Mid-Priced Fab Meals in Madrid, Barcelona and Seville
I am traveling to Madrid, Barcelona and Seville for 10 days in November, and I'm looking for restaurants that will
a.) not break the bank, and
b.) still be fun, memorable, tasty
I love little neighborhood places...I also love modern design in terms of decor.
I'd like to find some places that I would expect to spend between $80 - $100/night for 2 people for dinner, including a glass (not a bottle) of wine.
I wouldn't say I'm on a budget exactly, but I'm no Donald Trump, and I'd rather have 9 really good meals vs. one "amazing/life changing/Gordon Ramsey/Charlie Trotter/Alain Ducasse" type meal.
- DAVID J
David, we have just spent 15 nights in Spain and had a great time. May I make a suggestion?
Our strategy was to have a couple of 'life changing meals" and spend the rest of the time grazing on Tapas. We based this on two ideas. First Tapas in Spain are generally excellent and are a great way of eating very well, very cheaply, and experiencing Spanish culture. Second, Spanish high end dining is possibly some of the best and most innovative food in the world (and very good value compared to Ducasse/Ramsey etc).
The result: we ate very well throughout our trip. We moved from Tapas bar to Tapas bar sampling a great broad range of food eating very cost effectively, and enjoying the Spanish evening culture (the bars in Seville were very good). We also had a couple of special meals - Mugaritz (San Sebastian); La Alqueria (at the El Bulli Hotel near Seville); and Tragabuches (Ronda) . These meals were fantastic and left us with great memories.
If I look at the average we spent it was probably close to €100 a night for two (including drinks), I recognize this more than your €70 ($100) budget. However, it includes few a €300 meals (including a good quantity of wine) like the one at La Alqueria. This was a 25 dish tasting menu featuring classics from the El Bulli menu. A really great treat that I doubt we we get outside of Spain.
We're going to Spain in a few weeks, and we're trying the same tactic as Phil. We'll be in Ronda right after Tragabuches closes, though, so aside from La Alqueria we haven't decided where else to eat (we won't be making it to Barcelona, so we need to pick some places in Madrid--suggestions welcome!).
I've got reservations in three weeks at La Alqueria. Can you give me a ballpark on the pricing for the menu vs wine? Was that €300 for two? Is the dress casual?
I checked the bill and it was €307 for two of us including taxes etc. The restaurant gives you the choice of the set tasting menu or al a carte. We chose to have the tasting menu which we think was €110 (although memory is hazy). We started with Cava for my wife and a good sherry for me, they then served a white wine with most of the courses, and then moved onto red. The sommelier recommended the whites as the menu was mainly fish based.
The meal is served in four phases. First you receive a selection of "Tastes" - very small dishes that are presented in very quick succession - we were a little worried that a 25 dish menu would be delivered in 25 minutes and we would be in bed by 9:00pm. The second phase consists of 3 "tapas" dishes, the pace slowed and the dishes were served one after another, next they serve 3 main courses, again the pace slowed as he dishes became larger and more complex. Finally, you enter the desert phase - we started with "2 meters of spaghetti" which you suck up as a long strand (think of the disney cartoon Lady and Tramp) which is like the cheese course, we then had two deserts and finally rounded of the meal with some fun petit fours.
It is a great dining experience and we loved the food, the room and service. Hacienda Benazuza is an old spanish hacienda and they have kept the hotel, restaurant and bar in this very traditional style, including staff uniforms. We did dress up a bit for dinner as it felt right, not a suit and tie but decent trousers, shoes and a linen jacket etc. we felt comfortable and fitted in with the other diners in the restaurant.
We had stayed in the hotel and had arrived early so that we could have lunch. This was served by the pool (which may close in the winter) in a tented restaurant. This is a Tapas menu and you choose dishes from picture cards, it cost approx. €50 for lunch for two and again it was interesting food - the game pinchos was fantastic. We also had breakfast the next day, this is a €35 a head meal and is interesting with some good twists on traditional breakfast (worth doing once but as we are not big breakfast eaters probably not again).
Tragabuches - whilst we enjoyed the meal there it was a bit hit and miss. Some dishes were great(mushroom soup, foir gras with caramalised apple etc), others really average/poor (nearly raw rabbit). The food was also served far to quickly and we felt very rushed (hence our apprehension when we got to La Alqueria). There is a good Tapas bar in Ronda in an ally directly opposite the Parador (across the main street) - it has bright yellow, bright orange, and white designer plastic chairs - check out the menu inside the door.
Here's one tip for dinner in Barcelona more or less in your price range. (My wife and I had diner for two for about 90 euros if I remember right, and that included a beer and 3 glasses of wine). Restaurant Me, on c/Paris at the corner with c/ Muntaner in the Eixample. The owner is from Barcelona but lived in New Orleans for many years, where he met his partner, who is of Vietnamese heritage (Vietnamese American, I believe). The restaurant bills itself--accurately--as the food of Barcelona-Saigon-New Orleans. All the food is delicious . Owner, who sort of doubles as waiter, is very chatty and will schmooze with you at your table. The space is great.
If you want one "only in Barcelona" meal, this would't be my tip, as the cooking is neither traditional Catalan nor this region's version of "molecular gastronomy." In lots of other food capitals can find fusion cooking that has some similarity to Restaurant Me (say, the original Slanted Door in San Francisco, if that means anything to you.) And for a good bit more money, it seems that you can eat really spectacular food at all the celebrated places most often posted about on this board. (I say it seems because I'm just gearing up to sample them myself, so I go on reports of everybody with whom I've talked.) On the other hand, the vibe in this restaurant is very much of this city. The restaurant is too new to be in the guidebooks and there wasn't a tourist in sight when I was there a couple of weeks ago. I don't recall seeing it discussed on this board either and, since I live in this neighborhood, I frankly hesitated a bit before deciding to post this: I like the place the way it is. But I've benefitted enough from other Hounds over the years, that holding back seemed wrong.
This city is so full of great places to eat that you may well get a better tip. I'm not sure you can't do better. I am sure that if you go, you'll get quite a good meal in a fun setting.
Also, if you're looking for (notably) cheaper still, I recently had a made a wonderful dinner stuffing myself on wonderful Basque tapas at Txakolin on c/ Argentera, across from the Station (short walk from the Barcelonetta metro stop). I had two glasses of wine with this meal. My share of the bill was 22 euros. If sitting or standing on a stool at a bar and grabbing whatever good comes by is your idea of a decent meal, then Txakolin is a great value. If you're there midweek, it's not even crowded.