Review: Palazzo Petrucci

14 April 2015

After my rather disappointing dinner at Il Comandante I was reconsidering whether to just bypass any other “haute” cuisine destination on this trip. However, I have heard real good things about Palazzo Petrucci and its chef, Lino Scarallo, so I decided to press on with this evening’s booking.

I had a very busy day around the centre of Napoli. Took me a few minutes to get my Mezzogiorno senses back — meaning how to cross busy roads — but I was soon back to normal. I feel bad for some of the tourists I saw that just could not get across these streets. When you travel, best thing is to go native — in every way.

Busy day and I was knackered. My lunch was utterly fantastic…which I will chronicle in the next post, but my Twitter followers would have seen it that day the offaly goodness that was lunch… I made my way back to the Piazza San Domenico Maggiore that cool evening (I was there at the church earlier) and found my way to Palazzo Petrucci.

A cool little space next to the historic church, I was shown a cozy little table in this 1-Michelin eatery. There’s a pizzeria connected, but tonight was another try at going all out. But after last night’s misstep I did not want to commit to another tasting menu, so I went with my senses for tonight.

The service here was fantastic as well, and there was no attempt to upsell overpriced bottles of out-of-region wine at all. It was truly a better restaurant experience from the opening moment. And when you see tourists and locals all enjoying the food, you know it’s much better than listening to various tables gabbing in Russian only…

I ordered my courses and relaxed with some nice white, and a mozzarella amuse. I like this place, it’s a historic building but they built this into a modern inside — with the kitchen upstairs. Reminded me a little of Maaemo in Oslo, but imagine it with the character of a centuries-old building meshed into it. Soon my starter arrived, and I gasped…

1a-crudo

Oh. My. Goodness. This was my crudo starter. I have never seen a crudo starter like this before… It was actually rather hard to keep my drool from dripping — or my tears from falling. This was about as close to crudo paradise as I’ve ever seen… There were different types of prawns, shellfish, and fish, too many to name. The brown prawn in the centre was fantastic, as was the oyster. The tuna was superb, as was the amberjack. Even the chunk of mozzarella was just gorgeous, still dripping with milk.

I was in heaven for the 20+ minutes I spent feasting on this dish. Utterly fantastic. One of the dishes of the year easily… Now I know where my dear friend Salvatore Marino at Il Grano in Los Angeles gets inspiration for his famous crudo (he spent many years in Napoli). Wow. I finished this dish with more drool and tears…this was just bloody awesome!

I enjoyed more wine and just enjoyed this nearly orgasmic experience… What a dish. They gave me a little time to relax — the FoH staff was brilliant on timing by, well, actually watching the diners’ reactions. This is the sign of a professional shop that deserves more than 1 Michelin star. My first then appeared.

2-Spaghettone con alici

Mmm, now this was Naples on a dish. Spaghettone with anchovy and seaweed. Lovely stuff. Now this pasta was cooked perfectly! After last night’s disastrous pasta dishes, I nearly cried again tasting perfectly cooked pasta again. This was a wonderful dish, full of flavour and just the perfect texture. Fabulous!

I was absolutely happy already with this dinner. This place is excellent both FoH and kitchen, producing top notch food with fabulous service. As I said before, this place deserves more than 1 star — no way this place can be equated with the poor Il Comandante!

Then my second arrived, and my smile grew even bigger — if that was possible…

3-Petto d’anatra

Oh my, what quacky goodness! I love duck, especially cooked right — and this was just awesome. Fabulous cut, excellent preparation, temperature just perfect. The flavour of the duck breast comes straight out, laced with a tiny bit of anise. Oh my! The duck dish of the year, certainly!

I was almost sad when I finished this dish, as this was the end of the dinner. That was a hell of a three course, one of the best overall dinners I’ve had in ages. I couldn’t end it here, so there was some dessert coming.

4-Stratificazione di pastiera Napoletana

A small but nice end to the evening, an assortment of traditional sweets with a twist. All excellent, especially that cannolo with pistachio! I had some grappa and espresso to finish this wonderful evening off before I trekked downhill for the stroll back towards the Castel Nuovo and my hotel.

