RECENT TRIP THROUGH THE IBERIAN PENINSULA.
I've been posted temporarily to Galicia in NW Spain with the hopes of moving to La Coruna on a permanent basis. As such, I have been in Spain since the end of November and at the middle of December I started on a road trip which would take me through Portugal and a large part of Spain. My notes may be a bit rambling and lacking in exact details (except for Madrid where I took better notes) such as addresses, but for the true foodie, seeking out good food is part of the joy.
I started in Vigo, which I would skip completely the next time. The main entertainment district has a few good tapas bars, but Vigo is a miss generally.
The next stop was Porto. Besides its link to fortified wine, Porto is a very cool city with a lot going for it. I wish I had used my night in Vigo for an extra night in Porto, but nevertheless I had one day and one night in Porto. If you're into port, then Porto is an obvious stop. Every major port producer has a facility here and to see their warehouses with the names in large letters across the roof is a very impressive sight. Almost all of the Port Houses provide tours, but be warned that you must go to the reception and book for a certain time. So I suggest going early and booking the tours you wish. Some wineries provide free tastes without a tour. The wineries are located on the opposite shore from the main city. On the city side along the Douro River are a number of restaurants located in old port cellars. They cater exclusively to tourists. I had lunch at one. While the fish was fresh, the menu was rather unintersting. Note that in Portugal everytime you eat you will be provided bread, butter, and a number of other things to spread on the bread (cheese, pates, etc). These are not free. You are charged basically what equates to a cover if you eat them. It's usually not more than 3 Euros, which hopefully won't break your bank, but it is annoying. For dinner I ate in a restaurant called Guernica and I highly recommend it. I had a very nice onion soup and a beautiful cut of steak in a port reduction sauce. For dessert, I had a slice of chocolate cake which was very good as well and a glass of white port to finish it off. I think the meal was around 30 Euros.
Next stop was Lisbon.
The two big neighborhoods for food are the Barrio Alto (High Neighborhood) and Alfama. To get to the Barrio Alto, I suggest you take the cable car from Restauradores Plaza and to Alfama take the No. 28 Tram.
Meals: 1. Cafe Nicola in the center of town. Old school Lisbon and very traditional food. I had the Fejoada (sp?) which is a hearty bean stew with different various pig parts and types of sausages.
2. Bon Jardim. Known for Portuguese roasted chicken (frango in Portuguese). The chicken was nice, but honestly I'm not sure what the fuss is all about with Portuguese roasted chicken, just make sure you use the piri piri sauce on the table.
3. San Guia de Frango. Vasco da Gama shopping center in the Parque das Nacaos area. The cab driver recommended this for the roast chicken. I felt it was the same as Bon Jardim.
4. Stravaganzza. Barrio Alto. Italian food. Started with a beautiful carrot and tomato soup and then a spaghetti with chilis, anchovies, garlic and oil (I think it was called Spaghetti Mafioso). Finished with an apple baked in Bailey's Cream. Wait staff were very cool and helpful. They'll be more than happy to recommend bars to go after dinner.
5. Restivo. Alfama. Rua do Castelo. This place is a bit confusing as there seem to be three restaurants/bars located at the same place. Go to the restaurant upstairs and get ready to be blown away by the view. The menu is done by color. I had the yellow one and I'm quite remiss I don't remember what I had, but it was delicious, but the view is really what is worth the trip.
6. Pavilhao Chines. Barrio Alto. This is a bar more than a restaurant and I cannot recommend this place enough. It is seriously one of the most interesting and beautiful bars I've been to (and I've been to quite alot). This is a must see.
Unfortunately, I arrived in Seville on XMas eve and stayed until the 27th, so many places were closed. The one memorable meal I had was at Bar Europa, who has an award winning tapa on their menu, so seek it out. The other tapas were also outstanding. Stay away from La Girondella on the plaza across the Cathedral. It is overly expensive and completely boring. The view and ambience is great, but that's it. Interesting tapas places in the Alameda de Hercules area (the alternative area of Seville).
According to my guide book, Cordoba has the best food in Andalucia and I have to say that I ate very well there. There are many touristy restaurants in the Juderia area (the old Jewish quarter). I ate at Casa De Pepe en La Juderia only because my nickname is Pepe and I'm Jewish, so I thought what a better place to eat. I had the oxtail which was very good, but the menu is very traditional. The salmorejo (a thicker version of gazapacho) is exceptional.
