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brescd01

Madrid Trip Report

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Day 1-2:

We arrived for a 8 day trip to Madrid. I had a cold starting the morning of the trip (of course). The seats in the USAir/Spanair plane were the most narrow I have ever sat in, impossible to get comfortable in. We arrived at the Hotel Ritz, one of the 3 most prestigious hotels in Madrid. Before the moderators delete my post, let me get to the food. We ordered room service, porridge and coffee service. The coffee was strong, the porridge savory (which I am not used to). We walked up Serrano, the main shopping drag and the first shop on Serrano is this impossibly elegant emporium called Mallorca. Everything, from pastries to prepared foods looked beautiful.

We ate dinner at Casa de Valencia, which supposedly specializes in paella. This was interesting on several counts. First, we actually attempted to eat at La Barraca first, a supposedly touristic but excellent specialist in paella, but much closer. They were booked until 10:30 (we did not have reservations) and on hindsight I suspect they book their earlier seatings on tour groups, because when we went to Valencia across the city, we had no trouble getting seated.

First, I don't think I like paella very much. It is too simple. Second, I think this is the only paella I enjoyed at all. For the first time, it was not too salty. We had the seafood variety, with sardines as an appetizer. We made a mess (which I do not like) but the seafood was extremely fresh (which I do like). Dessert, some pastry and a valencia orange bathed in honey, was spectacular not for the pasty but the perfect orange and beautiful dried fruit plate and flask of sweet wine they served with it.

I had heard that Spaniards are cold and provide poor service. I have not found this true at all. The Madrilenos are reserved, not cold. But they are extremely polite and gracious.

I am writing this at the buffet of the Ritz, possibly the most elegant buffet I have seen. The over-the-top service and elegant buffet almost makes up for the worn-out room, lousy bed, and partial climate control, we were provided. I don't recommend staying at the Ritz (unless our room was the exception) but no one can fault their service.


Edited by brescd01 (log)

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Day 3-4

I am sorry for the delay but I have had a cold and I was jet lagged....

As I mentioned, the first night we ate at Casa Valencia, a specialist in paella. The second night we attempted "tapas" at the Santa Ana square near the hotel.

I say "attempted" because I have realized that eating tapas is not straightforward, it involves knowing what you like and being in tune with the Madrid rhythm. In Philadelphia, a chef named Garces has promoted the tapas style as a method of presentation. But the experience is not at all the same. In Philadelphia, one sits down and orders a selction of small plates which arrive in an order only understood by the server. They know the formula required to eat enough for dinner and you are done. In Madrid, one walks into a tapas place and you sit or stand. You point to things you want and you are served them. If you cannot eat while standing, you have to leave or wait.

These basic facts/skills prevented us from really enjoying our first tapas experience at Santa Ana. We started at the Cervecería Santa Ana and had the simplest plate of tapas possible, ham and cheese. then we went to a minimalist place I think called "Lateral" and had some tapas we did not like that much. The very sweet servers seemed shocked we were not absolutely delighted. I think I was sick and we were both jet lagged.

But I do not acknowledge defeat and the following night (day 3) we went to the famous Txirimiri. We stood and it was very crowded. We had tapas and the ox steak. I cannot say that we had a nice time, but we were about to crack the tapas code. The ox steak, for instance, would certainly not rank in the American manner of grading steak. Yet it was deliciously prepared. Again, I think my cold and our jet leg mitigated our pleasure.

Day 4 was the charm. I understood that you do not eat in one tapas place, you go to several. You have to be flexible. So we went to Cava Baja and ate at the famous Tempranillo‎. The tapas we had were okay, but we had a really wonderful squid dish (not strictly a tapas) that was special. And we saved room to eat at another two tapas places. The cold and the jet lag had worn off. I cannot say that I enjoyed any particular tapas I ate anywhere (too much mayonaise for my taste). But I admired the style, the system, the socialization, the freedom that a tapas meal grants you.

