Places on my radar in Madrid and Barcelona -- good choices?
- Cookingthebooks Jan 7, 2009 09:01 AM
I'm planning a trip to Spain in late Jan/early Feb. We'll spend 2 nights in Madrid, 2 nights in Barcelona. We're coming from Paris, where we live (no jet lag) and our main goals are the Prado and eating.
I've done a lot of research on these amazing, informative boards and am trying to narrow down my selection and gather opinions on the places that seem to come up again and again. One potential problem: our time in Madrid includes a Sunday, and in Barcelona includes a Monday. Any specific recommendations for these two days would be appreciated!
In Madrid, we are staying in the Salamanca, near Parque del Retiro. I've found a lot less info on Madrid here on CH (not sure why?). Two names come up again and again:
--Botin (but are they open on Sunday?)
CH recommended tapas in Salamanca:
--Museo del Jamon
--El Tempranillo. Are most of these open on Sunday? Also, any other suggestions for other neighborhoods for a tapas crawl, with specific restaurant recs?
Barcelona -- A wealth of info exists here! We're staying in Eixample. Places on my radar:
--Can Mano (open on Monday?)
--7 Puertas (Monday?)
--Cinc Sentits (which I know is closed on Sunday and does not serve din on Monday).
Thanks so much for any suggestions!
Most places in Madrid are opened for Sunday midday meal but are closed at night, therefore, Botin is a decent choice. I have not eaten there in many years but from friends, it has not changed over the years. Order the roast meat and the simple dishes.
Tapa crawl is easy in Madrid because places tend to be clustered together in just about every neighborhood, therefore, I would not go out of the way just to eat at one tapas bar regardless how good it is. If I have one night for tapas, I would head for Cava Baja and the streets around it. It has the best and most varied tapas places, including some serving pintxos. El Tempranillo on c/Cava Baja is terrfic. Macerias is in another centrally located area of Huertas. It has some good seafood tapas including terrific octopus. Cerveceria Cervantes is nearby and is very good. Just wonder around the streets and there will be two or three in every block. The area just east of the Retiro also a good group of tapas places. Museo de Jamon is a chain specializing in jamon. The places are huge and a bit gaudy with jamon hanging from the ceiling. The standup counter is popular for a quick bite at lunch but not much for an evening meal.
For Barcelona, there are many restaurants similar in price range and style of cooking to Cinc Sentits. I like Alkimia, Sauc, Olive, Hisop and Coure. if Cinc Sentits does not fit into your schedule, can't go wrong with one of the above. Can Mano is located in Barcelonetta and is a bare bone down to earth eatery. It is one of my favorite places to go with local friends but the food is nothing special, just inexpensive hearty down home food with enough olive oil to satisfy. The communal table is popular with male workers chowing down the huge combination plates. With two days in Barcelona, I would skip it. Set Portes is high end restaurant also in Barcelonetta that specializes in paella. I ate there years ago and the paella and other rice dishes are good but not spectacular.
Barcelona has many tapas/pintxos places but they are scattered about, making crawl more difficult. The Eixample has many but stay away from those located in the first couple blocks of Pge de Gracia. Taktika Berri is one of the best pintxos places in Barcelona. Stand up counter or bar stool, no tables. Their hot pintxos are excellent but they go fast as they come out of the kitchen. Anything with bacalao is great. Cerveserie Catalana is nearby. I go there with a group of friends because it is a huge fun lively place and open late. The menu has just about every types of tapas, racion and large plates, therefore, not everything is good. Also nearby is Paco Meralgo which is probably my favorite tapas place because everything is good. It offers both counter and table seating as well as a non-smoking section. Order the scallops, razor clams, cabrit, grilled vegetables, the baby lamb (hopefully not too heavily breaded). Also good desserts. I am not a big fan of Cal Pep and have given my opinion on numerous earlier posts on this board. Good food, steep prices, long lines, more of a cult thing.
For an evening out, I would definitely venture down to El Born. It is lively, full of tapas/pintxo places, restaurants and cafes. La Vinya del Senyor, front of Santa Maria del Mar. Nearby is Budo is a good dessert bar (not quite up to par with the sweets in Paris). On c/Argenteria is a Sagarda, a large pintxo place great for people watching. More fun than for the food because they do not serve any hot pintxos and some things
are left out on the counter too long. Better pintxos can be had down and around the corner at Euskal Etxea on Pl Montcada. It is atmospheric and gets crowded and a little rowdy as the the evening wears on...good food and lots of fun. Around the corner and just off c/Comerc is Little Bestial, more expensive with innovative tapas.