Dinner was at Bodega Del Campo, a Cordoba institution. Supposedly it's the Duchess of Alba's favorite place in Cordoba. I agree with her completely. You'll need to make reservations for a table or you can eat at the bar, which is what I did. I wish I could remember what I had, but I can guarantee it was excellent. Cut through their parking lot and make an immediate right and you'll find Cordoba's trendy bar (as opposed to dinky taverns). Next day was a day trip so I ate in a small village. Nothing to write about. Dinner was at the Taverna De Los Plateros, which is a restaurant run by the local silversmith guild. I have no idea why they have a restaurant, but good on 'em. I completely misordered in that I ordered way too may fried dishes, but one I can recommend is flamenquin (pork loin stuffed with jamon serrano breaded and fried). Delicious.
A little tip about Granada: Free tapas with each drink and the tapas get better on each drink. So basically I recommend a pub crawl. The history of this tradition according to my cab driver is that Granada is a university town and therefore the students don't have alot of extra cash for food. Seems plausible, but I don't care. It's an awesome tradition. Upon your first tapa, you'll hear 'PRIMERO!(FIRST!)' shouted by the bartender, upon your second 'SEGUNDO!(SECOND!)' and so forth. My guide book recommended (very highly, even more highly than the Alhambra historical site, which is the main reason you go to Granada) Los Diamantes. Unfortunately it was closed. I wandered around until I found another restaurant near the cathedral. It's a seafood restuarant which has been there since 1955 and is an institution. It's near the Plaza Bib Rambla(ask your hotel concierge or reception clerk). I ordered percebes which are goose barnacles. Easily the ugliest thing I've ever eaten, but man, they're good. Expensive too. One kilo is usually 150 Euros, but 100grams after a few free tapas at some bars is more than enough. Ask a local on how to eat them without getting all of their juice over your shirt.
1. Olsen. Calle De Prado. Modern Scandanavian food. One of the hippest restaurants in Madrid. Ordered: Tartare of Tuna with Pine Nut Foam, Tomato ice cream, and fried yucca (starter) Crispy chicken with red onions and cassis sauce with warm salad of potatoes and apples. Good cocktail bar as well.
2. 19 Sushi. Called De Salud. Very good Japanese food, but even more impressive in Spain, top notch service. Very prompt.
3. La Camarilla. Calle de Cava Baja. I ate here twice, I liked it so much. Again excellent service especially if you sit at the bar. Ordered (1st time): Creamy rice with boletus (I have no idea what that is and I'm fluent in Spanish), lobster and scallop tacos, and parcels of morcilla (blood sausage) with pine nuts and raisins. Way too much food, but very very good.
Ordered (2nd time): Salad with goat cheese and vinegar, cazuela of mushrooms and prawns.
4. Casienhuertas. Calle Lope De Vega. Ordered: Pork shoulder carpaccio (I usually stay away from rare pork products, but this was seared and I also figured that they kill enough pigs in Spain that I'd give it a gamble.), scrambled eggs with prawns and pears in a sweet mustard sauce. The Spanish eat scrambled eggs for dinner quite alot, so while it might seem like strange order, it's pretty commonplace, except for the ingredients of this place. Interesting menu and worth a look.
5. El Sobrino de Botin. Calle de Cucherillos. Supposedly the oldest restaurant in the world. Ordered: Garlic Soup and Roasted Suckling pig. Very good, but overhyped. The place itself is a cool place in that it's so old (older than the US) and the service is very good. I would recommend, but only after trying some other places first.
6. El Bocaito. Calle Libertad. Excellent tapas. Not as interesting as Camarilla, but very good. I actually had the bartender order for me: Baked mussels, scrambled eggs with asparagus on toast, fried baby squids, baby lamb chops.
7. Los Gatos. Plaza de Jesus. Awesome canapes (small pieces of baguettes slices topped with all kinds of good stuff. Ordered: Ham and brie, salmon with surimi, can't remember the others, but pissed off I didn't know about the duckmeat sandwiches.
Sorry for the length, but hopefully you'll get a good meal out of it somewhere.
Keep on chowin'
Thanks for all these drool-worthy details -- I studied in Madrid for six months and have been jonesing to go back. I traveled a bit in Spain, but didn't have the chance to hit Galicia, Granada, or Cordoba and am dying to go. In fact, I didn't get to Lisbon either; all the better reason to return.
Good luck with the move! I'm quite envious of all the great food you'll enjoy.