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Recent trip to Madrid and Barcelona (with a day in Segovia)

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SusanB Oct 18, 2012 01:40 PM

Hi, just got back from 13 nights in Madrid and Barcelona. I've posted trip reports on both Tripadvisor and Fodors, but this is an extract that is food related only. I had read a lot of posts on various boards, including Chowhound, so thanks to everyone who helped us plan our trip.

Loved Spain! I’m so glad that we saw both cities – they are quite different from one another, and I’m not sure which one I liked best. Madrid was a revelation – so lively and so much culture. Prices overall were very reasonable in both cities and the quality of the food was excellent. Good food is important to us and both cities did not disappoint. John doesn’t drink, so he usually had mineral water but I usually had at least one or two glasses of wine (red, white, cava, I don’t discriminate) or beer. We usually paid with Visa when we could.

Madrid

Our ‘blow out’ meal in Madrid was Club Allard. I had booked it by email before we left Toronto. This was officially John’s birthday dinner (he turned 65 in late September) and it was amazing. It wasn’t easy to find – we were running late and arrived somewhat breathless. Fortunately we had read that it was on a corner, behind an iron door and up some stairs. The restaurant is a group of small rooms, somewhat formal looking. The chef, Diego Guerrero, comes out and meets with every guest and basically takes your order. He’s very personable and we were thrilled to meet him. They offer 3 tasting menus and we chose the “Seduction” menu. It was 12 small courses, each one amazing (3 snacks, 3 starters, 1 fish, 1 meat, 1 dessert appetizers, 2 desserts, coffee and petit fours). The server explained each course and how to eat it. I had a glass of champagne (not cava), 2 glasses of white wine (different whites) and then a cava. We finished with coffee. It was an incredible experience and well worth the approximately 228 euros bill. John took pictures of every course.

We went to Casa Lucas on Cava Baja on our first and last nights. First night, we were able to get a table, last night we got stools at the bar. Over the 2 visits, we had the Madrid (blood sausage i.e., “morcilla”, egg, tomato confit on bread), ham croquettes, tataki (tuna with onion and soy sauce over apple sauce), the calamari (a massive plate of calamari wrapped in bacon and tossed in squid ink) and a puff pastry with more morcilla. All were very good. Both meals came to about 38 or 39 euros. We both really enjoyed Casa Lucas. Very friendly atmosphere, both the servers and the other customers.

In Chueca, we had drinks at the rooftop restaurant of the Mercado San Anton and then lunch at El Cisne Azul. I loved this restaurant. We shared a salad of arugula, grilled goat cheese and tomatoes. Really really good, then had a mushroom ‘sampler’ (several different types of mushrooms sautéed), finished with the boletus topped with a fried egg (sunnyside up). (We tried to order the trumpet of death mushrooms but they weren’t available.) With a coffee and a bottle of mineral water, it came to 43 euros. Not cheap, but so delicious and one of my favourite meals. This was a very ‘local’ restaurant – I don’t think there were any tourists there. (They also don’t take credit cards.)

We also had lunch at a place called Taberna el Rincon de Jose. We hadn’t set out for that restaurant, just happened to come upon it. As the waiter brought out the dishes to other diners, he would show us what it was, so it gave us an idea of what to order. We ordered a huge house salad (great tomatoes, tuna, olives, etc.) and the belota ham plate, as well as beer and mineral water. I think it came to about 35 euros and they take credit cards.

One place that didn’t take Visa is Juana la Loca. It’s close to the apartment and we had more tapas there - mushroom croquettes, fried artichokes and mushrooms of some kind, millefeuille (can’t remember the Spanish name) for dessert with ice cream and dulce de leche. The bill was similar to Casa Lucas, and the food was good, although I think Casa Lucas is more interesting.

The Mercado near Plaza Major has an incredible selection of tapas and we went there twice. Once to eat lunch, the second time for dessert after our last meal at Casa Lucas. We focused more on seafood and cheese tapas there the first time – excellent choices and cost will depend on how hungry you are. At night, the market was packed with people – just a crazy environment!

We had lunch nearby the Prado one day at a place called La Plateria – spinach salad with chickpeas and duck ‘bacon’ (quite good actually – I’m a big chickpea lover) and patatas bravas (ok, but nothing special). With a beer, bottle of mineral water and a coffee, the bill came to just over 20 euros, so quite reasonable given the locale. (We weren’t looking for it, we just happened to come upon it.)

A good place for coffee in Madrid is Faborit – very good coffee and WIFI. It’s not far from the Prado and a pleasant spot to take a break.