Hope the above helps.
I totally recommend Alkimia. Of the new creative Catalan cuisine, it's my favourite, quality/price. I also really liked Sauc -- it is a bit more grounded on traditional dishes, yet very modern. They are both upscale but not too pricey.
You can combine a visit to Alkimia with a visit to Sagrada Familia, it's nearby.
If you find yourselves in the Gothic quarter, I like the Cafe de l'Academia. Nicer in the summer, but still the food is good. Or go for a drink to the Museu Textil in that area too (the food is not so good though).
To check restaurants timetables in bcn:
Also go to El Xampanyet in El Born - drink xampanyet (sparkling white wine) and eat some montaditos - and definitely eat the anchovies if you like them - they are the best there. Great local place that's always busy and always excellent - riiiight near the Church (santa maria del mar) and 2 minutes' walk to cal pep.
El Xampanyet is fantastic! I went yesterday around 2PM...it was packed. Sidled up to the bar on the far left side, near a table. As soon as a table was being vacated, we flagged down a waiter who seated us immediately. What luck!
We had great tapas in a lively, rustic atmosphere. Highlights were the cheese-stuffed peppadew peppers (tangy, creamy, and sweet...delightful!), a mixed salami plate, some kind of paprika-laced jamon, and marinated artichokes. We also had potato chips, tomato bread, and marinated olives (the latter of which were the only disappointment---mushy!). The Xampanyet (off-dry sparkling cava) was delicious and the perfect thing to balance out all the saltiness. The total bill (including tip and four glasses of cava) was 32 Euro (30.70 pre-tip). Highly recommended! Go early. It helps to bring a glossary of food items in Spanish/Catalan (there are no menus, and you may not be able to point...the waiters seem to speak enough English to work with you though).
re: Chet Steel
Just to add a slight precision. The wine they serve at Casa Estevet a.k.a. El Xampanyet is not Vino de Aguja. It's a semi-sec white wine that gets its bubbles from the addition of carbon dioxide and not through natural fermentation. The label in Catalan calls it "Vi espumós gasificat - semi sec obtingut per adició d'anhidrit carbònic." They call it Xampanyet, but I've also heard the servers refer to it as cava. It's made especially for Casa Estevet by Cellers Perelló in Vilablareix, Girona. It's a bit sweet for my taste, but it goes very well with the food they serve there. And it's dirt cheap, which appeals very much to my thrifty side and allows me to spend more money on those awesome stuffed peppers, boquerones and salted sardines.
I heartily second this Paco Meralgo recommendation for tapas. Everything there is extremely fresh, flavorful, and prepared with care. My huband and I went two nights ago and had a delicious, fairly priced meal. We ordered grilled asparagus (nicely charred and sprinkled with flaky sea salt), codfish croquettes (told they were creamy and fantastic), la bomba (a giant breaded meatball...also reportedly good), razor clams (pleasant, but didn't blow me away), grilled cockles (tasty, but unfortunately sandy), tomato bread (reportedly heavenly, with fantastic olive oil and bread), tuna in a tamari-sesame sauce (very tender, flavorful, and delicious), and an artichoke omelette (creamy, deliciously savory and drenched in olive oil). Two glasses of rose, one glass of tempranillo, and a bottle of mineral water washed things down. All that set us back only about 55 Euro, including tax and tip. Highly recommended---sit at the bar and enjoy!
As a side note, the waiter/barman was very helpful in figuring out which tapas were safe for me to eat (gluten free). The menu was available in English and the server spoke English as well. A great experience overall.
None of your Madrid spots are in Salamanca... That neighborhood is quite dead on Sunday nights, but there are plenty of options for lunch. Where exactly in Salamanca are you staying?
Botín and Cervecería Cervantes are very, very touristy... Botín is still worth visiting, because it is so historic (and the food is good), though there are lots of other options for roast lamb and pork, if that's what you have your heart set on. One good thing about Botín is that they keep weird hours to accommodate tourists--handy, if your internal food clock requires that you eat an early dinner or really, really late lunch. You would need a reservation.
Maceiras is in Huertas close to the Prado. Be warned, it's insanely loud (I live in Madrid and noise does not generally phase me, but I find it unbearable). The food is fine for what it is (simple Galician bar food). There are two locations right next to each other.
