Most people make the 40-mile pilgrimage from Madrid to Toledo to gaze at one of Spain's most impressive Gothic cathedrals, visit El Greco's house, shop for damascene knives and marzipan (a Toledo specialty that goes back to the days of the Moors) and hastily soak up 900 years of Spanish historya melding of Muslim, Jewish and Christian cultures. Me? I traveled there to meet Adolfo Muñoz, the 50-year-old chef and owner of one of the country's best restaurants, Adolfo. The introduction came from my friend José Carlos Capel, the revered (and feared) food critic for the newspaper El País. "Not only will you eat and drink stupendously," Capel promised, "you'll also meet a remarkable character"a great chef, host of a daily cooking show, caterer to Spanish celebrities, winemaker and olive grower. I packed my bags.
Soon I was in Toledo, winding my way through the city's medieval center. Walking down twisting cobblestoned lanes flanked by reddish-ocher facades with an occasional arabesque arch or latticework window, I finally reached Muñoz's antiques-filled restaurant. Muñoz greeted me at the door with a vigorous handshake; minutes later we were heading a few blocks up a moonlit street to his cellar.
Wine cellars can be a musty yawnnot Muñoz's. It isn't just that the collection, with more than 40,000 bottles, includes obscure ice wines and complete verticals of cult Spanish names like L'Ermita and Pingus. The cellar itself is amazinga ninth-century house, once owned by a Jewish family, that later served as an ancient water-storage facility. (The street level was much lower back then, Muñoz explained; hence the underground site.) After acquiring the building above it 22 years ago, Muñoz unearthed the house and created the wine cellar. A huge restoration job later, the place looks like a designer dungeon, and it has the ideal temperature and humidity for storing wine. "In Toledo everybody is an archeologist by default," Muñoz said wryly, pointing to a hearth used for baking bread and marzipan1,100 years ago.