Showing posts with label Madrid. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Madrid. Show all posts

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.

Goizeko Wellington
Hotel Wellington
Calle Villanueva 34
91 577 01 38

*I am not alone in my obsession.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Restaurante Viridiana - Madrid

Restaurante Viridiana is the creation of chef Abraham García, a true Renaissance man. Aside from being a successful chef, he is a film historian ("Viridiana" is also the name of a 1961 movie by Luis Buñuel, and the restaurant is decorated throughout with stills from various Buñuel movies), and a regular blogger on El Mundo. How many menus quote from James Joyce's Ulysses? Given his affinity for one of the original surrealists (a take on Buñuel that might be somewhat overplayed as a a description of his overall body of work), you might expect García's food to be way "out there," but in our couple meals there, a few years apart, I've found his technique and overall approach to be fairly traditional, though happily borrowing flavors and spices from around the globe, Latin America in particular. However, while our first dinner there a few years ago was one of those almost perfect, transcendent experiences (which surely we have come to mythicize over time), our recent visit was more hit-and-miss, though still a fine meal.

Still on American time, we showed up several minutes before 9pm and were the first to arrive at the restaurant (the host looked to still be putting on his tie), but we were graciously received and seated. It's a small, intimate place, no more than a dozen tables total, and a few more groups of diners filtered in shortly after us. Service was very friendly and helpful, though todos en español.* We were started with a couple apertivos before our orders arrived. The first was a soup of curried lentil supplemented with king crab meat - warming and nicely (not overpoweringly) spiced, though the crab was mostly lost. That was followed by an interesting salad of fresh leaves (radicchio, a beautiful and bracingly bitter red-leaf lettuce, several different brightly flavored sprouts), various pickled things (a tid-bit of herring, a pickled onion, a cube of some sort of pickled vegetable), an olive-oil soaked sun-dried tomato, a few slices of very nice chorizo, and a crescent of luscious fresh melon. Very refreshing and a nice wake-up for the appetite.

Dinner took something of a detour from there. For an app, I had a dish described as "arroz meloso con costillas de cerdo, senderuelas, y langostinos del sur," (even though they had English menus, I like using the Spanish because it reads to me like poetry - the English translations usually sound so much more pedestrian). The dish was a nice spin on a mar y montaña (surf-n-turf - interesting how that concept has its Spanish analogue), and the senderuelas - which I believe were translated on an English menu as "fairy ring mushrooms" - gave a nice flavor to the creamy, rich rice. The shrimp (not langoustines - Spanish names for many seafood items differ from here in the U.S. and I'm still sorting out the many different genres) were separately grilled and laid over the top to avoid overcooking. But the pork ribs unfortunately were chipping off little bone shards everywhere, making their way into just about every bite. Now unlike some people, I have no issue whatsoever with eating food from the bone (as my main course will attest) but this was a very unpleasant distraction.

Mrs. F meanwhile started with the dish that had made us go all goggle-eyed from our first visit - "huevos de corral sobre mousse de hongos ("boletas edulis") y trufas negras ("tuber melanosporum") (parentheticals - excluding this one - in the original, not added by me (which I note due to my own personal predeliction for parentheticals)). This is a farm-fresh fried egg, served in an iron skillet with a mushroom (specifically, porcini) mousse, topped with a generous shaving of fresh black truffles. The first time we had this dish at Viridiana, it would have easily made a list of Top 10 Things I've Eaten. Yet somehow this time it didn't quite hold up to the memory. The egg was just as delicious (why are the eggs in Spain so much better than our eggs? And why do the yolks glow with that beautiful sunset orange color?), but the mousse seemed somewhat flat, whereas last time it was light and frothy and simultaneously more redolent with mushroom flavor. And the truffle, despite the generous dusting, did little to share its magical perfume with the dish (perhaps just a result of it being later in the truffle season than our last visit and the truffles not being as fresh). Still good, just not on the same level as our memory of the dish.