After last night’s poor experience at Il Comandante, this place completely justified me continuing to try these types of restaurants. Adding my amazing lunch today, this day has been as close to food perfection as I’ve had since Japan. I have rarely enjoyed a food day as much as today, and I smiled all the way down the hill.

Oh Napoli, this was wonderful…

Palazzo Petrucci
Piazza San Domenico Maggiore 4
Napoli, Italia

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Review: Il Comandante

13 April 2015

I was glad to leave Madrid after days of headache (and footache) for the more enigmatic city of Napoli (Naples). And it would start bad, as the queues were crazy at Barajas with people arguing with staff over baggage rules… Oh, I can’t wait to get out of Spain… The flight, the “Bourbon Express” you could call it (remember, as in Spain, at one point Napoli was the capital of a Bourbon-family-runned kingdom), was uneventful, and I was back in il Mezzogiorno for the first time in over a decade…

Was so good to see, smell, and feel the chaos that is Mezzogiorno again. I got to my chaotic hotel after a chaotic ride, totally Neapolitan and comforting in an odd way. I feel so much more comfortable here… I relaxed in my hotel room as dinner wasn’t too distant — time nor walking.

Dinner tonight was at the 1-Michelin restaurant called Il Comandante. I was told this was one of the best places for a balanced menu in town. Though I normally eschew Michelin-tainted places in Italy (especially the south), I will be hitting the small, local places during lunches so decided to do 2 haute cuisine places, and this was the first. I headed out into the cool evening.

Il Comandante is on the top floor of the Romeo Hotel just near the port for cruise ships, convenient I guess for those tourists going to boats and not wanting to see the real Napoli. The restaurant is beautifully decorated, including its famous “cannon” table (see the website). The view is also spectacular. They offered me a nice prosecco and I relaxed.

The service was very fluid, a great relief after my Madrid experiences (especially at similarly 1-Michelin Álbora). Of all the menus they offered, I decided to try their “Three Years of Romeo” tasting, which featured the top dishes over the past three years. It looked very interesting and some of it looked quite exciting. The first set of amuse bouche arrived pretty quickly.

AB01

Wow, I was now intrigued. This is a fabulous selection of nibbles, from a cod-filled puff to crisp with carpaccio and roe. Nice and tasty. Fantastic visuals in this place, including the dishes.

AB2

The second amuse was also nice, a ink crisp. I like the presentation so far, and you can see this place really placing a lot of priority on visuals.

It was at this point when the night, which was going well, took a rather unpleasant turn. I asked for wine pairing but they didn’t do it. They just recommended wines, and they were desperately upselling wines at this stage. It was so bloody obvious… I just took a nice bottle and had to run with it. The wine was opened just before the first dish arrived.

01-three_prawns

This was a tasting of local prawns. The first, a carpaccio on the left, was nice but a little bland to be honest. The centre, featuring local red shrimp with citrus, was nice. The right, an Asian-themed version with sesame, was also good. Good start so far.

02-pasta_mista_mussels

Dish two of the tasting was pasta mista with mussels. I’m a huge fan of pasta of all sorts, but not fried. They become tasteless and distracting. The broth was rich and mussels nice, however. Still puzzled why they used the fried stuff. I enjoyed more wine and awaited the third course. Service, aside from that wine thing, was excellent.

03-65_degree-egg-mozzarella

The third dish was one I didn’t care for, a 65-degree egg with smoked mozzarella and foam, with a touch of caviar. Just as I said for my amazingly good tasting at Lisbon’s Belcanto, I don’t like these type of gimmicky egg dishes. This was cooked well, but it just didn’t work for me.

