicals in their cultivation processes. In addition, they have their own seed bank, with more than 250 varieties.
Depending on the time of year, borage, courgettes, tomatoes, artichokes... They are vegetables that go straight to the kitchen and the dishes of Venta Moncalvillo, while some are subjected to preservation methods to be able to be used throughout the year. "Products of proximity and respect for the origin" may sound like a hackneyed 'leitmotif' that here is a matter of being seriously fulfilled by the Echapresto, who boast of being "children of farmers and ranchers".
Their tasting menus
In Ignacio Echapresto's kitchen, the vegetable weight has been increasing, which translates into an offer based on several tasting menus "based on biodynamics, a conscious, participative and responsible way of growing and producing food", they define.
Thus, you can choose between the 'Roots' menus, priced at 120 euros and 7 savoury and 2 sweet dishes; and 'Frutos', for 140, with one more savory and another sweet pass. Among contemporary dishes – such as chard, Arturo Sánchez ham and beech, "a product of our environment"; monographs such as thistle and thistle mushroom; or combinations such as colanillas, beans and wild arugula—, recipes such as Morros can emerge from having stews in the traditional way.
In addition, they add a vegetarian menu, called 'Hojas-Flores', which they launched in 2020; with a current price of 120 euros, there are dishes made with vegetables, mushrooms, herbs and fruits (7 savoury and 2 sweet passes). All menus include home-made bread.
His work with vegetables has been recognized a few weeks ago when Venta Moncalvillo was included in the 'We're Smart Green Guide', which selects the best vegetable restaurants in the world.
The Liquid Supply
On the liquid side, the Venta Moncalvillo winery has more than 1,800 national and international references, of course, with a relevant selection of Rioja wines. Carlos Echapresto's work has been recognized with awards such as the best wine list according to the 'International wine challenge' or Alimentos de España.
You can choose wines à la carte or complete the menus with pairing: 'Raíces', with a selection for 65 euros; 'Fruits', with one for 90; and 'Leaves-Flowers', by 65.
As a curiosity, in 2021, the sommelier and his son, Ismael Echapresto – a winemaker by training – launched Moncalvillo Meadery, a line of meads with its own winery, based on the transhumant production of honey – which is transformed into mead in the winery in the town of Daroca. Thus, "an ancestral drink is recovered and transhumant beekeeping is valued" in this project that adds "oenology, gastronomy and beekeeping".
In addition to this project, Ismael Echapresto (26 years old) is dedicated to the family's agricultural activity, which goes beyond the restaurant's vegetable garden and adds vineyards, fruit trees or cereals; At the head of it is Carmelo Echapresto, brother of Ignacio and Carlos, who "at the beginning started with us in the restaurant, but later preferred to leave the hotel industry and dedicate himself only to agriculture".
In turn, Mario Echapresto (22 years old), son of Carlos, is the pastry chef of Venta Moncalvillo.
In addition to the double distinction achieved these days – the first had come in 2010 – a Green Star is added, in recognition of its sustainability strategy. "This is the only way to continue offering quality cuisine in the future, committed to our environment and our closest producers."
With the recent reform, they say they have incorporated energy efficiency criteria, with the installation of photovoltaic panels for the production of more than a third of the electrical energy they consume, air conditioning systems through aerothermal energy and optimization of water use, methods for the classification and recycling of waste, generation of compost with organic kitchen waste or charging point for electric and hybrid cars in their car park. The business has received the 'Efficient and Sustainable Kitchen Certificate' from Aenor, after passing an audit process.
On the other hand, the family that owns Venta Moncalvillo has the Echapresto Eventos catering line, which moves in and out of La Rioja, while it has an event dining room and a private dining room (up to 16 seats) inside the restaurant.
Venta Moncalvillo. Carretera Medrano, 6. Daroca de Rioja (La Rioja). Tel. 941 44 48 32. www.ventamoncalvillo.com