8 days, 16 meals + 20 lbs in Madrid
- Ivan Stoler
It's taken a while but now that I've finally digested my meals and my 1st vacation in 4 1/2 years I can finally post my report on my 16 meals in Madrid.
Sunday: As usual arrived @ an ungodly hour so I walked around on a cold wet morning until my room was ready. As soon as I woke my buddy up we made a reservation for a 2pm lunch @ Asador Fronton on Tirso de Molina. A great simple Basque place that is very laid back and hard to find as it's on the 2nd floor w/no real ground level sign. We started w/the Paleta Iberica. This seems to be a different cut of the great Iberico jamon. In fact, Fronton had the best Jamon we had during our entire trip. Believe me, we tried Jamon EVERYWHERE. In fact, our moto was a plate of Jamon a day. Then we had the Chuleton de buey. It's a different cut of meat than we have (translates as a chop) served rare w/just a sprinkle of sea salt. This is quite possibly the best steak I've had. To cap it off we had a bottle of Pesquera Reserva for a staggerlingly low price of $22.00! The regular Pesquera goes for an average of $22.00 in a store here in NYC. A nice, silky rich tipple. For sides we had a plate of grilled red peppers drizzled w/olive oil and a touch of the great Spanish paprika (nothing like the awful cloying stuff so often used in the states). Worth a detour. Closed Sunday for dinner.
For dinner we started at the Cervezia Alemana for a slice of tortilla and an racion of Pulpo in vinegar. Nothing special. Then because it's Sunday night we had a hard time finding someplace decent. We wound up @ La Paella on Calle reina. Don't bother with this place.
Monday: Lunch:We made reservations @ La terrza del Casino del Madrid. The chef is the legendary Ferran Adria of el Bulli. Wow, imagine calling 1 hour before lunch at Bouley and getting in! Anyway, I can't even begin to describe the food. We has the tasting menu to fully experience the wonders. Foams and gels galore.Only 1 dish was something you would recognize. A good meal, though not on my list of musts when I return. We also had the 1st of many Albarinos with the meal and a glass of some forgotten but great Rioja w/the last main dish. A word of warning though, guys you MUST have a jacket + tie. If not, then they will lend you a jacket + tie. Don't worry, they have no attitude about this and are reasonably friendly considering the locale and style of cooking.
Diner: Time for a simpler, normal meal. La Trainera on Calle Lagasca for good fish. Started w/ a plate of Jamon and then we had grilled Lenguado (sole) expertly done. Wine was a great Albarino by Valdamor (the best we were to have , and repeated it often). Desert was a tarte d' Santiago.
Tuesday: Fathers day in Spain so many places were closed but we marched on. For Lunch we went to place I had been to 5 years before, D' Salmon. A Gallego retsaurant in the area around Santa Anna. Had Pulpo Gallego, Caldo Gallego and merluza (hake). Nothing special and I will not come back here.
Evening snack @ El Museo del Jamon for yet more Jamon. Then we had a great plate of Pulpo Gallega @ Sideria Vasca on Calle Lagasca and multiple glasses of the nice unpronouncable Basque wine Txakoli. The Pulpo was nice and soft, w/just the right amount of salt and paprika.
Dinner was @ Combarro a really great, elegant upscale Gallego seafood place on Calle Juan Otrega Y Gasset. This was a recommended by Xose Castro. A great place worth a detour. We had a mixed plate of Galician empanada (tuna + cod). I had heard of fish empanadas but never had them. Great. Flavorful, light and haunting. I had the Turbot a la plancha(grilled) and my pal had Tubot a la Gallega. Both were prepared expertly. Wine was a Rosal(?) nothing special.
Wednesday: My pal wanted to try sucking pig, so we made a reservation for lunch @ Posada La Villa near Plaza Mayor. The place dates back to 1642, and is a charmer for decor only. They did not have the pig but specialize in roasted lamb. Places like this are known for their roasts in the tradtional domed ovens.Well, the lamb was reheated, greasy and grey. A bad meal. I never wanted to try Botin, and after this, if Botin is anything like this place I never will. It seems to me that these places are the Madrid equivalent of the faux NY italian places like Carmines, except that they are original and do not serve family style.