04-linguine_eel

The fourth dish was one I was really exited about, linguine with grilled eel and dried tomatoes. Oh dear, no… The pasta was noticeably undercooked. Gragnano pasta are excellent with a slighly tougher texture, but if cooked poorly it can be grungy or soggy. This was grungy. It seem they were too worried about overcooking they massively undercooked it… Very poor execution. The first proper pasta dish I’m having in Naples on this trip and it’s cooked badly, in a Michelin-starred restaurant? Oh dear… The eel actually became a side item at this point as the poor pasta cooking just devastated me…

I hoped it was an anomaly and just had more wine. It was honestly difficult to eat as it was significantly undercooked. Not just a little, but really undercooked, almost breaking off pieces at points. The next dish is also a pasta so let’s see…

05-candele_spezzate-tuna

Dish number five is a candele spezzate pasta (Genovese style) with dried tuna. Oh dear, it was not an anomaly. These were horribly undercooked too. Ever tasted raw dry pasta? This wasn’t far from it. Wow, whoever is on the pasta station on the line back there is really screwing up tonight… Or is me dining alone screwiing up their timing? Oh this was so disappointing…

To make things worse, they asked me if I wanted also a bottle of red with this dish (and for later ones), and tried to upsell an out-of-region, overpriced wine so badly (I heard the same spiel to other tables) I said no, and would just nurse this bottle. They looked disappointed. I was disappointed.

My appetite was dropping with 2 very poorly executed pasta dishes and this comedy with the wines. These are supposed to be the bread and butter of anyone competent to be called a cook in Naples. Whoever is doing the pasta back there, his/her mother would be running into the kitchen yelling if they tasted this. Terrible.

06-mullet

The next dish came out looking good, the mullet. However, it was executed (again!) poorly. The skin, which should be crisp and a delicacy, was soggy and undercooked — thus inedible. It’s like eating a piece of wet thick paper that would not break up. Awful. The meat was fine, but I left the skin in an obvious way on the plate to indicate its inedibility — to give the kitchen a clue.

I was really disappointed at this stage and this was not how I wanted my Naples trip to begin. Service, aside from the ridiculous wine up-selling, was solid, but the kitchen was failing. Beautiful plating, but just very poor execution. Then my next dish arrived, which was not what was on the menu…

07-pork_loin

I looked at this, which was supposed to be pork belly, and enquired… Server seemed confused… A few minutes later she came back saying it was pork loin. Chef apparently wanted to try something new and forgot to tell the staff… Oops. It was honestly very dry and probably overcooked (or they didn’t know the sourcing of the pork, which would be scary for such a restaurant). They have some serious timing issues at this kitchen. Chef wanted feedback so I was honest and told the server what I thought.

I was so disappointed I pretty much lost my appetite. The belly dish showed up and I just had a bit of it. I totally lost interest in this dinner. I didn’t even take any more photos. I just finished the dessert and tried to get myself out of this place.

Sadly, Il Comandante is all about appearances. Beautiful space, beautiful plating, solid service (aside from the wine comedy). But behind that facade it’s all a mess. So many dishes were executed poorly you gotta wonder what was going on. The pasta dishes were beyond disappointing. Safe to say nowhere else the next few days I had pasta cooked so badly.

Maybe it was a clue that there were no local diners in this restaurant, and I frankly heard more Russian being spoken than any other language. That is a big clue.

Maybe the curse of Madrid followed me here on the “Bourbon Express”…now how to shake this off…sigh…

Il Comandante
Via Cristoforo Colombo 45
Napoli, Italia

A Bumpy Downhill Road Out of Madrid…

12 April 2015

It’s been a bit frustrating the last few days in Madrid, to be honest. The food has been spectacular for the most part, but the dining experiences have really marred my enjoyment. In fact, I really can’t wait to get out of Madrid. I think those who follow my Twitter feed saw that first hand…

On my final day I had a very light schedule, partly because of an unplanned deadline that kept me at my hotel glued to my laptop writing and doing research. Oh well, I wasn’t planning to do much anyway, as I grow very tired to Madrid in general.

I popped out to lunch after getting some fresh air walking around a few neighbourhoods. Was near the centre and I had no plans, so I just walked into anywhere that looked (1) not touristy, (2) not overrun, and (3) interesting. The place I found was a little bar called Taberna San Fermín de Puerta Cerrada that the hoardes of tourists seemed to have missed.

It was doing a increasingly brisk early lunch business with locals and regulars, and I stood at the bar and enjoyed some early wine. I wasn’t too hungry so I ordered a dish of “gulas”.

gulas

These “fake” baby eels I enjoy almost as a pasta dish, with a heavy dose of garlic. It is actually delicious even if it doesn’t compare to the real thing. I really should get a dish of the real stuff before I go; it’s been many years since I’ve had real baby eels. These were good though.