Segovia

One day, we took the bus to Segovia. It was a toss-up on whether to go to Segovia or Toledo, but the thought of suckling pig won us over. After not sleeping well, I was tempted to just stay in bed, but I had already made a lunch reservation at Jose Maria for 2 PM. The restaurant was bustling and we really enjoyed our meal there. John had the suckling pig and I had the lamb (which was on the seasonal menu). Both were excellent. To start, they gave us a sizzling dish of livers – really tasty. We ordered the grilled vegetable plate – carrot, cabbage, eggplant, zucchini, onion, tomato, all delicious with lovely oil and a bit of local honey on them. Good to have before all the meat! The pork was perfectly done, nice crisp skin. I couldn’t eat all the lamb – it was a huge portion in a delicious sauce, with some crispy matchstick potatoes on it. (Fortunately I can usually count on John to help me out.) We also ordered the ponche de Segovia for dessert – while it was good, the dessert highlight for both of us was the lemon sorbet in a sparkling wine – fabulous. With a beer and a glass of wine, our bill came to 91 euros. No need for dinner that night – we were stuffed.

Barcelona

After our arrival in Barcelona, for some bizarre reason, we were exhausted – maybe a combination of a late night in Madrid, getting up early to make sure we made it to the airport, etc. We staggered off to a great restaurant nearby – Terra Mar – where I had a dish I had been craving – fried potatoes (like thick French fries), scrambled egg and more morcilla. Delicious! We also ordered the cod fritters, also very good, and crème Catalan for dessert. Inexpensive and tasty. It was a local place and I had to laugh – they had a TV on, playing music videos. One of them was Canada’s own Carly Rae Jepson and the waitress was singing along to it. Bill came to 26 euros.

I had read that Sunday night is not a good night to find a restaurant in Barcelona because many of them are closed in the evening. I called Paco Meralgo and we couldn’t get a table. Neither of us was up to standing at the bar, so we made a reservation for later in the week. Instead we ended up going to a pizza place nearby (La Tarantella) for a pizza (very good, with a thin crust which I like) and a squid ink pasta with small clams (also pretty good) – 43 euros in total. The Barcelona / Real Madrid game was on, and people were pretty excited. We heard fire crackers going off and lots of cheering, but apparently the end result was a tie.

Our blow out meal in Barcelona was at Tickets. I had booked 2 months in advance and was thrilled that we could get a reservation. It’s only 4 blocks from the studio, so an easy walk. I can’t even begin to describe all the dishes. We asked the server to choose for us, with only 1 stipulation – we wanted to have the ‘olives’. Well, actually we had 2 stipulations – I said that our budget was 150 euros. (The final tally came to 153 euros.) We were seated at a bar, overlooking the food prep area, specifically the oyster shucking station, and it was a lot of fun to watch. What a job! I was very impressed by that chef – we watched her crack the oyster open, slide in the knife and then smell it. The crowd was all ages, and many of them weren’t speaking English. Again, John took pictures of every course. Really a wonderful meal and a fabulous show!

One day, we made a quick stop for lunch at Quim in the Boqueria. Wow! Food is excellent. We shared a plate of meatballs, an order of patatas bravas (so much better than the other ones I had eaten in Madrid) and an order of artichokes ‘chips’. I ordered 2 glasses of cava and when the bill came, there was only 1 on there. We told the waiter and he just waved that it was ok. Cost came to under 28 euros for definitely a terrific lunch. It’s busy and difficult to get a stool at the bar, but so worth it. We got into a nice conversation with a couple from Colorado and also ran into Calvin and Michelle, a couple of newlyweds from Texas who had been at our cooking class (more about that later). A couple of local women had a big bowl of padrones peppers and insisted we try them – hot hot hot!

As mentioned earlier, we had made a reservation at Paco Meralgo one evening. Of course we didn’t allow ourselves enough time to get there and it was a big rush because we didn’t want to lose our 10:15 reservation. (We underestimated our time to get somewhere a couple of times.) We started with tomato bread and padrones peppers. Then we had 4 little baked scallops, 2 montaditos with cheese & smoked salmon, octopus with caramelized onions, and John’s favourite – foie montaditos. The foie, I admit, was amazing. For dessert, we ordered 2 frozen chocolate truffles, lemon sorbet and figs with cream. The figs were my favourite of the desserts – so simple and delicious. All of this, plus 1 glass of cava, 1 beer and 1 mineral water, came to 62 euros. I highly recommend this restaurant.

We tried (with no success) to find a bar/restaurant called Rubi that John had read about in the Gothic quarter. Looked like a great place for lunch, but it appears that Tripadvisor has wrong information. We walked for probably 1 ½ hours to try to find it, eventually conceding defeat. (We did run across it at the end of our trip, it’s right around the corner from MEAM and the Picasso museum.) We finally ended up eating at Cuina Santa Catarina – at that point, I was ready to eat just about anywhere that had an empty table. I wouldn’t necessarily seek it out, but it was pretty good. We ordered melted manchego cheese and bread and an order of black rice. It came with tender squid and artichokes, quite tasty. With beer, mineral water and coffee, it was about 37 euros for the 2 of us.

One of our lunches was at a local restaurant called La Perla (near Montjuic). I don’t know if they even had a menu other than the Catalan one we looked at, but the waiter did speak a little bit of English. The food was great – we had the pan con tomate and chorizo, a big salad with tuna, olives, tomatoes, etc. and macaroni and cheese with meat in it. With a couple of beer and mineral water, it came to 47 euros. It was definitely too much food, but delicious basic food.

