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Spain a Culinary adventure. Madrid, Seville, Cordoba, Barcelona and Deia. Warning LONG.

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scfinson Apr 26, 2011 12:54 PM

Spain Trip Report

Our recent trip to Spain was an incredible food experience as well as a great trip in general. Many thanks to all on this board who helped us narrow down the infinite number of restaurants and tapas bars. Maribel’s travel guides were also an indispensable tool for guiding us in our choices.

Sorry for all the spelling errors to come.

We were in Spain a total of 3 weeks starting with Madrid then on to Seville, Cordoba Barcelona and the northwest of Mallorca.

I will try to keep this brief (oops) and only do extensive notes on the truly stellar places or dishes. I won’t list addresses as it is so easy to do searches, Google maps, GPS etc.

Madrid - Stayed in Retiro Park area.

Estado Puro- Our first stop after a very long trip from California via London. This place was exceptional! It may have been the jet lag or we were famished from airport/airline food but it set the bar very high for the rest of the trip. It is a very modern space with high chairs at communal tables. The ceiling is a tunnel of large women’s hair comb/tiara things. It is also right across the street from the Prado in the NH hotel building, so very convenient for a gourmet lunch break.The food is very modern tapas/raciones traditional flavors with inventive twists. Everything was presented on black slate plates a trend we saw on many other occasions. Best croquettas of the trip and we tried many others for comparison. The standout dish in flavor and inventiveness was pig trotters reformed with herbs and spices on a bed of sepia tallarines. The sepia was cut like pasta noodles and had a similar texture and mouth feel, could have eaten much more of more of this dish. The other standout was lentil soup with foie. At first just seemed like a good lentil soup but all the foie was on the bottom then this dish was something else altogether.

Chocolateria san Gines - Went for desert after “EP” above. Good chocolate and fresh churros. We were satiated now.

Mercato San Michelle near Plaza Mayor? More of a food hall than a market. Oh no! Anchovies, sardine, pulpo pinxtos, and cana can not resist now total food overdose!

Arzabal- Another “modern” tapas place. Very good but not the same level of food as Estado Puro. Good oxtail stew and and seared foie here. Good solid choice for the “modern gastro” movement. Make reservations or you will only get bar seats.

Sergi Arola Gastro - Lunch, Our first Michelin * * place. Something was a little off here. Only us and one other table filled, so a bit stifling with more service people than customers. He offers 3-4 tasting menus of different sizes, with some choice of plates. Food was very good with some creative flourishes but no big wow factor. Our big disappointment was the sauces on my wife’s fish dish, excellent, and the baby chicken dish, overcooked, seemed to be the exact same very rich demigloss. Great lamb and chocolate dessert.

Casona Retiro - Our late breakfast spot. Great coffees, teas and pastries. Around the corner from hotel. It was great to go here 4 days in a row as it is where office workers take their breaks and the same people would come every day at exactly the same times they would talk to us and got to know them a little like joining their little family for a few days.

Pandelujo - In the Salamanca shopping area. Very modern large brasserie is how I would describe it. Blond wood walls outdoor zen rock garden to look at through the all glass wall. The food had some international influence here. Terrible croquettas here, mushy and bland but probably not what they emphasize. Great Rueda white wine for only €18. The huge red prawns on julienned vegs with miso broth was great if not very Spanish. Prawn head juice was like prawn bone marrow yum! Roasted artichokes with romesco is something I need to learn how to do since we live in artichoke land.

Evening Tapas Crawl - We stayed in the Retiro park area for this vs. the La Latina district. Laredo, La Catapa, and Arzabal again but just at the bar with tapas only menu. All on one street so very easy to do and was a lot of fun. Laredo very traditional stand up only out in front room. Chipperones al a plancha was superb with an onion, tomato marmalade underneath. La Catapas a little more modern with a huge portion of veal tartar. Arzabal more modern still and packed to the rafters, Foie terrine excellent.