I headed out and wandered a bit more and I did get a little hungry after about half hour, so I stepped into the only place that didn’t look overly busy — Can Punyetes. I later found out this was a chain out of Barcelona that had many locations. I was originally interested in various items they had on the menu, but each one I tried to order they told me they had run out. Huh? Sunday lunchtime…

ventresca

So I settled with this rather disastrous dish. I generally don’t like ventresca — tuna belly that’s been preserved. It loses all its oily fatty goodness 99% of the way they do it. Very, very rarely would ventresca work in my opinion. So I just consumed this and headed out and back to my hotel — to work…

After a few hours of crunching my keyboard I finished the piece and sent the item off in question, and I got ready to head to dinner. I usually have better luck with old school places, so I went for one this evening — Casa Lucio. Some call it a tourist trap, some say it’s proven itself. Whichever way, I headed there.

After fighting a drunken crowd out doing the horrible modern Spanish custom of botellón (really, at 8.30pm on a Sunday night in such numbers?), pushing some people out of the way, I found Casa Lucio. They eventually put me at a table upstairs. Looks very old school…

I ordered my food and yep, I decided to do the baby eels. The good thing about this place, tourist trap or what, is that they have a reputation of having the hardest-to-find treats available when in season.

I ordered a bottle of white and a starter and chilled out, hoping for a good final meal in Madrid. I relaxed and was starting to enjoy my wine when they came back and told me they had run out of the baby eel… Crap… I was already on the white but then the only other dish I’d do is the oxtail here, so I ordered it… So deflating!

pata negra

The jamon starter arrived and it was good, but frankly I don’t think it was preserved well. It was starting to really dry out. The fatty parts were glorious but the meaty parts were tasting a bit off… Maybe this is a tourist trap…my mistake… It took ages before my main course came.

oxtail

The oxtail was very good, strong flavours and a good portion, but goes a bit odd with the weak white house wine. Plus, they stop pouring it for some reason and I couldn’t get anyone’s attention. What the hell is wrong with the service sector here? Is 9pm still siesta time that they can’t function normally?

I ended up complaining to the manager using my broken Castillian about the service and they ended up apologising. They thought that the white didn’t work with the oxtail so they just stopped pouring it… But they forgot that I had bought the bottle…oops! So at the end they brought me a brandy and a free dessert. A good gesture, but I’ve had enough of Madrid’s maddening service sector and I quickly left this tourist trap…

Frankly I was underwhelmed and I didn’t want to leave Madrid with such a terrible taste in my mouth — even if I never come back here again — so I hopped on a cab (after fighting through the drunken crowd outside) and headed across the El Retiro park (Metro was inconvenient) and…well, went back to where I closed my first night in town, Rafa.

They were surprised to see me again and I just chilled with some wine. They fed me some olives again and I ordered some food at that point…

erizos

Look at this first item, sea urchin at its best. This was delicious, deep and flavourful. What a nice change of pace. I then had a plate of percebes (barnacles); I apologise I forgot to photo this plate, but you know what it looks like (it’s a bit larger portion than the one I had at Cervejaria Ramiro in Lisboa a few days earlier). Then the final dish, to close my Madrid account…

Manos y morro de ternera a la madrileña

Manos y morro de ternera a la madrileña. In other words, the “hands and nose” of veal. Now this is a fabulously rich dish, full of collagen and flavour. I love it, even better than the oreja dish at Casa Alberto the other day. An excellent end to this rather disastrous stay in town. I’m glad it ended this way.

I headed back to my hotel by Metro knowing that this is probably the last time I will ever be in Madrid again, probably all of Spain. Life’s too short. Food is fabulous but I don’t need this type of aggravation. There’s a big ol’ world out there, and every place has to sell itself to me for me to return. I gave Spain 4 chances over the years, Madrid 2 of them, and each time it’s been a dismal failure to convince me to come back.

Adiós, Madrid. Adiós, España.

La prossima?