The best place for tapas on Sunday would be lunch in La Latina (2-4:30), where everyone converges after the Rastro (flea market). El Tempranillo, La Camarilla, Orixe, Txirimiri, Toma Jamón, Almendro 13, Cava Blanca, Lucio, Matritum, Nunc est Bibendum (the last two are more for a sit-down meal)... there are many, many spots within just a few blocks. But you'll need lots of energy to elbow your way to the bar (and don't expect to find any free tables). There's also a strip of tapas joints close to the Reina Sofía (and not far from the Prado but off the beaten tourist path) on c/Argumosa.
La Platería is right across from the Prado and not a bad option if you want something really, really close. Otherwise it's not worth going out of the way for.
Another place that's close to the Prado (c/Prado, 28) and good for snacks is D.O.C.C. It's a high-quality sandwich spot--but it's not open on Sunday and closes early on Saturday (it caters mainly to the weekday lunch crowd of workers in the 'hood). Much, much better than Museo del Jamón.
We just got back from a great trip that included three days in Madrid. My husband and I aren't young, but we're excellent walkers and rarely restrict our restaurant choices because of distances. However, in mid-December, we did essentially what the OP is planning on doing and, this trip, convenience was our deciding factor. This was partly due to fatigue. (We spent at least five hours touring each museum, topping even our record by spending seven hours at the Prado.) Mostly, our dining choices were due to weather. Our days in Madrid were cold and rainy. Sure we could have taken a taxi to more far-flung destinations, but we began by eating so well locally that we decided to make a repeat visit. Here's a brief write-up of our eating experiences:
We stayed at a hotel near the Prado, and on arrival day -- a weekday -- after the overnight trans-Atlantic flight we took a walk in the direction of Plaza Mayor. Around lunch time we realized we were close to Botin. Frankly, we had had no plan to eat there because of its touristy reputation, but we'd also read enthusiastic praise so we went in. Ultimately, we were delighted we ate there. Admittedly, when we entered the restaurant near opening hours, we were in a room in which the neighbors to our left were speaking French, across the aisle were speaking some Scandinavian language, and we were speaking English. However, quite rapidly, the restaurant filled up with speakers of Spanish, including an elegant elderly couple who were clearly regular patrons. Service was professional. The waiters were responsive and attentive in spite of the tourist influx.
We each ordered the three-course set menu consisting of garlic soup (this gets swapped out for gazpacho in warm weather), roast suckling pig, and ice cream. The soup was delicious, but extremely filling as the result of a generous portion and considerable amount of bread floating in the broth. I ate all the broth and some of the bread with no loss. The roast pig was simply exquisite -- definitely the best I've ever eaten. The skin was crisp-hard yet the meat was tender and moist, moist, most. The restaurant is not going through the motions. Our meal was delicious.
That night, we ate the first of two meals at Cerveceria Cervantes, two blocks away from our hotel. (Butterfly has made more visits so she's probably right about this is being very touristy, but we were the only speakers of any language other than Spanish the two times we ate there.) For this meal, the stars of the evening were the Shrimp Tostada and the Salad Cervantes. The first was memorable because of the wonderfully garlicky aioli sauce. The second was a huge and delicious mound of tuna, tomatoes, grilled red peppers, anchovies in vinegar, and mild black olives. We ordered this because every single table in our line of sight was already eating this same dish. It's popularity is warranted. Fabulous quality ingredients.
Our second meal at Cervantes included even more hits: salpicon mariscos (our favorite), prawns in aioli, and red peppers in oil and garlic.
That night, we had begun by going first to Dolores on the same block. A local shop owner had recommended this place; however, the smoke was appalling. We walked in, took a few steps, and retreated. Although there were plenty of smokers in Cervantes and two other tapas places, we weren't troubled by the smoke. In contrasts, the air at Dolores was blue.
La Cruz Blanca where we ate once was on Calle del Prado. I don't know if this place has any connection to another tapas place of the same name at Goya 70. My menu Spanish is my best Spanish so I can cope reasonably well, and I placed our order at the bar. We then took our drinks and began to walk away. The woman next to me at the bar spoke to me in Spanish that was far too rapid for me to understand anything beyond an occasional isolated word. I smiled but didn't respond in any meaningful way. Then, the same woman began talking to the fellow behind the bar. Based on what happened next, I can only assume that the woman was defending our interests. Whether the bar man wasn't going to give us -- obvious tourists -- the typical small bite with our first round of drinks or whether she was advising the bar man what to give us, I can't say. At any rate, the bar man handed the woman two small plates and she, in turn, handed them to us.
