Three nights in Madrid had us eating well and wishing we were still in Spain.
The first night we enjoyed seafood at Norte y Sur near Quatro Caminos, thanks to fellow Chowhound Butterfly. I learned from reading Langston Hughes’ autobiography that this neighborhood was one of abject poverty in the 30s even compared to the extreme rationing going on elsewhere in Madrid. Rumors were going around that the people here used to eat their cats... now it's a pleasant place to sit out on the sidewalk for a leisurely dinner.
We started off with the best taste of our travels, a quite ‘ordinary’ shrimp that was like I had never eaten shrimp before. What was it? Why? Was it the freshness? I already had some shrimp elsewhere in Spain, but the flavor here was extraordinary. We followed that up with pulpo a la gallega, served over potatoes with paprika on top. The octopus was creamy inside – I didn’t think that was possible. Also a special experience. We had cockles in a very nice garlic sauce, some tough and flavorless razor clams, and a big hunk of red and salty steak that was delicious.
Our next day we were fed well inside the Prado – expensive but carefully prepared cafeteria food. At night, we ate at Orio in the Malasaña neighborhood. The tapas bar (actually pintxos, since it is a Basque place) was too crowded for our poor tired feet, so we wound up seated with dinner upstairs. This was a finely prepared meal. We started off with cheeses, paté, and seasonal fried peppers, and then went on to chipirones with a thick, jet-black ink sauce, rabo de toro, and pork adobo. The pork was an overdose of paprika for me, but the other dishes were exquisite. Yes, I was jealous of all the people downstairs having fun, but we ate very well.
Lunch the next day was at Le Barraca, a paella specialty restaurant. The paella was rich, intense, and I couldn’t stop eating it. Our order for two was too large for the four of us to finish. We started off with my favorite dish of the day, habitas (broad beans) with ham and onions served all bubbling over in a small baking dish. The Castillian soup had too much paprika for me (again!), but a dish of scrambled eggs with cod, asparagus, and toast–as-croutons looked gorgeous and tasted like it. All the food here is served as rustic as can be, but with tremendous attention to detail. Thanks to Juan Doe for suggesting it.
Dinner that night was a tapas crawl from Puerta del Sol back to our hotel at Plaza del Angel with two successes and one abysmal failure. We started off at Oreja de Oro for their signature pig ears. We also had shrimp croquettes (what’s not to love?) and a refreshing glass of gazpacho. The orejas a la plancha were very good, and certainly a preparation I can’t find in the U.S. where they are availabel only at Chinese restaurants. My kids thought they tasted like earwax.
Our next stop was awful. We went to Las Bravas for their patatas bravas, and I didn’t like this place one bit. The potatoes were in awkward and bland large chunks, and the sauce tasted jarred and hardly spicy. The place was popular, so maybe we were the only ones not enjoying the experience. The patatas bravas we had in Cordoba, which were just average, suddenly brought back fond memories for us. We also had pork on skewers and a bocadillo with pork, and I thought they were both pretty bad and greasy.
We finished up at Estado Puro for only one item, asparagus tempura with romesco sauce. The timing on this was prefect: the crispiness of the batter and the firmness of the asparagus was a rare work of art. It was getting really late (for us) or I would have ordered more. I was no longer hungry, but now that hardly seems to matter. I wish I had stayed and ordered more, even though we had an early flight to catch.
Oh well, I guess there is reason to return after all.