Taberna San Fermín de Puerta Cerrada
Calle de Gómez de Mora 1

Can Punyetes
Calle de los Señores de Luzon 5

Casa Lucio
Calle Cava Baja 35

Rafa
Calle de Narváez 68
Madrid, España

Madrid’s Turning Quite Awf…Erm…I Mean Offal…

9-11 April 2015

When I arrived in Madrid one of my priorities is to find foods I cannot easily find elsewhere, especially back in the States. I know madrileños love to each just about everything, and during my short time here, while limping around, I wanted to get as much of it as I could.

After I first arrived in town I didn’t anticipate having to limp (thanks to that moron on the Iberia flight, as I chronicled earlier) around, so the first day I went to lunch at a nearby restaurant called Lakuntza. I chose to stay in the bar area and had an interesting lunch. After a rather uninteresting potato salad and some wine, my first item appeared.

1-Revuelto de gambas y caviar de erizo

Hmmm…not quite what I expected. Revuelto for this restaurant seems to be more starchy than the usual egg dish… But this was interesting as it covererd a nice portion of shrimp and sea urchin. Mix it all together it was okay. I would honestly have preferred a more traditional revuelto rather than the Argentinian version

2-Delicias de solomillo al ajillo

The second dish was beef sirloin with ample garlic. I liked the garlic and this place specialises in beef, and it was pretty darn good — but oily.

I enjoyed the meal but was a little hungry still so ordered a plate of jamon. I won’t subject you to a picture as it was probably the worst tasting ham I’ve ever had. Do NOT order anything that’s not Pata Negra in Spain; there’s no reason for it. I could have sliced my arm off with some pieces of this ham…

I limped back to my hotel and later that evening had my little exploration in the Retiro district. The next day began a bit disastrous having slept little (again, refer to the previously-linked entry). It got worse as I got into an argument over photography with a member of the Guardia Civil. I do admit my Castillian is much better than I thought it was…

I was an unhappy chappie when I ventured to the venerable Casa Alberto for lunch. This place has apparently been here since 1827, during the second reign of Fernando VII (after restoration from the Napoleonic anomaly). I stood at the bar enjoying some wine and some house chicharrón when I ordered a larger dish. I went to sit down as this would take a bit of time to eat…

oreja

Wow…now this is awesome. A huge bowl of braised pigs ears. This is totally awesome. It’s much softened after a lenghthy cooking session; I usually enjoy the crunchiness of these treats but this is an excellent preparation. Lovely stuff that I can’t get elsewhere! In fact, the only place I’ve seen this dish reproduced in the US is, well, my kitchen a few days ago!

I enjoyed this so much and still had a bit more room in my stomach — and knowing I need to hold out until the ridiculously late dining hours for dinner — I ordered more food. The restaurant was now full and full of teutonic tourists, all seemingly intrigued by my first dish and even more by what appeared…

caracoles

Yep, caracoles. Madrileños love their snails as do I. This was a huge dish in a similar tomato base. Honestly these were wee bitter, but this was a voluminous dish. The same tourists were mesmirised watching me expertly remove these treats from the shell with just toothpicks, not dirtying my hands once.

I was full and left this 188-year-old restaurant happily. Later that night I would revisit caracoles at Viridiana, and they were much better to be honest, but the oreja will live on in my mind…

The next day, after a slightly better sleep, I had a less busy day it being Saturday. I made my way a bit south of the central area as I wanted to be as far away from the Bernabéu as possible (Real Madrid at home in the afternoon). I made my way to a place that is famous for its offal, Freiduria de Gallinejas.

I walked into the unpretentious fry shop and was not sure what to have, seeing so many wiggly treats behind glass, so the proprietor fried up a sample for me. Then I knew how good it was — and I ordered. Turn away if you don’t like offal…

Entresijos y zarajos

Wow, what a dish. This comprised of entresijos, fried lamb large intestines, and zarajos, the small intestines wrapped into a ball. They were fried expertly and were amazingly tasty. No way I can find this in the US made in this way. They actually didn’t have their namesake that day (chicken intestines), but I was more than content with this rustic and hard-to-find item!