After that we got some good chocolate bars at the food hall in El Cortes Ingeles for "palate cleansing".
Dinner: La Dorada for seafood. I had been to their branch in Paris(since closed) many years before and enjoyed it. 1st of all, it's located in a northern business neighborhood that looks like those areas in Toronto that David Cronenerg uses in his films for backdrop. All highrises and broad blvds. Nothing to see here and a long walk to anywhere. Started w/ lightly fried baby calamari. Expertly done and a treat. I had the house speciality, fish baked in sea salt. Mine was sole, and they have to literally crack open the salt baked shell to get at the fish. A nicely done dish. My bud had Salomette, which if I remember is a red mullet, grilled. Washed down w/ a Valdamor Albarino. A good place, but a schlep to get to. If you must have the fish baked in sea salt this is the place, if not there are tons of places close to downtown. Around the corner from Dorada was a restaurant called El Molino that had beatutiful baby suckling pigs in the window. I only wish we had more time to try this place as it looked good. Not fancy but plain, and straitforward in the good sense.
Thursday lunch: back to Asador Fronton for lunch. Same meal as before except this time we had the Protos Reseva. Another good wine and inexpensive too. I guess we liked Fronton!
Dinner: Combarro again. This time they gave us a starter of the most amazing Tortilla we had. It had, peppers and ham in it and was slightly smokey. Oh boy!
We started w/the Cigales (crawfish) a la Plancha, just ever so slightly grilled. Sweet, tasty and very expensive. I had the grilled sea bass and my bud had the seabass w/garlic, oilve oil and peppers. Both were great. We had a Vina Costeria which was totally forgettable (@ $11.00 so what, but the Valdamor was only about $14.00).
Friday: Lunch @ the front bar room in Combarro. The best Caldo gallego ever. I have been searching for a great Caldo Gallego for years. My previous best was made by an a girlfriends mom. That was more of stew, rich, hearty and fortifying against the cold. This was light, zesty and subtle. FYI Caldo Gallego, is a white bean soup/stew w/kale, chorizo and maybe a ham shank. I dare say it's 1 of my top 10 dishes ever. Then Pulpo Gallega and Empanada washed down with a great bottle of Valdemor. As you can see I think Combarro is worth a detour. Amazing fish, warm and coming from NYC a great value if not cheap. If you exculde the mariscos which are priced by the kg, dinner for 2 can be about 40-50$ per person, tax+ tip included. I don't know of a place in NYC with fish this good that would be anywhere near this in price. Forget the money, the fish here (Madrid) is simply the best I've had in Europe.
Dinner: Casa D' A Troya. The is a Michelin 1 starrred Gallego restaurant just off the ring road about 6 miles from downtown. It's more of a neighborhood/locals place. We had nice pulpo (though not nearly as good as either La Sideria or Combar), Empananda Merluza and grilled Tubot. All nice. For wine we had another Alvarino, Do Mino. An ok wine but not nearly as good as the Valdemor. This is a fine restaurant but not worth the detour as many other places are closer and just as good. I wouldn't even think of taking the subway here as the walk from the station would get you lost forever! That said, I had to try a Michelin starred Gallego place. I think that Combarro should have the star.
Sat Lunch: Pulpareia Maceira on Calle Jesus. A moderate Gallego place near the Prado and Santa Anna. All right, nothing special. The caldo Gallego was ok, and the pulpo was ok, but luke warm upon arrival. They do have a decent list of Albarinos though.
Dinner was @ Paradis further down the same street (though the name changes) and just a 1 minute walk from the Palace Hotel. Hence, the most tourists we saw all week in any restaurant. It seems as if the hotel steers them here. This is a branch of the place from Barcelona so it is vaguely Catala in outlook. A decent meal but not worth the details. Suffice it to say, you can have this meal in tons of restaurants all over Europe. If you're staying in the neighborhood and just got off the place it's worth it but otherwise why bother?