While I have not eaten individual dishes that impressed me (I have not gone to a fine restaurant either), individual ingredients are shocking. Ham, in fact meat in general, appears in a variety that is not a multiple of what we have in Philadelphia, it is an exponential. Smoked salmon is unbelievably wonderful here.

All the while, the people of Madrid have been unbelievably gracious and polite despite my frankly revolting appearance and inability to speak any Spanish. I do not know whether these good manners deteriorate in the high season.

Tonight, a marisqueria. My wife is slipping fast into the hands of the evil virus, even a I recover. Which one shall we eat at? Temples such as Combarro or O Paso? Or more modest haunts like Rafa or Telegrafo or Gran Barril?

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A good paella is anything but simple. had you ever had one in Spain before? The best really are in Valencia. You mentioned magnitudes of difference regarding meat in Spain vs. Philly. The same would be true of paella in Valencia vs. elsewhere, even in Spain.

If your wife isn't feeling well, I would keep it simple. I hope that at some point you have or will make it to Los Asturianos.


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 hope that the paella at Valencia gave us a taste of what is possible, because frankly, I do not think I have enjoyed paella I have eaten in the USA.

Reservations at Combarro tonight....

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This blog seems so sad. Is there a way to reignite your interest? Or maybe, just lower your expectations so you can be happily surprised? Maybe decide it isn't a food centric trip and find something else to focus on...

Adios.

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Oh, ham in Spain is a transformational experience. I would go to a market just to try and see and sample the many many versions...I'm salivating right now.

You must try to find stuffed piquillo peppers -- I had some fantastic ones at Los Cien Vinos, near Cava Baja, actually:

C/ Nuncio 17

28005 Madrid, Spain

They were so good that I can remember them 6 years later...

I think we could really help you out by suggesting different foods that you need to try; patatas alioi, for example -- the hot ones (the cold version, usually found in Madrid, in what you would know as potato salad).

What were you eating that had mayo? Ensalada rusa?

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Don't cry for me Tsquare! I am not sure what gave you the impression that my trip has been disappointing because it has not been at all. Tonight we enjoyed Combarro.

It is very beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful I have seen. I compared it to Oceanaire, which is a high-end American seafood chain with grandiose decorations that somehow are just not attractive, while this was so cheerful. We started with Galician pie and octopus Galician style. The pie was tasty but unremarkable. The octopus was incredible. My wife had turbot and I had the sole. I did not know really what to order. I know that these Spanish seafood restaurants specialize in incredible delicacies but I do not know what they are or what they should taste like. We both enjoyed the fish, but I could see that an expert would need to have several meals with several items to compare "freshness.' Suffice to say the fish was very good though we were not wowed. There was a ovely bar I would not hesitate to return to and there were people eating tapas style there, which is something we do in Philadelphia.

By the way, to give you some idea of prices, this dinner was $75/person. The Valencia dinner was $50/person. Tapas seemed to be $35/person.

You have to appreciate this is my first time in Spain and we speak no Spanish. Also, I know there is "grand cuisine" in Madrid, but this is not generally to our taste, we prefer "casa de productos" as one poster put it.

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You must try to find stuffed piquillo peppers -- I had some fantastic ones at Los Cien Vinos, near Cava Baja, actually:

C/ Nuncio 17

28005 Madrid, Spain

Sadly La Taberna de los Cien Vinos closed about a year ago.


Rogelio Enríquez aka "Rogelio"

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I know that these Spanish seafood restaurants specialize in incredible delicacies but I do not know what they are or what they should taste like. We both enjoyed the fish, but I could see that an expert would need to have several meals with several items to compare "freshness.' Suffice to say the fish was very good though we were not wowed. There was a ovely bar I would not hesitate to return to and there were people eating tapas style there, which is something we do in Philadelphia.

You have to appreciate this is my first time in Spain and we speak no Spanish. Also, I know there is "grand cuisine" in Madrid, but this is not generally to our taste, we prefer "casa de productos" as one poster put it.