Seville -

Beccerito- Not sure what happened here. This place recommended on CH and another Seville Tapas web site. The hotel said we needed to reserve but made it for dining room which in hindsight was was a big mistake. The main fish courses were simply inedible and we just asked for bill and left and went to hotel and did room service a real bust. Maybe the tapas are better but there was no one in there when we left so not a good sign.

Arenero - This is a great modern wine bistro in the traditional and touristy Barrio Santa Cruz area right off the cathedral square. Modern take on tapas again, more black slate plates with smears of sauce, all very tasty. Cochonillo was my favorite, ensalada pulpo my wife’s.

Vineria San Telmo - Loved this place, reminded me of a bohemian outpost in SF Mission district. Very good food more gutsy home style cooking with some modern twists. I may have never seen wait staff work that hard. What choreography! Waiter ballet! It was truly athletic. Great people watching here. You need res. for dinner service.

Abantal- WOW! This place was truly a great experience and best € value as well. Only 3 tables filled at lunch but it felt very comfortable, service very discreet not hovering. Again 3 sizes of tasting menus, but no choices on individual dish selection. Everything had taste, presentation and creative focus. All very well balanced. When we do tasting menus like this we usually order a rose bubbly then I get a glass of red wine for my meat course. Worked for us as the rose cava went great with everything up to the solomillo and then the Riberia del Duoro took over from there .

Zelai- Sunday where to go for long lunch as it is raining. I wanted to go to Vineria San Telmo again but our hotel concierge would not think of us REPEATING! “400 restaurants in Seville no repeating” Yes Mom. So Zelai it was. Had to taxi with the pouring rain that was an experience taking a car through the narrow lanes of Seville, had to fold the side mirrors in twice! What I remember most was the massive portion of perfectly seared foie gras here. Not the most inventive iteration but the best cooked, enough for 4 people. Or the only thing you should order.

Cordoba - By the time we got to Cordoba we actually needed a food break. The foie at Zelais may have been our culinary Waterloo. At this point we wanted a salad with no protein or fatty item on it no tuna, jamon, foie etc. just vegs please!. My wife ordered an appetizer salad with prawn carpaccio without the prawns just the salad, which drew a funny look from waiter but said no problem. When I got the bill they charged an extra €5 for just the salad €18! for lettuce. Maybe it was time of year and greens are not in season but it was really hard to eat our vitamins!

We were not very excited about our Cordoba food experience. I think the Mesquita Cathedral and palace are the draws and not the food culture.

“Casa del Pisto”- aka Taberna San Miguel was solid traditional Andulusian fare. A real locals place. really filled up at lunch with local working folks.

Lamoraga- This is a branch of the Malaga based Dani Garcia empire. Uber trendy decor right out of design award mags, rather out of place in Cordoba. Only open 2 weeks and completely empty on both tries. Food was very good though. The braised beef cheeks served in a Staub like cocotte my favorite stewed meat dish of the trip. Inventive bocadillos etc. Better get some customers or this won’t last.

Barcelona Where to start? We stayed at our splurge hotel the Mandarin Oriental on Passeig de Gracia so we were in food central.

MO bar area- expensive, pretentious and very few Spaniards in sight but very high quality tapas while waiting for a room change.

Monvinic - We had dinner in the bar area not the full rest in the back as it was full from a very large group. Massive wine list from all over the world not just Spain, list is on a iPad like device but does not work like one. Takes forever to find what you want and the wait staff act like you are an idiot because it takes a while to navigate. Then I found some really unique red from Navarra, mencia grape? Wanted another glass but was told the bottle ran out and when a bottle hits empty it goes off the list and no longer available by the glass only bottle. La quenta por favor. Food ok, rice dish way too salty.
Alkimia - Another WOW! We did the traditional menu since we wanted some reference point to Catalan cooking. Lots of Calcots in inventive ways. The chicken canellones a revelation thanks Aleta. The most unique dish of the trip was pork carpaccio and noodles. A very thin slice of pork with white stripes running through it at bottom of bowl. Waiter pours intensely flavored broth over it. The pork mostly fat melts away leaving the white stripes which are tendons or connective tissue which are now noodles floating in the soup. Brilliant. I could go on but this was a true highlight.

