Yearning for a great arroz dish, after much reading, we settled on a Madrid classic – El Caldero. The paella pan of beautiful looking rice arrives tableside, and, with much formality, the waiter divides it up and then tops it with the seafood in a dark, rich broth. As we looked at it, we were happy he divided it fairly because there really was not much there, considering the price, once you removed the shells – a small piece of bonito each, one or two shrimp, maybe two pieces of squid. The rice was good, but did not bowl us over. The fried eggplant appetizer, however, was heavenly. Most of the people in the restaurant were suits conducting serious international business of some kind or another. In other words, El Caldero was a bit stuffy for this pair of travelers.
The place we preferred down the street a few blocks definitely was more casual. In fact, it was chaotically crowded, with walls covered with funky collections of random things. The place was inexpensive. Dishes arrived in no particular or predictable order. The seating was upon uncomfortable wooden stools at wooden tables too small to accommodate all the pots of food presented. But we really liked this place, Taberna Maceiras, enough so that we ate there at least three times. A skillet of sizzling padron chiles made for a great starter. We enjoyed Galician style octopus rice, fried calamari, traditional bean stews, meat stews and perfectly prepared mussels in this polar opposite of El Caldero.
Another wonderful rut we slipped into was Gastromaquia Chueca. Maybe it was the grilled goat cheese caramelized with honey and topped with a glistening pesto. Or the scoops of lemon basil sorbet with rum poured over them tableside for a refreshing mojito-style desert. Guacamole was served with ultra-thin plantain chips; seafood arroz topped El Caldero; and richly curried mussels were moist and plump. And, as we were regulars, we enjoyed sipping Spanish liqueurs offered us at the end of our meals. Please, fly me back there today.
Croquettes can be found everywhere, but many of them are not worth the calories. We opted to go to the specialists, La Croquetta. Squash and eggplant croquettes arrived with a refreshing sauce of yogurt and mint, and the jamon Iberico ones were perfect. Melting goat cheese in one was studded with nuts and raisins, and fried eggplant was drizzled with honey.
Salmorejo is a seasonal favorite in Madrid. The creamy rich cousin of gazpacho traditionally arrives with bits of chopped egg and thinly shaved jamon Iberico in the middle. One of the places we spooned into this was a.n.e.l., a popular neighborhood tapas spot a block from our apartment. This was a nice stop for lightly battered vegetable tempura, fried calamari or sliders; although I never understood its name.
Directly across the street from our apartment in the Casa de America cultural center was Le Cabrera. The comfortable patio offered bargain lunch specials, many of which emerged from the kitchen of the extremely tony restaurant next door, Cien Llaves. Grilled asparagus topped with thin slices of parmigiano reggiano and grilled trout were among the dishes we tried. We probably would have eaten there again, but, by lunch time, we generally had wandered far from home.
Also close to home was La Vaca y la Huerta, a place that fills up completely at prime times. Here the Mister could find beef entrecote served as rare as he wanted, while I could get a beautiful plate of grilled vegetables or salmon.
We enjoyed the comfortable atmosphere of Saporem during two of our lunches. While the bowl full of vegetables looks bland, they were wonderfully prepared. Shrimp tempura atop rice was nicely presented with a spicy sauce.
In a capital city, one needs to experience some of the cuisines imported from abroad. We loved both the look and food of Arabia, but photos turned out too poorly to share. Falafel and grilled eggplant topped with fresh chopped tomatoes were artfully presented, and the lamb couscous was tender.
Then we decided to dip into Sub-Sahara African food at Kim Bu Mbu, easier to type than say. The small intimate restaurant is nothing short of handsome inside. Among the specialties were fish croquettes with eggplant sauce and fish steamed in a banana leaf.
Now, I’m stopping because I have made myself starving.
If you know us at all, you are probably wondering where are all the photos from Italian restaurants. Believe it or not, we didn’t find an Italian restaurant in Madrid we liked enough to include.
If you are staying in Madrid for any length of time and read Spanish, revolt against TripAdvisor. Guia Metropoli Comer y Beber en Madrid is written by locals for locals and is updated radically on an annual basis. The paperback doesn’t have quite enough information to replace internet research, but it doesn’t just rattle off the tired top 10 tourist favorites.