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Madrid: Low End Theory in Spain Part II

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Restaurants & Bars

Madrid: Low End Theory in Spain Part II

Low End Theory | Jul 12, 2002 01:19 AM

The second destination in my Spanish tour was a great Chow city - these recs come from several sources in addition to my own discoveries. As with most of Spain the nature of the ingredients is the best predictor of success as the food is seldom highly spiced. Let adventure be your watchword. Note that even in landlocked Madrid the seafood was excellent.

Tapas in Madrid were costlier than in Sevilla but still superb, and of course the regional specialties had to be tried. The area around the Plaza Santa Ana is rich with tascas, if a little touristy, and I enjoyed the following especially:
- Mejillones at La Ria (Calle Matheu). Fresh mussels au natural or with a liberal splash of picante sauce. I chose the latter, unusual as the Spanish generally eschew the hot stuff.
- Alitas de pollo con salsa patentada at Las Bravas. Yep, this mini-chain of tascas (at least three near Pl. Santa Ana) claims to have patented its tasty orange sauce. More sophisticated palates may identify more than the cumin and mild chilli notes that I liked. Points for freshly fried seafood and wings to coat with said sauce – should have ordered boquerones instead - but patatas fritas might be the ideal vehicle.
- Setas and gambas canapes at La Piconera (Calle Barcelona). Succulent shrimp and wild mushrooms on toast, simple and pleasing. Each tasca has its own specialties. I didn’t see setas very often.
- Morcilla and callos madrileno at Casa Alberto (Calle Huertas SE of Pl. Santa Ana). Wandering aimlessly in search of Madrids famed tripe I stumbled into this fine tasca, fundido 1827! Everyone was eating fried rounds of morcilla, the lovable blood sausage. It was highly toothsome – soft, ricey and browned on the fried edges. Callos madrileno also came up trumps, a generous serving of tender tripe in a sauce rich with onions. Grilled prawns and patatas con alioli also worth a bite though the latter were good and mayonnaise-y, not sans egg as Catalan purists would prefer.

Three bakeries of note:
- The Museo del Pan Gallego (Plaza Herraderos)is rightly celebrated in a Chowhound photo essay by Xose Castro. Empanada atun (tuna) and moist, almond-y tarta Santiago made a miserable train ride to Barcelona much brighter. Alas, they didn’t make pan chorizo on the day I was there...
- Mallorquina is at the SW end of touristy Puerta del Sol but despite this inauspicious location has excellent empanadas bonito and abujas (beef) made with a good n’ greasy flaky crust. Napolitanos are also recommended for their custardy filling.
- Dulces from the cloistered nunnery just beyond Mercado San Miguel are fun because of the intercom-and-lazy-Susan fandango (the nuns avoid contact with the outside world). I chose galletas, or tea biscuits, hoping they would travel well as a gift for my boss. Satisfying lemony flavour.

Churros and chocolate, what a great combination for breakfast or late-night supper. The classic Chocolateria San Gines (Pasadizo de San Gines) did not disappoint. I wished there were more churros as I had a good deal of fine chocolate remaining.

Casa Ciriaco is an historic restaurant where my fellow diners were mostly elderly locals. Ordering the option-poor menu del dia I found the ternera de casera (veal stew) plain, but the sopa castellano was outstanding. A simple bread soup in principle but somehow the bread had coalesced into dumplingesque, meltingly soft islands instead of falling to bits. A nice escape from one’s fellow sightseers.

Museo del Jamon is easy to find – there are several including a central one on Calle San Jeronimo. Even if the name weren’t enough the place is jolly good – hams hanging from all corners and super cheap bocadillos (sandwiches). I grew to love the Spanish obsession with jamon and enjoyed a plate of iberico – made from the black-footed Iberian pigs – in the Plaza Mayor branch of Museo one night.

Thanks to Xose Castro I found my best bang-for-the-buck lunch in Madrid at La Sanabresa on Amor de Dios. This place wins extra points for the great selection available with the menu del dia. Among several excellent choices I spotted the mojellas a la plancha – grilled sweetbreads – and knew what to do. They were juicy and delicious, and my meal improved even more when “The Simpsons” started on an overhead TV. A simple pisto manchego (ratatouille-like thingy) and kiwi con nata were also noteworthy.

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