Sunday: Our last full day in Madrid. So where did we have lunch? Asador Fronton! Same meal except for a Grand Reserva 92 Alta. Great wine, great meal. I shall return.
Dinner was at the Pulperia Maceria,but was a dud. We did have an unusal Alvarino "Organistrum" by the Codax people. It is a limited edition, aged in oak? I don't think the extra aging or oak does the Alvarino justice and sort of preverts the lushness and austere points of this great wine. PS, it was way over priced @ about $24-26.00. Otherwise, the most expensive Alvarino we ever saw was about $16.00.
Some pointers: Reservations, easily made the same day for any place we ate. Dress, neat casual except for La Terrza. Prices, from a NYC point of view an absolute steal, especialy condsidering the value.
Fish, as I said before quite possibly the freshest and best in Europe.
Jamon Iberico, there is nothing like it anywhere! My new goal in life is to learn and appreciate all the differences in the grades/styles of Iberico. Wine,great value and great wines.
Paprika, who knew that this spice could be so good, tasty and eye opening? Not me. I'm hooked. it's not at all like the thin red powder sold/used in most places in the states.
Sunday dinner is a major problem, though I'm sure that can be oversome by hard work and resarch.
great post! i'll be in madrid this weekend, and i'll try and get to at least one of your recommended places.
I wish I had seen this before I went to Madrid for Easter weekend; but because I was away last week before, w/o i-net access etc. I hadn't read your post.
Wish I had. I traveled with a vegetarian and a less adventurous eater. So my experience was unfortunately not great. Not horrible, but not great.
there is a wonderful cafe in the "central" park. The one with umbrella tables and waiter service. It's not gourmet food, but it's fresh, generous and inexpensive, with smiley, conscientious waiters. In the kind of fantastic weather we had, this could not be beat. The best part was the lemon granizado (like a lemon slushy but with fresh juice! In fact, there is fresh juice everywhere, even at the airport.)
Other great "meal" was a tapas & sangria crawl we did just on a street called "Cuchilleros" just off the Plaza Mayor. Almost any place is worth popping into. But do not bother with El Botin - it's a restaurant only, and tourist trap with a capital T.
I'd say skip La Champaneria, a much touted paella specialist. Paella was perfunctory, and the place seems to be favoured by large groups of tourists (Spanish and otherwise).
Also - I guess this should go on notaboutfood but there is a *great* Braque Exhibit at the Thyssen Bornemiza (or whatever it is called) and the Reina Sophia, well-known for La Guernica, has a wonderful, huge modern art collection.
Calle Jesus Y Duque behind the Palace Hotel is also a great strip for a Tapas bar crawl. On my first trip to Madrid years ago I noticed that the doorman @ Botin wore 1/2 a uniform, hat but w/sneakers and jeans. I thought that very odd and indicative of what the place might be. Then I saw a bunch of drunk tourists coming out so I said no thanks.
Another good little museum is the Sala del Canal de Isabel II. @ Calle santa Engracia 125, Subway stop Rios Rosas. It's a photo museum in an old water tower that is very cool. The tower looks like it was dropped in Madrid from the Baltic/Hanseatic area. You take the elevator to the top and walk down (a la the Guggenheim). Currently they have a good exhibit of work from Australia (all different artists + styles). It's in a goverment complex so you have to sign in at the police desk. That's easy, and admission is free.
re: HK Traveler
The Pulpo dish I mentioned translates as Fairground Octopus. It is a staple at the country fairs in the NW of Spain. I believe the Pulpo is boiled then grilled and served on a wooden board drizzled w/olive oil, a touch of sea salt and then topped off with the amazingly fragrant and tasty Spanish Paprika (Pimenton). I actually had a a bike crash once because of this dish. When mountainbiking do not dream of your afve foods or you WILL fall off your bik on the trails.