For a main, I had the tuétanos de ternera, the most shockingly abundant order of marrow bones I have ever seen. There were at least 8 big fat marrow bones crowded onto the plate, with nothing else other than a pile of toasted slices of pan integral and a small salad of baby arugula and pomegranate seeds (which was unfortunately literally bathing in way too much dressing). For those of us who love marrow, this is all we need for a happy meal. The bones were roasted perfectly, the marrow pulling out of them hot and quivering but still intact, ready to be shmeared onto a toast and quickly steered to the mouth. García is clearly a big fan of the oft-neglected "fifth quarter" or offal, indeed has devoted a whole cookbook to offal recipes, "De Tripas Corazón."

Mrs. F went in another direction for a main, having the "skrei (bacalao fresco) a la parilla con mojo de chile chipotle." Skrei (I learned post-dinner through the magic of Google) is a Norwegian (not Basque, as I'd assumed) word for fresh Arctic cod, and in particular is a designation used only when it is caught in the months from January through March as the fish return to the Norwegian coast for spawning. The fish, supposedly "in its prime, full of energy and fertility" is in perfect condition for eating. Even better, it seems that because of strong Norwegian regulation, the skrei, unlike many other cod populations, is sustainably fished. I'm usually not a big fan of the flaky white fish varieties, but this was quite lushly textured and good eating. In fact, on tasting it Mrs. F and I both assumed it had been oil-poached in some manner, yet the menu's description indicates only a simple grilling. Given Chef García's fondness for offal, I'm surprised, having read how the Norwegians also treasure the liver and roe of the skrei, that these did not make their way into the dish. The sauce which accompanied was an interesting cross-cultural amalgam, somewhere between a Mexican mole and a Catalan romescu. Some soft-cooked raf tomatoes and garlic-laden slices of eggplant accompanied. We saw these sweet raf tomatoes in restaurants and markets throughout our trip, a green-and-red striped, somewhat knobby thing for which the Spaniards apparently happily pay about 3x more than a regular tomato.

We drank a 2001 C.V.N.E. Rioja Imperial Riserva with dinner, a nice elegant Rioja with just a bit of age on it and plenty of life. Really nice to be able to find a wine like that at only €62. Not sure how to appropriately factor in exchange rate, but the original retail release price on this wine was $48 US.

Instead of dessert we opted for cheeses, which brought an interesting assortment - an Idiazabal, a Torta del Casar, a Cabrales, a Marcellin, and an Epoisses. Little bowls of a sweet tomato jam and membrillo accompanied. The Torta del Casar was probably my favorite, the Marcellin still being a little too firm and the Epoisses also not quite fully ripe (though for other diners, perhaps all for the best - Epoisses is a legendarily stinky washed-rind cheese, so stinky that it is supposedly banned from public transport in its native France). Our waiter confessed to us that he hates the stuff, but "the chef loves it."

Though we overall had a fine meal, there were a couple really glaring off-notes (the bony rice, the side salad with the marrow bones swimming in dressing) that surprised me, even aside from the egg and mushroom dish not quite living up to our memory of it. An off-night? Perhaps even literally so. We were there on a Monday night, which is often "chef's night off" here in the U.S. Maybe it was true at Viridiana as well.

Restaurante Viridiana
Calle Juan de Mena 14
Madrid 28014
91 523 44 78

*Which is fine by me - Mrs. F has some conversational Spanish skills and I have a savant-like ability to read menus and recognize most food words. I understand Spanish sort of like dogs understand human speech - I hear the words I need to know. Like a dog hears "blah blah blah BONE blah blah RIDE blah blah BOWL blah blah WALK," I hear "blah blah GAMBAS blah blah JAMON blah blah HUEVOS," and understand enough to know something good is about to happen.

Madrid - Tapas and Such

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.

Madrid pastries
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.

Casa Lucas
Calle Cava Baja 30
Madrid 28005
91 365 08 04

Vinoteca Barbechera
Calle del Principe 27*
Madrid 28039
91 523 78 04

Las Bravas
Calle Alvarez Gato 5
Madrid 28012
91 532 26 20

El Brillante
Plaza Emperador Carlos V 8
Madrid 28012
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.