Why don't you tell us where your going to eat and we'll tell you what to order in every place.


Rogelio Enríquez aka "Rogelio"

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Okay! If the missus continues to feel better, we will go to Donostiarra, an asador. What do you recommend?

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Okay! If the missus continues to feel better, we will go to Donostiarra, an asador. What do you recommend?

Jamón (ham), Lomo (loin), Gambas al ajillo (prowns in a garlic hot oil), pimientos (red peppers), Chuletón (rumpsteak), Besugo (red snapper)....


Edited by Rogelio (log)

Rogelio Enríquez aka "Rogelio"

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Okay! If the missus continues to feel better, we will go to Donostiarra, an asador. What do you recommend?

Not going there? Unless, of course, you want to write a book on tourist traps. Not because of Combarro, surely. And to be fair, the Donostiarra is a trap for locals too, but a trap none the less.


Edited by pedro (log)

PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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I forgot to mention we lunched at Cervantes. We had the house salad and the Galician style squid. Both fresh and very good, though surprisingly the tomatoes are not what we appreciate in European agriculture (and this is not the first time we noticed this).

So we went to Donostiarra, $75/person. The restaurant does not have anything like the ambiance of Combarro. More on the level of the 2nd Avenue Delim if anyone here gets that reference. Lots of celebrity picture on the wall. We apparently missed Pierce Brosnan a few days ago, or so said two young women who come frequently despite their being students (what was THAT about?). In any event, the food.

We started with the shrimp with garlic and while it was tasty it was not earth-shattering and the portion was very small for the price (I think 27 euros). I made a mistake of ordering two entrees however, steak and lambchops, while we would have been just as happy with one. My wife enjoyed the lambchops more than I did, I don't think I know that much about how lambchops should appear or taste. I didn't think them special. The steak was wonderful and I now recognize the Spanish style for beef after Txirimiri's. It is of course not gradable by American standards because it is not at all marbled, but its flavor is different, much less rich. It was nevertheless tender. I don't think I enjoyed its preparation a much as I did Txirimiri's but the meat was much finer. Though we ordered steak for one it was enough for two.

The seats were uncomfortable. The lack of Spanish was disruptive at one point because they serve a hot plate to finish cooking the steak to taste, and I did not understand what this was for or what I should do.

The end of the meal was incredibly gracious: they served liqueurs and lovely cookies with chocolates. Then the server gave my wife a plant as a gift, which I thought bizarre.

So I would not return there largely because of the atmosphere. I would prefer a "Euro-cool" restaurant because after all, part of why I am in Europe is to get my fill of the European aesthetic. If I did come again, I would order much less, or get more appetizers and only one main course. One nice thing I can say is that as my meal digests, I do not have that sick feeling I get after eating at an American style steakhouse because their meat is so much fattier.

I am tempted to go to another marisqueria...

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.....

The steak was wonderful and I now recognize the Spanish style for beef after Txirimiri's. It is of course not gradable by American standards because it is not at all marbled, but its flavor is different, much less rich.

.....

I'm sorry, really. But I'd say you now recognize the beef style of two run of the mill --at the very best-- places. Go to Gold Gourmet --that's a store-- and ask Eugenio to show you the oxen he has. Or go to Imanol, Ansorena, Iñaki Ongay or even Frontón or Casa Julián. Or some place worth going. Or read Steingarten's piece about beef in Spain.

I really don't understand how you came up with the list of places you've chosen to visit, except for Combarro, which deserves a visit.

If you want to visit another marisquería, go to O'Pazo.


Edited by pedro (log)

PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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Wherever I got "my list," also contained Imanol and Ansorena. My concierge just ended up steering me to the asador we chose. So far as the other places, Valencia was touted on Chowhound by numerous posters and was immediately recognized by the young women we met this evening, for example. Of course, posters in this thread don;t think I can get good paella outside Valencia. Cervantes and Txirimiri were both recommended in the NYTimes and on Chowhound.