I took a long, hard walk after this oily and unhealthy lunch and nowhere as appropriate for this stroll as a large, sprawling cemetery… That night I had the utterly amazing but horribly frustrating dinner at Álbora. I was missing the entresijos and the simplicity throughout that exhausting dining experience…

I had one more full day in Madrid and I have explored a lot of good food. Frankly, the lunches at the simple places were honest and good — the Madrid I really enjoy. Shame about the other parts…

Next up, the final day…

Lakuntza
Calle del General Díaz Porlier 97

Casa Alberto
Calle de Las Huertas 18

Freiduria de Gallinejas
Calle de Embajadores 84
Madrid, España

Review: Álbora

11 April 2015

Had a somewhat frustrating day in Madrid, as my aforementioned bad luck with Spain has not changed, despite last night’s fine Viridiana dinner. I had a good but simple lunch (to be chronicled later). My foot was still bruised and swollen, so it was annoying to walk too much. Nevertheless I walked quite a lot all afternoon, stupidly you may say…

I rested in my hotel a bit before heading out to dinner. I have read many great things about Álbora and its cooking. The downstairs is a tapas bar, but the upstairs is a 1-Michelin dining room. I had booked a table in advance an was really looking forward to this dinner from everything I’ve heard.

I got there at the restaurant’s opening hour of 20:30 (8:30pm) like most places in Madrid. But it was total chaos. They had no idea when they could seat me because they were not ready — on a Saturday night. I almost walked out after waiting for 15 minutes. It’s not like they were waiting for other people to finish. It was opening time!

I wasn’t seated until half hour later — in an empty dining room. Utterly ridiculous. I was so turned off I almost chose a quicker option to leave, but I heard so much about the food here, and the big tasting menu looked fantastic, so I went for it.

I asked if they did a wine pairing and they said not really but they will figure something out for me. Hmmm, that’s odd. Maybe I should have just gotten a bottle…but it’s hard with an 11-course tasting menu… I relaxed as some more diners showed up, but it was still only half full when the first dish arrived.

01-truffle_broth

The first small tasting was a black truffle broth. Very nice tasting, a fine start to this dinner. I can see the kitchen’s talents at work already.

02-smoked_sardine

The second dish was centred on smoked sardine, which boasted a distinct and nice taste that went along with a tinge of coconut, ginger and beets. Interesting, brought the fish out nicely.

I relaxed a bit over the excellent food, but was getting annoyed at the “improvised” wine “pairing” when the servers all disappear for 10 minutes at a time. There seems to be major miscommunication among staff members… I tried to focus on the food as the third item came out.

03-morcilla_lamb_puff

This was a very nice crispy bread wrap of morcilla and lamb’s feet. Nice, though the crispy bread kind of took away the full flavour of the interesting filling. Good nevertheless.

04-cuttlefish_pasta

The fourth dish was something that I’ve had in a few different places, including London’s much loved Hedone — cuttlefish pasta (cuttlefish cut into pasta). This version had it in a delicious squid broth with a touch of spiciness. Very good, I like the flavours used here, not trying to mesh too many different ideas into one dish. Excellent dish!

So far I am loving the food, but the service is messy. One of the junior servers had the most dour-looking expression I’ve seen since Moscow 1992, totally off-putting; it’s like she rather be anywhere but here. The main server kept disappearing for lengthy periods, returning somewhat confused to figure out my wine situation. That was getting annoying.

05-monkfish_liver_razor

Then the next dish arrived, and it was a wonder. This dish focused on monkfish liver and razor clam, with a touch of licorice. Fantastic dish, excellent combination of flavours. A strong dish, the star of the night so far. This kitchen is damn good, I tell you.

