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Madrid / San Sebastian / Barcelona


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We are taking our second trip to Spain in March, spending 3 days each in Madrid, San Sebastian, and Barcelona (I know, not enough time - what can you do?). We were in Madrid and Barcelona about 4 years ago and have some favorites to return to, and I've been doing much studying here and elsewhere (there are some great threads and I feel slightly guilty for starting a new one rather than tagging on). We like both traditional and contemporary cooking styles and have enjoyed some of the U.S. takes on the latter (i.e., Alinea, Jose Andres' Minibar). We like to eat tapas-style and I also enjoy tasting menus, though Mrs. F will only have patience for a few of the latter. I have started to put together something of a "hit list" for each town and would appreciate insights and suggestions.

One additional complicating factor is that we will be arriving in Madrid on Sunday and will have Sunday / Monday in Madrid, and again Sunday / Monday in Barcelona. Suggestions for places open on these days are particularly welcomed.

MADRID

Viridiana - we have to return to get Mrs. F the huevos con mousse de hongos y trufas. I think they are open Mondays, am I mistaken?

La Terraza - Ferran Adria spin-off in the Casino de Madrid. Recommended to me by a friend with pretty good taste; don't know if I'll ever have a chance to get to El Bulli. Any thoughts?

I don't have many other sit-down dinner type places on my Madrid list (Lhardy?), but have several tapas bars - a string along the Cava Baja - El Tempranillo, Tximiri, Casa Lucio, La Camarilla; and nearer to home base (likely the Villa Real), Las Bravas, Vinoteca Barbechera. Bocaito. Any more suggestions, particularly around the Plaza Santa Ana and/or open Sundays?

SAN SEBASTIAN

Restaurants: Arzak, Mugaritz, Akelarre, Etxebarri

Tapas: La Cuchara de San Telmo, Alona Berri, Bar Bergara.

We have three days here, though Mrs. F may not have patience for three alta cocina tasting menus. If you had to choose? I have had people tell me Mugaritz is the best restaurant they've ever been to, and seen others that are distinctly underwhelmed.

We are booked for Arzak but I was told it's in the smoking section (we are not smokers). This seems like it could be a real downer - anyone eaten there that can say whether it's intrusive enough to call for canceling if this can't be fixed?

I get the impression Etxebarri is better as a lunch destination; can it be turned into a Bilbao day-trip if you rent a car?

BARCELONA

Restaurants: ABaC, Alkimia, Ca l'Isidre, Casa Calvet, Cinc Sentits, Comerc 24, Cuines Santa Caterina, Embat, Gresca, Passadis del Pep.

Tapas: Tapac 24, Paco Meralgo, Takitka Berri, Bar Mut, La Vinya del Senyor, Xampanyet, El Quim & Pinotxo in the Mercat de la Boqueria, Bar Inopia, Quimet y Quimet.

Again we have the Sunday/Monday issue in Barcelona, so there's only one night in Barcelona when all options will be available, otherwise we're picking among what will be open. Particular suggestions among these or others for Sunday/Monday options in Barcelona? For those places that are not open either Sunday/Monday, any thoughts on paring the list down (in other words, "if you had one meal in Barcelona")?

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In Barcelona (your list is good!), consider Taller de Tapas also; we had several good meals there. Not specifically a restaurant, but Cacao Sampaka is wonderful, especially the C/ Consell de Cent, 292 location, which does have a cafe. There you can get some astoundingly good hot chocolate. El Xampanyet is fun, but make sure that you get there early enough; they close earlier than you'd expect. Pinotxo struck me as a bit more touristy, maybe partly because of its location right near the main entrance. We did have a really good early breakfast at the stall in the Boqueria at the left front corner (go in the main entrance, turn left at the first aisle and go to the end; the place is the free-standing stall (not along the wall) at that corner).

If you like Absinthe, the real authentic experience is at Bar Marsella. It's in a bad part of town, and only opens (somewhat unreliably) after 10 PM. But it seems like a throwback to the early 20th century.

Of course, while you're in Barcelona, you must go to Sagrada Familia. It will be crowded, but don't let that deter you. A wonder of the world.

In San Sebastian, we loved Cuchara de San Telmo. Sadly, our timing was such that we were unable to get into the alta cocina places. For tapas, we also enjoyed Bar Astelena and Bar Ganbara.

In Madrid, make sure that you go into one on the Museos de Jamón. It's not a museum, but a Jamón restaurant/tapas bar with a wall of hams that will make you do a quick calculation.

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All the top restaurants in SS are worth visiting, thus it is a tricky choice. I have eaten in them all, but most recently I have returned to Mugaritz (last visit last year). It is a restaurant that polarises opinion, and I was wary of taking 5 of my best friends there a couple of years ago. However, they all loved it, and interstingly they all had different likes and dislikes. I think Mugaritz is pushing the boundaries more than others (although a few years since I visited the others) and this may account for the divergent opinion. My prediction is that if you don't go, you may regret it as it gets more and more plaudits.

