Thursday, September 29, 2011

Madrid | Eat Like a Local

Our time spent eating out in Madrid was defined by humble tapas bars as opposed to high end dining rooms. Before departing we were fortunate enough to receive restaurant recommendations from a co-workers niece who resides in the city. Having a locals insight was one of the most helpful aspects as far as exploring from a culinary standpoint goes, and we could not have been more appreciative. This post details the three of my favorite spots we might never have stumbled upon otherwise; which I am highly inclined to recommend to future travelers.
We visited the taberna lined Calle Cava Baja on more than one occasion, this popular curvy street that lies just south of Plaza Mayor in the La Latina neighborhood quickly became one of my favorites.
I read that it actually has the highest number of bars per square meter in of all Madrid; no wonder I was a fan! The area looks to offer a solid mix of both traditional and modern tapas and cuisine.
The rustic yet sophisticated Taberna Tempranillo for dinner is an excellent place to start. 
We felt immediately welcome, greeted by both the bartender and the waiter when we entered the cozy, semi-crowded tapas bar. We were seated right away at a table for two in an earth toned atmosphere of exposed brick and weathered wooden beams. Trendy low hanging light fixtures highlight the bar backed by an impressive wall of vinos españoles. It seemed we had just dodged the real crowd, as more clientele poured in and the bar grew three people deep, many onlookers waiting for a table - a sure sign we were steered to a quality spot! Adam and I discovered early on that usually three tapas plates (after the bread and complimentary olives, of course) were enough to fill us up. Especially when we're ordering Placa de Quesos like this one. A medley of the finest Spanish cheese varying in firmness, texture and taste, graced our palates. I wish I could remember the names, but this was a month ago now and our waiter spoke limited English. I can tell you that all of them were excellent. We also filled our bellies for what was sure to be a late night out on the town with Codorniz with salmorejo - which is grilled quail with a tomato and garlic spread on baguette slices. I loved this simple preparation with quality ingredients. And since this was one of our first meals in Spain, we couldn't pass up the coveted Jamón ibérico - deliciously tender cured ham which comes from free-range black Iberian pigs. The jamon was nicely complimented by toasted baguette slices and a generous drizzle of olive oil.
Another visit to the beloved Cava Baja saw is in for an afternoon delight at Casa Lucas. The modern airy space was home to a lively crowd of regulars and maintained a minimal yet tasteful decor. Most of the patrons were larger groups convened at tables, so we lucked out with two stools at the small bar. The male duo behind the bar were not overly attentive but still pleasant, they seemed eager to please a string of familiar faces that swept in and out, some with young children even. Adam sipped on Mahou (the official beer of Madrid) while I enjoyed a copa de cava. In addition to a bowl of small olives and some thick slices of jamon over toasted bread, we snacked on a Pinchos Frios (cold tapas) and a Pinchos Calientes (hot tapas) each. The Junilla consisting of pastel de espsinacias y puerros con gambas or a spinach and leek pie with roasted red pepper and shrimp, was a distinctive and flavorful preparation. I didn't know what to make of the square "pie" of spinach and leek at first, but I definitely enjoyed the interpretation lending a soft and velvety texture. I only wished the shrimp was a little more substantial. The Alella pollo en salsa de soja con cebolla morada y mousse de maiz con aceite de sesamo or chicken with soy sauce, purple onion, corn mousse and sesame oil was a standout. A decent sized piece of juicy chicken intermingled with complimentary soy and sesame flavors, and that subtly sweet corn mousse was innovative and enticing. Casa Lucas was one of those situations where I felt like we were forced to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, in the sense that we were unfamiliar faces in a neighborhood haunt. The staff isn't going to hold your hand, but they are going to serve you some remarkably unique tapas. Another fantastic neighborhood to dine out is the Barrio Malasaña located at the metro stop Tribunal. La Dominga on Calle Espiritu Santo was actually our first meal in Madrid, and easily one of the most memorable of the trip. Beautiful Spanish dishes are served in an ideal atmosphere by a friendly and attentive waitstaff. They have a great selection of wine, I enjoyed a glass of Rioja Blanco.We got a kick out of the snifter the size of my head containing Adam's go to drink - Dewars on the Rocks. Side note - Dewars is known as White Label and only White Label in Spain (and elsewhere in Europe too - a British couple we met had no idea what Dewars was, but "ohhhh while label, yea we know that!") Light bulb moment! No wonder bartenders have no idea what Adam's been ordering unless he points it out on the shelf. Thank goodness we cleared that one up. We were served a tasty shooter of gazpacho before some of the most attractive looking plates of food I've ever seen came out of the kitchen. Adam raved the entire trip about his Carrilleras de Iberico al vino tinto which are Iberian pork cheeks in red wine. Simply unparalleled, these were tender, succulent and fully coated in a rich red wine sauce with side of the smoothest, creamiest potatoes bathing in a bright green herbal emulsion. I was just as enamored with my Canelones crujientes de confit de pato y setas acompanado de chutney de mango or Crispy confit of duck and mushroom cannelloni with mango chutney. The preparation of the duck meat encased in a slender flaky shell was remarkable, its flavor profiles complimented by both a light, clean salad of fresh greens and cherry tomatoes and a heavenly mango chutney. La Dominga felt like the epitome of a local secret, exuding laid back charm with just a touch of hip minus any pretentions, I'd most certainly frequent this restaurant if I lived in Madrid. In fact, I'd frequent all three of these delicious destinations. Food (and wine!) this good are worthy of seconds.

15 comments:

  1. So my comment has absolutely nothing to do with Madrid. I haven't seen you in so long so I'm so surprised at how long your hair is! You look gorgeous, darling!

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  2. I am so in the mood for tapas now. Awesome that you had recommendations, I love visiting places where I know a local.

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  3. I love it all. I love the quaint cobblestone streets and of course the food looks wonderful.

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  4. All that food looks amazing! Makes me want some tapas now :) I can understand why Adam talked about those pork cheeks the entire trip, they look delicious!

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  5. Wonderful pics, I am bookmarking this page for my trip to Spain next summer! That quail looks amazing.

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  6. so awesome that you got all these recos from a local! I want that plate of queso now!

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  7. That cheese plate looks amazing!! Love the pic of the snifter too :)

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  8. So nice seeing you the other night! I would keep these in mind when I do get to visit Spain - someday!!

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  9. pork cheeks sounds like liver gotta talk to Adam bout that one WTF

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  10. Of course you would find the street with all the bars! :) All the food looks amazing... I'm especially drawn to the dishes you had at the first place for some reason. Love these trip recaps!

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  11. that looks like the street for me :) Gosh I hope one day I can travel here and try this yummy food for myself.

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  12. I want to be in Madrid right now, eating just about all of that stuff (the wine wouldn't hurt either). Looks fabulous!

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  13. My goodness girl...so much to eat, so much to drink, so much to experience & write about, so much to share with us...thank you! and yes your hair is so long & gorgeous! Can't wait to see you & your sister, just 1 more day! Your trip sounds and looks amazing so happy for both of you.

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  14. I'm so glad you had such an awesome trip - I'm enjoying all of your recap posts! I've been to a few places in Spain, but never Madrid - it's on the list though :)

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