Our first day in Madrid started propitiously. After arriving from Miami early in the morning, we swung by our hotel expecting to simply drop off our bags, and were instead told they would have a room available for us within a half hour (this at 9 a.m.). Early check-in is a much appreciated thing after an overnight flight. Indeed, pretty much everything was perfect at the Villa Real and we have generally had very good experiences with all of the Derby Hotels group.
After fortifying ourselves with some coffee and pan con tomate, and ogling the pastries in the window of this bakery that invariably draws a clutch of old ladies also ogling the pastries, we did some sightseeing and fortuitously (or so I would have Mrs. F believe) ended up around the Cava Baja for lunchtime. While a true tapas crawl requires some reserve and discretion, getting only a couple little bites at one place (hopefully the best it has to offer) before moving on to the next, frankly we were too tired and hungry to be so judicious. We settled in at the first promising place we saw for lunch, which happened to be Casa Lucas. We lucked out. Casa Lucas is a simple, modest-looking place with a small bar and about a half-dozen or so tables with blocky modern wood chairs scattered about. We sat down just before the lunch rush, which was a good thing as the place rapidly filled to standing-room-only (and barely that) as we ate. They offer a choice of several montaditos (which is what I've generally seen "things on bread" called, though didn't see the term used much in Madrid, where they were simply called "tapas" or occasionally "pinchos", a variation on the Basque "pintxo"), as well as a number of other prepared dishes served in larger "racion" portions.
We started with a couple each of their "Mancha" and "Madrid" pinchos, and followed with a racion of the "fardos de calamares." All were delicious. The "Mancha" was topped with a pisto (a/k/a ratatouille), along with a fried quail egg and a sprinkle of slivers of crispy bacon. The pisto was brightly flavored, sweet and rich with olive oil, and the whole combination worked wonderfully. The "Madrid," topped with a shmear of a sweet tomato jam and a tender, unctuous revuelto of eggs scrambled with morcilla and onions, was even better. The calamari dish, perhaps due to my extremely limited knowledge of Spanish, was not at all what I expected. For some reason I was anticipating something stuffed. Instead, what came out were several long strips of calamari, wrapped in the middle with a strip of bacon, the whole thing fried, served over a generous dollop of aioli, along with a couple quenelles of a black squid ink mousse and a drizzle of a bright green herb oil. (I later figured out that "fardos" means "bales"). The strips of calamari baled together almost looked like some sort of reconstructed squid, and this dish somehow managed to come off as refined and goofy at the same time. The calamari was very good, but the game-changing element was the squid ink mousse. Not sure what the mousse was constituted of, but it went beautifully with the crispy strips of squid. Of all the tapas places we noshed at in Madrid, this is the one that really stood out. If I had one complaint, it was that so many of their items were only available in "racion" portions (and priced accordingly), which limits the variety of things you can sample.
That evening, we stayed close to home base and meandered near the Plaza Santa Ana for dinner. Our options were somewhat limited as many places were closed Sunday evening. Of note - a nice montadito of foie gras and apple at Vinoteca Barbechera, and another of ventresca (tuna belly) and roasted peppers; patatas bravas and pimientos de padron at Las Bravas. We got a curious dose of "gringo treatment" at Las Bravas, where our server insisted on giving us fork and knife instead of the customary toothpicks for our bravas (even after asking!). It wasn't unfriendly at all, just peculiar. Anyway, I thought their bravas sauce was great, even though I prefer my potatoes crispier. I do love the places like this where they have their specialty, and you know what everyone is ordering as soon as they walk through the door. Perhaps they're getting something else as well, but you know they're getting those bravas. I also loved this painting prominently displayed there, so much so that I'm going to put it up again (besides, I've got no other Madrid food pix to post!):
Before moving on to my next post, I should also mention the rather awesome bocata de calamares at El Brillante, located right smack between the Museo Reina-Sofia and Atocha station. I know it's the tradition to get your calamari sandwich somewhere on Plaza Mayor, but I do enjoy the one at El Brillante.
Next up - dinner at Viridiana.
Calle Cava Baja 30
91 365 08 04
Calle del Principe 27*
91 523 78 04
Calle Alvarez Gato 5
91 532 26 20
Plaza Emperador Carlos V 8
91 539 28 06
*I have seen several addresses listed online for this place. The street is in fact Calle del Principe. In any event, it's on the southeast corner of the Plaza Santa Ana.