Tapas in SS are very good and I would caution against over planning. There are lots and lots of bars, and many are excelent. My advive is to follow your nose/instincts and choose which ones look good. Aim to try 4 or 5 a night, and snack in them all rather than sitting down for a meal. I find it is best to head out early (19:00) as many start to wind down later in the evening (22:00). Of course lunchtime is good as well. Don't just stick to the old town, the streets are pretty, but the bars in the new town are where some of the best, most creative dishes can be found.

This site, Todos Pintxos was given to me by Matthew Grant, it is a good resource and the suggested bar crawls are great.

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Here is my report of Tapas in San Sebastian: San Sebastian tapas

If were you I wouldn't push the Tapas too much in Barcelona, Tapac 24 and Pacao Meralgo are fine but others suffer in comparison to the Tapas places in San Sebastian.

In BCN I'd add Dos Pallilos to your list (replace one of the tapas places with it).

"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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MADRID

Viridiana - we have to return to get Mrs. F the huevos con mousse de hongos y trufas. I think they are open Mondays, am I mistaken?

La Terraza - Ferran Adria spin-off in the Casino de Madrid. Recommended to me by a friend with pretty good taste; don't know if I'll ever have a chance to get to El Bulli. Any thoughts?

I don't have many other sit-down dinner type places on my Madrid list (Lhardy?), but have several tapas bars - a string along the Cava Baja - El Tempranillo, Tximiri, Casa Lucio, La Camarilla; and nearer to home base (likely the Villa Real), Las Bravas, Vinoteca Barbechera. Bocaito. Any more suggestions, particularly around the Plaza Santa Ana and/or open Sundays?

Viridiana is indeed open on mondays as well as La terraza del casino. Other highlights could be Senzone, Diverxo (book one month in advance), Sergi Arola Gastro...

Re tapas: In Cava Baja, I like casa Lucas, el Tempranillo and Txirimiri (not exactly in cava Baja)

In santa Ana, I like the fried fish and vegetables at La Trucha and the ommelet and potatoes at las Bravas

Rogelio Enríquez aka "Rogelio"
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Much thanks to all for the good suggestions and insights. The TodosPintxos site is fantastic. Here is how the itinerary is shaping up:

Madrid

Sun - tapas in Cava Baja (La Camarilla, Casa Lucas, Casa Lucio, El Tempranillo ...) and/or around Pl. Santa Ana (La Trucha, El Lacon, Las Bravas, Vinoteca Barbechera ...)

Mon - dinner @ Viridiana

Tue - ???

SS

Wed - tapas in Barrio Gros (Alona Berri, Bar Bergara, Casa Senra, El Lagar Bodega, Hidalgo 56 ...)

Thu - dinner @ Arzak

Fri - lunch @ Akelarre, tapas dinner in Parte Vieja (La Cuchara de San Telmo, La Cepa, Tamboril, Bar Ganbara, Meson Martin ...)

Still trying to figure out how to squeeze Etxebarri in. I don't want to try to find it in the dark, but we get in too late for lunch on Wed, and I sure can't see doing it for lunch and Arzak for dinner on Thu. Let me ask this - is Etxebarri still worth doing if you do NOT do a tasting menu?

Barcelona

Sat - Alkimia / Cinc Sentits / Dos Palillos are all in the mix for dinner

Sun - La Dama / Paco Meralgo

Mon - Gresca / Semproniana / Rias de Galicia ?

Grab some breakfasts & lunches at Boqueria, Tapac 24 ...

Let me throw a few additional questions out there:

- Quimet y Quimet - worth a visit?

- May do a day-trip to Toledo - Adolfo (Munoz)?

- May do a day-trip to Cuenca - Meson Casa Calgadas?

- I love tripe - where can I find the best callos?

- jamon iberico de bellota - the platonic ideal of porkiness. Are there qualitative differences from one to another once you're talking about bellota, and if so, where can I find the best?

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I'll answer two of your questions in the above mentioned post:

1. Etxebarri: I consider it unique, and would go there for lunch even if not having the full menu. To me the not-to-miss dishes are: The lightly smoke infused caviar, the beef, espardenyes.

One alternative for lunch that offers lighter fare, but to me also a unique experience is Kaia-Kaipe in Getaria, approx. 20km west of San Sebastian. Uniquely fresh fish, wine list to die for (If you're into Spanish wines).

2. Regarding the jamon iberico: Oh yes!! There is definetely a lot of difference! Calling all Bellotas equal is like considering all Bordeaux 1er Cru equal.. :shock:

My favourite place in Barcelona is Jamonissimo in Provenca #85. They have a wide selection of bellota hams, and 2-3 tables in the back for informal sampling of the different varieties.

