Dinner Report: Al Trapo, 19 April 2014 [Madrid]
We had dinner at Al Trapo last night (the Saturday before Easter), and to say that we had a stunning meal would be -- honestly -- a slight understatement. The evening was truly one of those memorable meals that will stay with us for years to come . . .
Al Trapo is located within the Hotel de las Letras, albeit with a separate entrance and street address. As visiting Americans, we had reservations early by Madrileño standards: 8:30 (20:30), but in retrospect that proved to be a very good thing. The staff was very attentive, and most spoke English -- that and a menu printed in English made for an easy meal, but what helped to make it truly special was the assistance we received from the hotel's Food and Beverage Director, Joao Guimarães. He explained the menu's concept, and when we told him there were so many dishes we wanted to try, he offered to make those dishes in a smaller size as a Tasting Menu, and discuss with the chef the order of service, to make it a perfect meal for us . . . and perfect it was, too.
The only "misstep," if one could call it that -- and to do so would honestly be unfair -- was the amuse bouche, a tomato salad with chorizo and more, in which the tomatoes could have been perhaps a bit riper but was bright, flavorful and delightful nonetheless. If that is the only "stumble," you can probably guess how great the rest of the meal was . . .
We began with Sautéed Artichokes -- a generous portion of baby artichokes, shaved down and served with slices of Iberian salt pork, chive mayonnaise, and tiny crusty breadcrumbs. The dish was delicious and tasty, and proved the perfect starter for what was to follow.
From there, we moved onto the deceptively titled Cockles in Green Sauce -- a sauté pan filled with fresh, plumb cockles in their scallop-like shells with a green sauce that combined (I think) mint and fava and who knows what else. Deceptively simple, this was a mind-blowing (palate-blowing?) dish that my wife and I were still raving about long into the night.
Next came Slices of Raw Sea Scallop -- the thinnest slices of raw scallops with green olive, pieces of orange sections, and fried garlic. Tender, flavorful, creamy and rich, yet the citrus brought it into balance by keeping it clean and fresh. Indeed, this point/counterpoint type of balance and harmony was the key to many of these dishes, with one component counter-balancing another to the increased complexity yet purity of the dish.
The Steak Tartare was different than any tartare I've ever had. Served with three quail eggs (nothing new there), mustard ice cream and a black-pepper sauce, this dish perfectly demonstrated the type of balance I referred to in the previous paragraph: the sharpness of the mustard was off-set by the bite of the black pepper, but the coolness of the ice cream and the fat of the quail egg, together with the exquisite richness of the quality beef -- every single component was evident, discernible, and flavorful; nothing overwhelmed or dominated the other components. It was like some giant sculpture balanced on a single, tiny, delicate point . . .
From there, we moved on to Pork Tenderloin -- served on a bed of chilled Iberian ham purée and tiny bok choy (individual stems, and tiny leaves folded into packets containing the purée). The slices of tenderloin (about the size of sliced shiitake mushrooms) were tender and oh-so-flavorful, while the bok choy was perfectly cooked yet still firm . . . again, rich in flavor, yet delicate and clean in the finish.
We concluded our meal with a cheese course consisting of Bodega from the Canary Islands, Mahón Curado from Menorca, and Picón Bejés-Tresvis from Cantabria, served with small quenelles of tomato jam, nut purée, and two more which escape me at the moment.
A perfect end to what was truly a perfect meal. We finished -- content, yet not stuffed or feeling "overly full." Our only problem was we were left with a near-overwhelming desire to return and order all of the dishes we didn't get to try on this visit!