Besides O'Pazo, are there are any other seafood restaurants you would endorse? Rafa? You seem to be rather harsh towards restaurants that a lot of people have enjoyed. Plus, we only have eight days so I am not sure our expectations (that we would eat in the very best restaurant every night) can be that inflated.

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Pedro is right. You've been to a strange set of places. And you don't seem to appreciate the difference between the sole at Combarro and the sole anywhere in ths US! You really don't know how seafood should taste? ("We both enjoyed the fish, but I could see that an expert would need to have several meals with several items to compare "freshness.'") Well, thta's peculiar, really.

I'd say that obviously Spain (save for the service, about which you write in very satisfied terms) is not for you.

If it were, I would tell you to go have seafood at O'Pazo, paella at El Ventorrillo Murciano, steak at Asador Ansorena. All of these places have been amply written up here on eGullet. But you seem to trust a hotel concierge better than this site...


Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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Well, at least I got Combarro right! I hope you will give me more than eight days before I am expelled from Spain and forbidden from appreciating its riches! That is really harsh if you are serious...


Edited by brescd01 (log)

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David, what I'm sorry for is your leaving with a poor and wrong impression due to a, if I may say, questionable choice of restaurants. And leading others who may read this thread to the same conclusion. No one is going to expel you from Spain, though. At least not this time around. :raz:

Your concierge very likely steered you to the Donostiarra because he gets a commission from the restaurant for sending customers over there. Rafa is a great place for seafood.

I don't know if you have more days in Spain ahead of you. If you do and trust our judgment, we'll be more than happy to see what your plans are and perhaps identify better options.

And now don't tell us you went to any of the Museo del Jamón haunts...


PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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Sorry to sound harsh. But I must confess I still don't understand your comments on fish, and seafood in general in Spain ("I do not know what they are or what they should taste like"). That's one staple that seems to me particularly easy to identify and evaluate, whether I'm in Madrid, San Francisco, Tokyo, Oslo or Istanbul...


Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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Vis a vis my not knowing what this or that fish tastes like, what I meant is simple: I know well what sole or turbot taste like. I know what octupus tastes like, But Combarro was held out to be something better than just fresh seafood, so I guess I was looking for the flashes of greatness that would mark Combarro as above just a seafood restaurant. I thought the octopus was there, but the Galician pie and turbot were merely good. The turbot I thought was a particularly abbreviated presentation.

Same for Valenciana, Cervantes, tonight Xentes (sic?), Donostiarra, Txirimiri. Everything we had was good and in every way superior to comparable plates in our native Philadelphia. I was just looking for greatness, which might have been too much to ask. So far as trusting this board more than the concierge, that is a rather black-or-hite way of seeing it, but I spent a lot of time reviewing remarks on this board (Verna I think you made some flattering remarks about a restaurant very similar to Donesteria, Txistu).

I am not sure how are choice of restaurants was odd. We followed our taste: we do not like grand cuisine in general. We had only 8 days and both of us became sick for 3 days with colds. We had an excellent impression of Madrid. We stayed in the Ritz and enjoyed it. We bought shirts at Burgos and shoes at Carmina. We will return...if we are permitted to!

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First time I hear about Xentes. Good luck and glad you're enjoying your stay after all.


PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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Xentes--the place in La Latina? This is just a neighborhood mariquería... nothing special at all in my opinion. If I were going to go to a place of its ilk, I'd instead go to Mariquería Norte Sur in Cuatro Caminos... or El Cantábrico in Salamanca... or the down and dirty marisquería in Tetuán (name escaping me) or many other spots.

Tempranillo is good for its by-the-glass wine selection. And a nice cheese plate (tabla de quesos--but it's to be shared among many people). It's not really known for tapas. For Cava Baja tapas, el Camarillo is much better.

The poster is right, though. If you've had "tapas" in the US, the real experience here in Madrid (and the rest of Spain) is very, very different. The food is obviously much better here, but you can't sit down and have an American-style dinner as you can in the US. You have to think it through more.