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I had an amazing dinner at Senzone in Madrid last night. The chef, Paco Morales, worked at Mugaritz and is a disciple of Andoni Luis Aduriz, who happened to be dining there last night as well along with Harold McGee on the last night of Madrid Fusion. The food was beautiful and delicious, very refined and elegant. The restaurant, like Diverxo, is very small, only twenty covers. Morales is truly a rising star.

Another restaurant to consider for your Sunday in Madrid is Los Asturianos. Though the room is a hole in the wall, the Asturian food is wonderful and reasonable. They also have an outstanding wine list as the owners are also wine distributors.

Though I don't think it will fit with your schedule, another great and original meal was had at Kabuki Wellington. It was a great combination of Spanish and Japanese cuisines, though I wouldn't label it as a "fusion" restaurant.

I like the hams of Cinco Jotas. There is a shop just off the Puerta del Sol.

If you are going to take a day trip from Madrid for food, may I suggest Meson candido in Segovia for cochinillo or roast suckling pig. Another option just a bit north of Madrid is Mannix for lechazo or roast baby lamb. There is nothing quite like either of these dishes available in the US. Segovia is an interesting destination in its own right.

I think the Barcelona recs above are all good as are the SS.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I had an amazing dinner at Senzone in Madrid last night. The chef, Paco Morales, worked at Mugaritz and is a disciple of Andoni Luis Aduriz, who happened to be dining there last night as well along with Harold McGee on the last night of Madrid Fusion. The food was beautiful and delicious, very refined and elegant. The restaurant, like Diverxo, is very small, only twenty covers. Morales is truly a rising star.

Thanks for the report back from MF. We still have Tuesday open in Madrid.

Though I don't think it will fit with your schedule, another great and original meal was had at Kabuki Wellington. It was a great combination of Spanish and Japanese cuisines, though I wouldn't label it as a "fusion" restaurant.

The Spanish/Japanese thing seems to be becoming something of a trend. Interesting.

If you are going to take a day trip from Madrid for food, may I suggest Meson candido in Segovia for cochinillo or roast suckling pig. Another option just a bit north of Madrid is Mannix for lechazo or roast baby lamb. There is nothing quite like either of these dishes available in the US. Segovia is an interesting destination in its own right.

We went to Meson Candido on our last visit, it is definitely an experience. The parade of roasted animals coming out of the kitchen is pretty remarkable. I also had a really memorable stew with judion beans and pigs' ears and trotters there which was one of the best things I ate on our last trip.

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Let me throw a few additional questions out there:

- Quimet y Quimet - worth a visit?

Sure

- May do a day-trip to Toledo - Adolfo (Munoz)?

I wouldn't bother, but instead go to El Bohio in Illescas.

- May do a day-trip to Cuenca - Meson Casa Calgadas?

Not worth it, there are better options in Cuenca, Raff or la Ponderosa.

- I love tripe - where can I find the best callos?

Above mentioned El Bohio in Illescas, La Tasquita de Enfrente, castelló 9, las Cuatro Estaciones in Madrid or at the cheap El Cardeño.

- jamon iberico de bellota - the platonic ideal of porkiness. Are there qualitative differences from one to another once you're talking about bellota, and if so, where can I find the best?

Yes there are, even from the same brand as every pig is different and the processes are different. Carrasco, Joselito, Lazo are among the best brands.

Jota 5 in Madrid is my favourite spot for ham serving some of the best Joselito pieces.

Rogelio Enríquez aka "Rogelio"
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Don't mistake Cinco Jotas, the ham brand from jabugo (Huelva) or the taberna 5J from the same owner, with good ham but not that good cooking with Jota 5 the restaurant speciallized codfish and Joselito iberic porc products from Guijuelo (Salamanca).

I rather go to the latter.

Rogelio Enríquez aka "Rogelio"
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Don't mistake Cinco Jotas, the ham brand from jabugo (Huelva) or the taberna 5J from the same owner, with good ham but not that good cooking with Jota 5 the restaurant speciallized codfish and Joselito iberic porc products from Guijuelo (Salamanca).

I rather go to the latter.

I certainly would have made that mistake if you hadn't said something, thanks. I've found a Jota 5 @ Alcala 423, is that what you're referring to?

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Don't mistake Cinco Jotas, the ham brand from jabugo (Huelva) or the taberna 5J from the same owner, with good ham but not that good cooking with Jota 5 the restaurant speciallized codfish and Joselito iberic porc products from Guijuelo (Salamanca).

I rather go to the latter.

I certainly would have made that mistake if you hadn't said something, thanks. I've found a Jota 5 @ Alcala 423, is that what you're referring to?

Yes, it is.