More kindness continued. When we arrived, the two small tables were both occupied and my husband and I found a little place to stand next to the shelf. Very soon, the patron standing next to us indicated that one of the tables was about to clear and helped us carry our drinks and our amuse over to the table. Then our food started coming.
Amazing stuff! Our favorites were grilled octopus on potatoes and broken eggs. (Our waitress at Cervantes recommended this dish each of the times we dined there, but we didn't follow through. I can say that in the Cervantes preparation, the potatoes were layered to completey cover the wood serving plank, topped completely with octopus slices. At Cruz Blanca, fewer potatoes were scattered on top of the octopus.) The broken eggs were divine comfort food -- a mixture of eggs, sauteed potato chunks, lots of olive oil, and, perhaps some slivers of serrano ham and/or cheese. (Broken Eggs/Huevos Strellados is the signature dish at Casa Lucio on Calle Cava Baja. I can't believe their version is any better than this version. It was extra-ordinary!)
We had a plate of grilled vegetables including eggplant, zucchini, winter squash, onions, asparagus, tomatoes and red peppers that were wonderful but sprinkled with sea salt with a heavy hand.
Our final dinner was on a Sunday night. We should have taken a taxi to Calle Cava Baja, but we didn't. Instead we had a merely pedestrian tapas meal at Miauw on Plaza Santa Ana. The best dish of the night was the excellent ratatouille topped with goat cheese. This place offered a nice option: ordering half a platter of jamon iberico or lomo iberico. Since we were only two, we had passed on the generous plates of jamon Iberico at our two previous tapas places. We actually ordered dessert with interesting results. The flan was horrible. The custard had been cooked at too high temperature and not in a water bath. The result was the the texture was rubbery and the caramel had a scorched taste. My husband ordered Nantillas. We like this dish at our local Spanish restaurant. The taste was the same but we're used to a less soupy texture.
There are plenty of tourists in Madrid... though many are from Spain itself... Plaza Santa Ana is really the nexus. I don't think most of the touristy spots are bad, per se, they just tend to be incredibly overhyped by visitors as better, or more special, than they really are--mainly due to the convenient location to hotels and attractions. There are literally thousands of places to get a bite to eat in Madrid... mainly supported by locals (this is a culture where people go out to snack and drink and eat a lot)... it seems like a shame that tourists end up at the same few places, but I'm sure I do the same when I go to other cities...
Cruz Blanca is a chain. Not a bad one in a pinch. The "Broken Eggs" dish is Huevos Rotos--definitely great comfort food. The octopus dish Pulpo a la Gallega or Pulpo a feira. All of these dishes are popular Madrid bar food that can be found in countless bars, cervecerías (which often specialize in mariscos), etc. Other bar favorites: Lacón (a salted pork leg), sepia a la plancha (grilled cuttlefish), chopitos (tiny deep-fried squid), croquetas, patatas bravas, berberechos (cockles), morcilla (blood sausage), etc.
Funny about the tapas. I can't tell you how many times I've seen out-of-towners order a drink at the bar and wander off leaving their free tapa behind or not stick around to wait for it... Nice that someone looked out for you! A lot of tourists don't realize that many, many places in Madrid give free tapas at the bar.
I have so much to say! I lived in Barcelona for 4 years and am always reading about mediocre recommendations on this site. Not that I have the most refined palate or the best taste, but I know what's good and I know what the actual Catalans think is good so I'll divulge some of my personal favs/local secrets (my husband is Catalan so I had a good source).
-I've never heard of Can Mano but that doesn't mean it's not good - I've never been.
-7 puertas is mediocre paella and overpriced. Go to Cherif which is minutes from the Barceloneta metro station. You do need reservations so ask the concierge if they can make them for you. Casual but great food.
-Cervesceria Catalana and Cuidad Condal are the same restaurant with 2 different locations and names. As touristy as it is, I went there often and enjoyed. Definitely sit at the bar if you can. Don't go at prime times as you will wait or will be overwhelmed by the number of people trying to get tables or steal stools the second someone moves for their coat - be aggressive.
-Cal Pep is good - but make sure you get there before 8pm for dinner or before 1pm for lunch. If you're not seated in the first round, you'll be standing in a tiny aisle watching everyone else eat for at least an hour. No reservations unless you are 6+ and eating at the bar is the only way to go anyway. They will surely try to sell you the "We'll jsut order for you" menu but you'll get things you dont' want and pay more than you need to (considering it's not cheap to begin with, you should order what you most like, not what they deem appropriate for you as a tourist with a credit card.) I recommend the taillarinas (mini clams - not even sure the translation but just say it "tie -ye-ri-nas), the tortilla, steak (ternera), and anythign else you see and think looks good - espeically the fresh seafood. You will see 10 tourists to every spanish person there too -
-cinc sentits is good - but it's like a fancy ny-type new cuisine place - if you're looking for a traditional Spanish/Catalan meal, you will NOT find it here. Leave this kind of place for NY.
