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Viva Madrid in Claremont - Yum!

Joy | May 8, 2006 10:25 AM

We've been to Viva Madrid before and enjoyed it, but this time I took notes, to share with you all. The atmosphere of the restaurant is dark and festive. The tables are very crowded together, so plan on getting cozy. They don't take reservations, so you might end up waiting in the hall outside, which is made up to look like a old-town European (type) alley way, with benches and storefronts.

VM's selection of tapas is so large that we have yet to ever try the entrees, although we do like the soup. The gazpacho is *excellent*. They use a recipe very similar to one I have, which is called "Andalusian" in the cookbook, only theirs is better. We couldn't identify what ingredients were different, so I guess we'll have to keep going back to taste test it!

The table favorite among the tapas was clearly the rellenos champinones (mushrooms stuffed w/chorizo). Rich, complex, explode-in-your-mouth flavor. Like many tapas at VM, it weirdly comes with three servings (3?), so if you have more than three people, my advice is to go ahead and order two.

We also really liked the patatas bravas (spicy potatoes), which is one of the most classic tapas. The potatoes had a good texture -- just a bit crispy on the outside, soft and hot and steamy on the inside -- and the tomato sauce was interesting, and not too spicy for our friends.

Another classic tapa is gambas ajillo -- shrimp in a white wine and garlic sauce. The shrimp was great, but the sauce wasn't very garlicky, and the shrimp hadn't picked up the flavors of the sauce much. Still, it was good. It also only had three (fairly large) shrimp.

The calamare fritos was fine: very small rings with a light, crispy coating, and served with a thick aioli.

We liked the tapas buena frio, a selection of cold tapas: good green olives, so-so black olives, a few spears of asparagus, two big slices of (cold) tortilla espanola, some decent cheese, and a selection of delicious thinly sliced meats (e.g., chorizo). A Spanish tortilla is a casserole with layers of potatoes held together with an egg sauce, and usually (always?) onions; the espanola version had those basics, plus parsley. We also ordered the tortilla artistica, which also includes bell peppers and spinach. It was served warm, which I prefer, and was pretty good (I liked it better than the other one).

The melon with serrano ham wasn't quite what we expected. The melon was wonderfully fresh and juicy, but it was somewhat tricky to eat the way they served it: a slice of melon, with three melon balls removed and then stuck back into the slice with toothpicks, upon which were also stuck bunches of folded up thinly sliced serrano ham. It was hard to divide the ham among four people, and awkward to get at the rest of the melon. The ham was not so distinguished, either.

We disagreed about the lomo cerdo tomate (pork loin in garlic & tomato sauce). Two of us really liked it, and one of us thought the pork was a little dry (the fourth didn't say anything). I liked it, and thought the sauce sufficiently countered the very slight dryness of the meat.

After the great experience with the mushrooms stuffed with chorizo, we ordered the calamares con chorizo, but this turned out to be the least favorite dish. The chorizo stuffing didn't go well with the squid, and the soupy and somewhat weird-tasting sauce didn't help the flavors blend at all.

I had bad luck with the wine-by-the-glass choices. I usually like rioja, but I tried three different glasses of rioja, all on the recommendation of my waiter, and didn't really like any of them (he said that they were out of the good one he normally recommends). Still, they were very reasonably priced, and good enough to drink rather than send back. Next time I think I'll get the sangria. And there WILL be a next time!

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