Rogelio Enríquez aka "Rogelio"
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i wouldnt miss etxebarri at all. if i recall correctly they are only open for lunch some days during the low season, so it pays to check with them.

frankly, i would do etxebarri over any of the others on your list. granted, im a bit of a grill and barbeque fanatic, but everything on their menu is phenomenal.

if cost isnt an issue, definitely ask them to add the angulas onto the menu (elvers or baby eels, a once in a lifetime dish)

when i was at etxebarri last december they charged 100 euro for angulas for 3 persons, so it seriously dents the budget, but the dish, and especially the Etxebarri treatment of it, is unique.

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We will be there in mid-March and I believe the season for angulas will have already past. Any other particular recommendations if we are not doing a full tasting menu at Etxebarri?

I ate angulas here early in April 2007 (I think we had one of the last servings for the season) so they should be still available in March if they've had a sufficient supply. From memory, they keep them in running water somewhere near the restaurant and only kill them as required so that may be how they prolong the season. I'd certainly try them if you have the chance. You should be able to negotiate as many courses as you would like - it would be a shame to limit yourself just to a couple because the dishes are so memorable. Surprisingly it's not overwhelmingly filling either, apart perhaps from the very beautiful beef. I certainly wouldn't miss Etxebarri on any account.

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if cost isnt an issue, definitely ask them to add the angulas onto the menu (elvers or baby eels, a once in a lifetime dish)

We will be there in mid-March and I believe the season for angulas will have already past. Any other particular recommendations if we are not doing a full tasting menu at Etxebarri?

pretty much the whole menu!!

i had a phenomenal beefy broth with a soft egg yolk and white truffle. im guessing that wont be available, but i agree with Sue. dont limit yrself.

of particular note were the oysters (i thought i hated cooked oysters), the kebab or chorizo, and of course the beef. any beef lover must taste the cheleta del buey (old ox ribeye as i understand it)

have a great time at etxebarri, i can still taste every bite two months later

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  • 3 weeks later...

Some near-final questions before we leave:

MADRID:

- Casa Lucio and Zalacain have been recommended to me in Madrid. Casa Lucio seems one of those "venerable institution" type places. How's the food? Zalacain?

- Any further insights on Tasquita de Enfrente?

SAN SEBASTIAN:

- I am at a crossroads and believe I have to make a choice between Akelare and Etxebarri for a lunch (unless we were to do one of them for lunch prior to a dinner at Arzak, which just seems like complete overkill which even I may not be up for). ??? Another possibility is to try to switch Akelare to a dinner Wed night when we arrive in S.S., though I thought it would be nicer to visit during the daytime to enjoy the views. Any words of wisdom?

Finally - any particular seasonal products we should be looking out for in early March?

Edited by drosendorf (log)
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Some near-final questions before we leave:

MADRID:

- Casa Lucio and Zalacain have been recommended to me in Madrid. Casa Lucio seems one of those "venerable institution" type places. How's the food? Zalacain?

- Any further insights on Tasquita de Enfrente?

Lucio is a comfort food traditional place, scrambled eggs are a must and then whatever you fancy, good meats, seafood or stews.

Zalacain serves formal and traditional old style haute cuisinne.

La Tasquita de Enfrete serves great product dishes in a not very fashionable area, just be carefull with the prices.

Rogelio Enríquez aka "Rogelio"
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SAN SEBASTIAN:

- I am at a crossroads and believe I have to make a choice between Akelare and Etxebarri for a lunch

I have eaten at Akelare, but not Etxebarri. I would head for Etxebarri because I am not in a rush to head back to Akelare, and Etxebarri has a novel approach you won't find anywhere else.

However, if I only had one choice it would be Mugaritz because I believe it is far better than Arzak and Akelare.

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I agree with PhilD. I've been to Mugaritz and Arzak and loved both, but for me the overall experience at Mugaritz was a step above. It remains one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life.

By the way, if you are eating in Arzak and wandering around some of the tapas places in the Gros district, you might like the Villa Soro as a base. We stayed there a few years ago and it was very convenient for Arzak, Bar Bergara etc.

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I agree with PhilD. I've been to Mugaritz and Arzak and loved both, but for me the overall experience at Mugaritz was a step above. It remains one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life.

My wife only has limited patience for these kinds of meals and so I had to make some choices, and she was more excited about Arzak than Mugaritz, so ... there you have it.

By the way, if you are eating in Arzak and wandering around some of the tapas places in the Gros district, you might like the Villa Soro as a base. We stayed there a few years ago and it was very convenient for Arzak, Bar Bergara etc.

We are staying at Villa Soro. Glad to hear your recommendation, many people tried to steer me to the Maria Cristina.

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We are staying at Villa Soro. Glad to hear your recommendation, many people tried to steer me to the Maria Cristina.

We also stayed there and it was good. As Salty says it is also great for the bars in the Gros area (short walk), when we stayed they had a good list of the recommended bars.

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