Fine Spanish dining starts on my Iberia flight. In its vast kitchens in Madrid, Chef Luis Bonastre organizes 24,000 meals a day that make you “feel like Spain on a plane,” including free Spanish wines, even in Economy. Business Class fliers are spoiled with gazpacho; smoked halibut with orange, curly endive and sumac mayo; Iberian pork cheeks sauced with sherry, and a creamy Torta del Casar cheese pudding among its temptations.
Once I’d landed, San Gines was ready for me. It’s open 24 hours, and has been since 1894. The moment I’m off the plane, I head there for an antidote to jetlag (and anything else that ails you): hot chocolate, thick as fudge, and churros—donuts—to dip.
Next, on to San Miguel, a reincarnation of a time-treasured market, today housing classy stalls selling everything from Cava and caviar to mini-hamburguesas. Well fed, I head to camera-ready Plaza Mayor (former site of bullfights and burnings at the stake, today crammed with mimes, balloons and tapas bars). I join a free walking tour (www.madridapie.com) to explore the nearby Literary Quarter, just as Cervantes once did. We pass Restaurant Botin, harking back to 1728, (“the world’s oldest continuing restaurant,” claims its present director, Jose Gonzalez Gozalbo, as he pauses to gossip at our table that evening, adding that painter Goya had a day job here.
Dinner starred Botin’s legendary suckling pig and a free side of celebrity-watching (the King dines here, as did Hemingway). It’s proceeded by a mild-mannered garlic soup and followed by the dessert of your choice (forego the flabby flan for the fig concoction) on the 44 euro set menu.
Then, time to head for bed at the newly-opened Dear Hotel (I’m not kidding: That’s its real name, perhaps chosen for the food in its rooftop restaurant, Nice to Meet You. I’m not making that up, either). Highlight of a lovely lunch there was a fresh-tomato tartare crowned with Monte Enebro cheese and XO sauce. We also fell for the Galician ox burger with truffles, shiitakes and pistachios, abetted by housemade Valrhona ketchup and Albarino mustard. No slouch, that chef.
Finally, a shopping fling at El Corte Ingles, the Harrods of Spain (apply at the International Desk for a 10% discount card). Its Serrano district location showcases two floors dedicated to gastronomy, including tapas curated by three of Madrid’s Michelin-starred chefs. Highlights: bacon-wrapped chicken with green chili sauce; dumplings of pigs’ ear with strawberry hoisin sauce and aioli; a “club” sandwich of ricotta and quail egg; and coconut/violet sorbet with strawberries, honey rocks and violet marshmallows. Just say “Si.” By prior arrangement, the superstore now holds wine tastings, too.
— by Carla Waldemar, RFT Contributor