Edited by butterfly (log)

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Well, we are back in the US and recovering from jet lag.

We absolutely loved Madrid and its food. Even if we ate at "second tier" places we were very happy. I actually posted lists of proposed restaurants in advance of this thread and I had few or no replies. The only dust-up occurred after the fact.

By saying I "ate somewhere," I am not saying that I endorse that place or recommend it. I just ate there. I am not a partisan of any place I tried except Combarro, which was so beautiful and elegant I cannot wait to return there.

In any event, we loved the tapas "lifestyle," the late hours of the formal restaurants less so. The Ritz had the finest service of any hotel I have ever stayed in, the room we stayed in was old and delapidated in some ways, so one has to judge for one's self.

A fabulous trip, I know my wife can't wait to go to Barcelona. When I post requests for advice, hopefully people will answer before we go!

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I am in Madrid at the moment with dh, and have followed this thread for the last couple of days. I thought I'd post some of our experiences as well. We went to Cava Baja last night, trying Tempranillo, el Camarillo and Txirimiri based on the recommendations above. We also tried a few other places while waiting for the others to open (we too struggle with the late Spanish hours).

Txirimiri was sensational. I took their business card and noticed that it says "alta cocina en minatura" which I completely agree with. Having already had various plates of nuts and olives with our earlier drinks,the 2 raciones we had were really enough for the rest of the night - very generous portions of first a very rich and tasty boletus ravioli with truffle oil, and second their take on a hamburger - toasts with mayo, lettuce, caramellize onion and a patty of what we think from our poor Spanish was pork mince and duck liver coated in something unidentified but very tasty. It also had a mushroom sauce. Unfortunately we needed to save room for later, so couldn't try any of the pre-prepared tostas at the bar. They also offered some quite different selections to other bars.

At Tempranillo we had a plate of very yummy hand cut jamon iberico and a plate of manchego - a bit more cheese than we needed, and at el Camarillo we just had the red pepper spread on bread that came with our drinks, as by then we were very full.

At all we just had whatever wine arrived when we asked for vino tinto, and all were very nice.

Worth mentioning was our tapas crawl the previous evening - at Calle de Manuela Malasana, in the Malasana district, which is near where we are staying. Firstly, we were there from about 7pm, and nearly everything was already open, and secondly, we tended to get a decent tapas at each bar with our drink (i.e. something over and above simply nuts or olives), so it ended up a cheap evening out. In one place we splashed out a bought 2 very good tostas, one with goats cheese and one with the little fake elvers and (also fake, but how could it not be for the price) caviar, prepared freshly by the sole bartender. I couldn't tell you the actual names of any of the bars, but it is not a long street and worth a wander down in my view.

A restaurant that we lunched at and enjoyed, particularly for the rather hectic ambience, was Taberna Maceiras (Huertas 66). Quite a queue builds up and it didn't seem very touristy. The food was very nice but it was watching the waiting staff rush around and manage to keep service running very smoothly that was priceless. We also had lunch at a little place near Reina Sofia, not wonderful in itself, but where we discovered the bargains to be had when ordering the menu del dia. We thought EUR 9 each for 2 courses was good value, but when the bill came and it turned out the price also covered our bottle of wine, bottled water, bread and coffee, we were converted to this way of eating.

Next stops Barcelona and San Sebastien, where we have bookings at Gresca and Etxebarri respectively. Very much looking forward to that.

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I think you stole my seat at Txirimiri! Isn't that place crazy? I am so sorry we did not have more time to try all their dishes, what you had looked great. We had the ox steak for two which was so tasty, I know the meat was not the best quality but the preparation was perhaps the best I have ever tasted.

What a lovely city! I wish I could have stayed longer (and so does my wife).

Next time O'Pazo and I have got to figure out what the traditional tapas are, so I can start with them and work my way through.

And why was Spanish beer always more chilled than American beer?

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