I see that someone below mentioned Alkimia - this is right by the Sagrada Familia and literally right in front of where I used to live. It's good but it's ridiculously overpriced considering how well you can eat in Barcelona while spending 1/8. It's a fancier place so if you're in the mood to spend more and feel like you're not in Barcelona for a meal, go there.
Some places I recommend:
El Vaso de Oro - right near the Barceloneta metro station - long bar full of Catalanes eating excellent tapas. Great beer, food and lively environment. DOn't get at 9.30 on a friday night because it'll be packed - I'd recommend going a little earlier than spanish prime time (8.45pm) to get a seat and hang out eating while the place fills up.
La bodegueta: on Rambla de Catalunya before you reach Diagonal (maybe it's on the corner of Mallorca or Rosellon) - great wine, cool looking place (old, traditional - nothing fancy, casual, great tapas - go - you won't regret it. You can go for a snack or for a meal and if the weather is warm, you can eat on Rambla de Catalunya and people watch.
My most favorite restaurant is called Restaurant San Joan - you won't find it on any foodie website or anything but it's just the best Catalan home cooking at reasonable prices. They're not trying to prove anything - they just serve locals good food like they used to eat at home - or better. Everything is homemade (including their ice creams) and it's just my most favorite place to eat. Open for lunch only Monday to Saturday - go around 1.45, 2pm or later. The menus are on the wall in only spanish or catalan but the owner (joan) speaks english very well. It's on paseo san joan at the corner of Aragon - trust me - go. and then tell me how happy you were that you had a real spanish experience and excellent food. I took my parents when they came to visit and they are major foodies and siad it was their favorite place.
I have so many more recommendations but no time to write...enjoy!
They are only open for lunch! And they are closed on Sundays. It's worth it to make time to go for lunch one day and it's within walking distance of the Sagrada Familia. They do close on all holidays and are closed, like many Spanish establishments that aren't in the typical tourist market, in August. Like I said, it's nothing fancy but if you're looking for real Catalan home cooking, this is the place - and you won't find a single tourist in there, unless a lot of you take my advice, of course!
Barcelonian, thanks again for the MANY helpful suggestions. Thanks to you and PBSF, we ate VERY well in Barcelona! Loved San Joan and your recs for Cal Pep!! Here's a link to my CH trip report on my eating experiences:
As you will see, I visited many of your suggestions!
Photos on my blog here (Barcelona): http://annmah.net/2009/02/12/dining-o...
And here (Madrid):
just a note to say THANK YOU for the Sant Joan rec-- a plain Jane of a place and the owner was slightly grumpy (maybe wondering where all these anglo foodies are coming from? :D ) but serious food. My husband had tripe with chickpeas-- loved it; I had the grilled rabbit with garlic, out of this world garlic perfume, shockingly good. I wish we'd gone every day! Very difficult to know what to order as the menu was beyond my skills but I guess we lucked out.
He's always grumpy but I'm glad he doesn't know it's me who's making all these recommendations - he surely knows who I am and my in-laws go there at least once a week! It's definitely good for business though! ENJOY! And at their prices, you could have gone everyday! Anther tidbit of advice: I believe Tuesdays are "rice" days - they'll have some special rice dish that's not normally on the menu - usually awesome.
It's a bit dead in Barrio Salamanca if you mean street life, but there are many wonderful restaurants in the area. Let the hotel recommend you one.
After you're done at the Prado, head up Calle del Prado - I can recommend El Cenador del Prado at the top of this street for an excellent lunch, but on your way there, you'll pass a lot of taverns with great and varied canapies - Sunday is aperitif day!
At the end of Calle del Prado, you'll come into Plaza Santa Ana, which has many places to eat on it.
Keep going, cross the square, go through Plaza del Angel, and right at the end, onto Calle de la Cruz for full-on touristy tapas bar land! Have some bravas, chipirones, jamon of course, maybe some huevos rotos or estrellados, and calamares - all washed down with a nice Ribera or Protos. Keep walking down, then go right at the end onto Carrera de San Jeronimo - there is a fabulous and historic pastry shop called Casa Mira that you could buy dessert from - open Sunday mornings.