Monday, March 16, 2009
Goizeko Wellington - Madrid
For our final meal in Madrid before heading north to San Sebastian, we went to Goizeko restaurant, part of the Goizeko Gaztelupe group which includes five restaurants in Madrid and Bilbao under the supervision of Chef Jesús Santos. Yes, I know it's odd to be going to a Basque place in Madrid, right before we head off to Basque country, but it was recommended by a dear client whose opinions I trust, and we were looking for something lighter and seafood-focused before hopping on a plane the next day. Besides which, our San Sebastian meals were going to be more on the alta cocina (or should I say "modern gastronomy") side of things, so Goizeko provided an opportunity for more traditional Basque fare, though still with some updated contemporary flair. It all worked out just fine.
Goizeko is located in the Hotel Wellington in the Salamanca neighborhood, but you would have no idea it was there unless you knew to ask. We did so at the front desk, and were steered through the posh lobby lounge to a small door literally at the very back of the room, which but for a tiny sign reading "Goizeko" might have been a broom closet for all appearances' sake. When we emerged on the other side, we walked into a restaurant that was more airily modern than the rest of the hotel, with mostly cream and gold and light wood surfaces all over. This is a fairly sizable hotel restaurant and business was pretty quiet while we were there (on a Tuesday night), though there was a large group of diners in a private upstairs room.
We started off with something I've long wanted to try, percebes de Cedeira. Percebes, a/k/a goose barnacles, are harvested along the coast of Galicia (apparently with no small degree of drama and peril) and look somewhat like an amputated alien claw or limb (as you can sort of see from the photo above - sorry no actual pix from the restaurant). An order for two people brought roughly a couple dozen of these beautiful but strange-looking (and expensive) things. As we dumbly stared and marveled like the apes before the monolith, our server deduced that we'd never had them before and happily (1) retrieved bibs; and (2) showed us what to do. Eating percebes involves bending them to snap through the shell of the tube part - "abajo!" ("down!"), our server quickly cautioned me to avoid spraying myself with its juices - which exposes a little nubbin of meat inside. The texture is just slightly resilient and bouncy, not so much as a clam, almost more like a cooked mushroom, and the taste is just like the unbridled essence of the sea - briny, with a tiny whiff of iodine, and utterly pleasing. We absolutely loved these.
I followed the percebes with an app that was a variation on an ensaladilla rusa. For some reason that I don't fully understand myself, I am mental for the salad rusa or "Russian Salad," a concoction of cubed cooked potatoes, carrots and peas bound together generously with mayonaise (and sometimes some good canned tuna). What's so great about that? I dunno. It does something for me. Goizeko's version took the classic salad rusa and turned it into croquetas, scooped into large balls and lightly fried (almost like a tempura batter on the outside of them), which were also bolstered with herring roe, adding a light seafood flavor and an interesting textural note. Mrs. F had a lobster salad, a large claw taken out of the shell and plated with a nice toss of greens, an interesting touch that the salad was dressed in part with a slightly gelled sherry vinaigrette on the bottom of the plate.
Goizeko's menu, in addition to the usual pescados and carnes, has a section of "classics" for old-school dishes. I ordered the pochas y almejas from this section of the menu, a classic combination of white beans and clams. The stew was absolutely delicious, the beans and their thick broth completely suffused with the strong, fresh brine of the clams. A simple dish but a satisfying one, the only complaint being a surprising paucity of actual clams (less than a half-dozen shells in the whole dish). Mrs. F had grilled calamares that were wonderfully fresh and perfectly cooked.
I sadly cannot recall the producer of the Txakoli we had with dinner, which the sommelier recommended when I told him of my fondness for the Basque white. The wine, which had a few years bottle age on it (I had never even considered Txakoli as remotely age-worthy) traded the spritzy freshness of a new Txakoli for an intruiging salinity, while still having that bracingly palate-refreshing acidity. The wine list (the whites, anyway, where I was looking given our seafood-centric ordering) happily was chock full of options in the € 30-40 range.
For dessert I thought I was humoring Mrs. F's chocolate cravings but it turned out I pleased one of my own particular food fetishes as well. One of my fond childhood food memories is of Baskin-Robbins' Mandarin Chocolate Sherbet, a dark, almost black chocolate sherbet spiked with a well-balanced whiff of orange (in retrospect, a surprisingly sophisticated item for 1970's Baskin-Robbins).* They rarely had it in our local store and I recall my parents would get particularly excited when they did. What a delightful surprise to find the flavor duplicated almost exactly in Goizeko's "chocolate y naranja en texturas." The dessert presented several variations on the chocolate/orange combo - a gelato that was nearly a dead ringer for my Baskin-Robbins favorite (and trust me, that's a compliment in this camp); balanced upon a sheet of dark chocolate flavored with orange; hidden underneath which was a lighter chocolate mousse ringed with little crunchy bits; interpersed around which was some candied orange peel; all on the back of a turtle (just kidding on that last part).
We found the service to be very friendly, helpful, and eager to please, which proved to be a pretty consistent theme of our entire visit (what can I tell you, coming from Miami this comes as a real shock). Goizeko was a great experience and I was happy we found it.
Next - pintxos in San Sebastian.
Calle Villanueva 34
91 577 01 38
*I am not alone in my obsession.