After this the next dish came out quicker than anticipated, and I asked them for wine — and the next dish really needed wine. The dour-faced server just shrugged and walked away…huh? What just happened there? I asked in both Castillian and English so no excuses…

06-cod_tripe

This was a fabulous cod tripe dish. I love this dish, and this was done very well. Tangy and heavy. But it really, really, REALLY, REALLY needed wine. I was livid and no one bothered as much as I signalled to them. The main server had disappeared again… I ended up finishing the dish and gave the servers an angry look. This is ridiculous for any restaurant, nevermind somewhere with a Michelin star and not very busy… This poor service is taking away from the fabulous food…

07-monkfish_ink

The next dish is a fabulous-looking dish, monkfish glazed with ink. The ink gave the monkfish a wonderful additional flavour. Excellent! The main server had returned and seemed confused which course I was on as he had to take one of the bottles he was gonna pour back… This is just laziness… Fabulous food, absolutely crap service…

I think he got the message as he came back with the next wine quickly here before the next dish appeared…

08-veal_sweetbreads

Wow… Now these were some of the very best veal sweetbreads I’ve ever had. I’m not usually a sweetbread fan, but these were just absolutely gorgeous, melt-in-your-mouth stuff. I’d eat sweetbreads every day if I had these. Wow… Goodness the food was fabulous, but what is with the FoH?

09-cabezada_iberica

The final savoury dish was another beauty, the cabezada (head of the loin) from an Iberico pig. This was tasty and rich, but once again the wine was missing until I was about half way done. I was really sick of this place despite how amazing the food was…

10-violet_cubes

I barely took notice of the “cubos de violeta” dessert as I was just ticked off at this stage. It takes quite a lot of grief to make me annoyed with this amazing display of food and cooking, but this FoH has done it. It’s really made this a terrible evening.

11-pistachio_coffee

The food closed with a pistachio cream in coffee. I asked for the bill once this arrived, not wanting to wait forever afterwards and get more worked up. I left quickly and walked out of this place for the first and last time.

To be honest, this was one of the best tasting menus I’ve had. The cooking was utterly fantastic, the ingredients wonderful; this is an amazing kitchen! But I have rarely been so infuriated by the incompetence of the FoH, it just isn’t worth the grief. Sad. Seems like a curse with Madrid — blessed with ingredients and talent, but the attitude just works against everything. I was starting to tire of Madrid…

If there was an evening that just summed up Madrid for me, it’s this one. Oh, what an incredible shame…

Álbora
Calle de Jorge Juan 33
Madrid, España

Review: Viridiana

10 April 2015

My first full day in Madrid was somewhat productive, despite still not walking well thanks to that idiot on the Iberia flight. I had a nice lunch (which I will chronicle in a different post) and was looking forward to a fine dinner at one of Madrid’s best-known restaurants, Viridiana.

From Chef Abraham García’s kitchen have emerged many of Madrid and Spain’s top chefs, including the enfant terrible of Madrid’s food scene David Muñoz (chef of 3-Michelin DiverXO — which, btw, has an unfair ticketing system that refuses to book single diners…). I was actually excited to check this place out, to see from where all this talent sprung.

I really hate this very late eating time in Spain, but I managed — getting there at it opened. I was seated in the downstairs dining area and relaxed as I watched the place slowly fill up this Friday evening. And just my luck, another table of American pensioners with a lot of opinions were placed next to me. Why me?!

As I endured their nauseating conversation I ordered my rather unorthodox dinner and tried to chill out with some wine. Eventually they brought out the first amuse bouche, the gazpacho.

AB1-gazpacho

This is one of Chef García’s specialties, this version with strawberries and anchovies. Fabulous, one of the very best gazpachos I’ve ever had, and really sells the concept of this soup. I was one of the very few people not cold in Madrid this evening, so it worked great.

AB2-tartar

A second amuse of carpaccio was on the boring side. Oh well, I was looking forward to my dishes anyway, as I want to eat a lot since I was hungry. Had more wine as there was almost no signal downstairs, forcing me to listen to the idiots talk about their inane lives… Then my salvation…

1-caracoles

Yes, caracoles — my favourites. I love these things. This was a fantastic large portion, the snails cooked perfectly. I enjoyed each one as if it was the last, but did not waste too much bread on this sauce — as good as it was. That will be explained later. This was the voluminous part of the dinner, after all… Excellent, and I got everyone’s attention in the dining room with this dish.

I enjoyed more wine as the snails ran out, and ate the final one with some sadness. Fantastic stuff. I chilled out with more wine getting ready for my second dish, for which I saved a lot of bread…

2a-marrow

Yep, bone marrow. These babies were fabulously rich, roasted perfectly. I rarely eat this much marrow because bread has a habit of filling me up too much, but this was the meal!

