I traveled to Córdoba the day before I came back to the States, and realized that a lot of things have changed since I lived there a decade ago. They have these nifty bikes, free to use, parked outside the train station, for example (a woman in the tourist office told me that Córdoba has more bike lanes than any European city outside of Holland). El Churrasco has opened a small inn--lovely, if a bit rococo for my tastes. Muslim chic is all the rage, with tea rooms and Arab baths popping up around the Mezquita.
But Juan Peña is blissfully the same. Same bullfighting pictures along one wall, same farm implements along the other. Same braseros underneath the tables, with thick blanket-like cloths to pull over your legs and warm your feet. And the same fantastic food.
I had lived for months in Córdoba before I ever tried Juan Peña, even though it was right across the street from the bar where I had breakfast every day (every day, that is, until the waiter--whom I thought was my friend but who clearly disapproved of my unladylike habit of eating a whole, not half, toast—told me I was "getting a little fat"). In fact, it was my visiting friends David and Elizabeth who convinced me to try the place. They ate there one night and came back raving. "You have to get the fried eggplant and spinach with garbanzos," they told me.
So I did. And in the dozens of times that I've been to Juan Peña since, I've never not had those two things. The spinach is lightly cooked, and spiced with cumin and other vaguely Moroccan flavors. And the eggplant is just plain remarkable. Cut like french fries, it is crisp and salty on the outside, melting and not at all eggplanty on the inside.
That's what I ordered two weeks ago, plus a gambas al ajillo for good measure, in the spirit of all-time favorite tapas eating. "Is that a lot?" I asked the waiter after ordering, remembering his critical brethren across the street. "Yes," he admitted. Then I ordered it all anyway.
Meson Juan Peña
Doctor Fleming, 1.
Tel. 957 20 07 02