Hard to believe it, but after so many meals of tapas, we did start to want something that was more like a meal. Toronto friends had recommended Embat, on Mallorca, for dinner. We made reservations there, since it’s not a large restaurant. It was excellent and I’d definitely recommend it. As well as ordering from the menu, they had a choice of 2 tasting menus and we chose the less expensive one. We had a sort of bread stick that tasted of anise, a delicious mousse with peas and peanuts, wonderful truffled duck cannelloni, halibut that was amazing with white beans and green beans, and finally suckling lamb shoulder with couscous and carrots. Dessert was a cake with yogurt and mango sorbet. With a cava, 2 glasses of red and 1 bottle of mineral water, it came to 82 euros. Excellent food, and good service.

Another meal was at Gut restaurant. The name of the restaurant doesn’t sound all that appealing, but John had read good reviews and we ended up there on our last night. We made an early reservation (9 PM) because we had to pack that night and we were leaving early the next morning. The restaurant did not look the way I expected it to look – it is all neutrals and clean looking and very pleasant. The food was very good. They have a number of vegetarian (even vegan) choices, which makes for a nice change. We shared fish croquettas and a really delicious salad with fried tofu coated with sesame seeds and a delicious Asian dressing. (The salad was so good, I almost wished that I had ordered the fried tofu and noodles for my main). I had the cod for my main, which was delicious, and John had a giant ‘ravioli stuffed with seafood’. We shared an incredibly rich chocolate dessert. Along with that, I had a cava and a glass of white wine. Bill came to about 62 euros. The restaurant is small, so I’d recommend reservations – we saw at least 1 group turned away.

Tuesday morning we had booked a class at Cook & Taste, a cooking school (http://www.cookandtaste.net/). I guess this falls in both the food and activity categories. This was something I booked a few days before our trip and I’m so glad we did it. We’re fairly experienced cooks, but the experience was just so much fun. There were 14 of us – 6 Americans, 6 Canadians (all of us from Toronto area) and 2 Aussies. We met at 9:45 AM for a tour of La Boqueria market, where Quim (our chef) bought a number of ingredients for our class. The market was fun and Quim clearly knows his way around. We then went back to the cooking school and settled around an enormous island where we drank wine, assisted with chopping or stirring or whatever and cooked our meal. We had a couple of small apps (pan con tomate, olives and other pickles, as well as figs wrapped with iberico ham). All of the dishes were made by members of the class. We started with a delicious romesco sauce with asparagus and zucchini. (John and I helped with that dish.) Second course was a red pepper soup with salt cod. Third course was seafood paella, with prawns, cuttlefish, clams and mussels. Dessert was a cream Catalan. All of the dishes were wonderful and I was so impressed with the class. Everyone participated and it was a lot of fun. Cost of the class was 65 euros each with 13 euros for the optional tour of the market. Again, this was a long day and we had no need for dinner that night! I also now realize why my attempts at making paella at home have not been 100% successful. I will definitely try it again at home.

We also ate very well at our apartment. There was a bakery around the corner and a very good cheese shop nearby. We bought bread or pastry for breakfast, cheeses, sausages and so on. If we were going to be there for any length of time, we could easily eat very well around there.

All in all, a very good trip and lots of good memories.

  1. Sue Style Oct 28, 2012 06:40 AM

    wonderful report, SusanB, thanks for taking the time! Went to Paco Meralgo on a recent Sunday night (as you say, one of the few places of note open on Sunday eve) and loved the chipirons, stuffed squash blossoms, pan-fried ceps loaded with garlic, tiny shrmip pancakes, artichoke tortilla and the inevitable pa amb tomaquet - with a glass each of Raimat cava, Birlocho (Rueda?) and Mas Petit red, the bill for 2 was E70. Had to hang around in the street for a space to free up at the bar, but worth the wait; would go back

    3 Replies
    1. re: Sue Style
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      SusanB Oct 28, 2012 10:35 AM

      We loved the food in Spain - I am thinking about when we can go back!

      1. re: SusanB
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        snoobie Oct 30, 2012 12:50 PM

        Thanks for your wonderful report. We are also from Toronto and will be going to Barcelona in April. Your trip makes Barcelona so enticing. We would love to ask you more questions.

        1. re: snoobie
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          SusanB Oct 30, 2012 04:34 PM

          I'm glad you enjoyed it. If you look at TripAdvisor, my name there is SBJEinToronto. This is a link to my trip report there.

          http://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowTopic-g...

          You could also send me a personal message through Trip Advisor.

    2. c oliver Oct 27, 2012 02:18 PM

      Great review and thanks! We're heading to Barcelona in under two weeks and you've pointed out some places I'd not read about. I also really appreciate your giving costs. I wish ALL 'hounds would. We also have rented an apt. and looking forward to some cooking since we'll be there nine days. Again, thanks.

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        Ffromsaopaulo Oct 27, 2012 12:52 PM

        Excellent review!
        I also loved El Club Allard last february and Mercado San Anton.
        Best regards.

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