Untitled

Fantastic! Perhaps not the most creative of orders, but the stomach won today.

Throughout the meal García came out to greet guests, and every time he walked past me he nodded with understanding watching me eat, and I returned the greeting with appreciation (in my broken Castillian). By the third time he actually patted me on the shoulder as he walked by.

I relaxed and finished my bottle of house white, still revelling in the rich flavours of the 2 dishes. As I relaxed, I also did the staff a big favour — I helped them with some translations of today’s specials that they had trouble explaining in English. I guess I earned my daily bread.

3-fruits

I ordered a dessert to soothe my over-stimulated stomach and it was a nice, natural one. It was some gelato and an assortment of exotic fruits. Excellent end to this meal.

I headed out of Viridiana pretty happy, having enjoyed some excellent natural flavours with just enough touch by García. Finally, a fabulous dinner in Madrid. Was my luck changing? Let’s hope so…

Viridiana
Calle de Juan de Mena 14
Madrid, España

Bar-Limping in Madrid…

9 April 2015

I had such a wonderful time in Lisbon, especially that fabulous dinner at Cervejaria da Esquina, I didn’t really want to leave, but Madrid was beckoning. I’ve not had good experiences my previous times in Spain, including Madrid. And as I arrived into Barajas on the short flight I had a strange feeling…why?

Before I even got off the Iberia flight two things already went wrong — I had to pay for my checked bag (for a national carrier?), and on the plane waiting to disembark some clueless, extremely calorically-challenged moron stepped on my foot (with all his gravitational excess) and didn’t notice even after I yelled… I limped to a taxi and faced a ridiculously smoky hotel room — which I got changed, but had to wait (so I limped to lunch nearby).

Not a good start…

So when I thought about dinner for this evening I didn’t know exactly what to do, but I was just gonna play it by ear. I hate being around tourists and Madrid is lousy with them, so I chose the quieter district of Retiro for my gastronomical adventures.

I limped around at what is for me a normal dining hour but way, way too early for Spain, and most places were not functional. I eventually went into one of the first places that opened, a place called La Hoja.

This unpretentious Asturian restaurant was just what I wanted — simple, specialised, full of locals. I enjoyed some white chilling out at the bar, and they brought some house tapas. Ordinary stuff, including some nice chicharrón, but mostly boring stuff. I then decided I need to fuel up with the wine drinking, so I ordered some callos.

callos

Tripe is a specialty all over Spain, but the Asturian version is very nice and tangy. Only problem was this was a huge portion. I forgot how big the raciones are in Spain… I was pretty full when I finished and took my leave.

I limped about 2 blocks and went to another region of Spain when I found the well-loved Galician eatery, O Grelo. Now I love Galician food (not just the Portuguese links), but my “local” in NYC for so many years, El Pote, is helmed by Galicians.

I chilled out at the bar and with my wine again they presented a house tapa that I could easily live without. I wanted something interesting, so I ordered cockles. After some more wine, a huge dish of it presented itself. These were very nice, with the briny sea in every bite.

cárdidos

I finished and headed out, having enjoyed this stop. I was filling up, and my foot was killing me (what’s the bad luck always with my foot?!), so I decided to make only one more stop before heading in. I walked a few blocks and found the well-liked seafood restaurant Rafa.

I had some wine and this time they just presented olives…thank goodness. I was so full and wanted to eat more, but that callos really just took all the steam out of me this evening. So all I ordered was a plate of mojama. Now these were nice but nothing exciting…

Mojama de atún de almadraba

I’ve had much, much better ones… Oh well, I think I had enough this evening. I made my way back to the Metro and back to the hotel, as I had a busy day tomorrow. Let’s hope my Spain luck changes, but from what I’ve seen this first day…

La Hoja
Calle del Doctor Castelo 48

O Grelo
Calle Menorca 39

Rafa
Calle de Narváez 68
Madrid, España

End note: No, it didn’t. I had to deal with an adjacent room of teenagers drinking in their room and making ridiculous noise until nearly 4.30am when even the management lost patience with them. Ugh…