Tapas,24 - Chiperonitas ala plancha. The smallest squid I have ever eaten. The ink would ooze out when bitten. Man that was good. The rest competently done traditional tapas. I think we are getting jaded.

Paco Merlago - I see why this place is all the rave. The first potatas bravas with some serious heat. Baby wild asparagus, great bomba. Must reserve at dinner, many turned away.

La Mar Salada - Sunday afternoon, have to do the Barcelonetta seafood scene. This place was just what we wanted, a slice of Barcelona life and great food. Had their seafood rice with crab and squid very good only wish it had more crab. Artichoke chips and escalirada great too. Hundreds of people without reservations turned away. Had one big guy out front to direct traffic and the lucky few of us with res. in.

Boqueria- Pinxtos too crowded, El Quim closed but Kiosko open so had artichokes and gambas ala plancha great! Then a basque pintxos place in the Barri Gotic can’t remember name but PBSF recommended. Very nice. Thanks.

Mallorca, Deia Soller Area- After 2.5 weeks of touring 4 busy, hectic cities with all the museums, historic sights we just wanted to sit on a deck and relax and enjoy scenery and the outdoors. Deia really fit the the bill. Magnificent mtn scenery and great hiking.
No car so stayed in Deia for food, Juame, Sebastion’s, L’Olive which was more a european continental style place and a place with barrel’s in the name that was a good solid tapas place and not too €€€.

Home, sorry so long winded but it helps me solidify the memories after 24 hours of air travel makes you wonder what the hell did I do that for. Thanks again to all the Spain experts for making our trip such a culinary success.

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    Aleta Apr 26, 2011 02:19 PM

    Welcome home and thanks for the great report, Scfinson!

    Glad that you enjoyed Alkimia. I appreciate too the update on the calcots seasonal specials and the 'pork soup'. Sorry I didn't respond to your earlier question about lunch vs dinner; I often go for long periods on other forums and don't check in on CH. I wish there was a way that we could get notified when posters ask questions.

    Could you pls elaborate more on the Alkimia calcots preparation? It won't be traditional, for sure, but I'm curious to hear what their spin is on this Catalan tradition.

    Very jealous that you stayed at the Mandarin! You mentioned that you had a few bites in the MO Bar. Next time, please try the hotel restaurant, Moments. It's operated by the son of Carme Ruscalleda of Sant Pau. She is Spain's only 3 star Michelin lady chef. I haven't been to Moments but I have enjoyed lunch at her restaurant, which is a relaxing and scenic 1 hr train ride from Barcelona, along the coast.

    Regarding Seville, we liked Vineria San Telmo too but fortunately passed on Becerrito. We actually had lunch at Vineria San Telmo with my friend, the lady blogger from Seville Tapas! You should let her know about your experience at Becerrito. BTW, your comparison to the Mission District brings back old memories for me. It's been years but I'm originally from SF too.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Aleta
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      scfinson Apr 27, 2011 07:48 AM

      Aleta, I'm not sure Alkimia did anything too wild with the Calcots there were complimentary sides to fish and meat dishes. Grilled on fish and thinly sliced on another also a foam sauce flavored with calcots on the fish. They were very mild and sweet for a "green onion" .They must have been baby calcots since what we saw at Boqueria were more the szie of leeks.Yes we thought seriously about Moments but wanted to be diversified in our selections and try places out of the hotel. San Telmo seemed so different from the line up of places on that square, just had that out of the "box" vibe like all the people that worked there were in alternative rock bands on the side not doing flamenco. Now we want to do the northwest and San Sebastion, Rioja so back to work to fund the next adventure!

      1. re: scfinson
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        Aleta Apr 27, 2011 12:06 PM

        Scfinson, thanks for the update. Perhaps you could schedule your next visit for March 2012 (for the annual Calcotada in Barcelona) and hop over to San Sebastian from there!

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