This week, Writer/Director Alejandro Cachoúa takes us to Madrid where he tells us all about the treats (and torments) of hot Spanish nightlife and high-end cuisine. A graduate of USC Film School and a native of Mexico City, Cachoúa resides in Los Angeles, D.F., and Cancun. When he’s not developing riveting dark comedies or action adventures, this Latin import spends his time galavanting around the globe for our readers and the many men and women that he calls friends. His film, El Tio Facundo, just won the 2008 Best Short Film at the Guadalajara Film Festival and he’s currently in pre-production on a full-length feature adaptation. As our prized Contributor, there are few more discerning or adventurous than Cachoúa, so fasten your seat belts… it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.
DoLike a Local
By Alejandro Cachoúa
Like most people living in LA, I’ve been spoiled by some of the world’s best sushi so, I’m always on the lookout for sushi places when I’m traveling, to the extent of which I sacrifice more fun fare just to satisfy my sushi addiction. Sometimes, it’s worth it. In Madrid’s case, I have mixed feelings. Most of the sushi places are okay, but they’re not always spectacular. When it comes to fine dining, whether it’s sushi or authentic Spanish cuisine, here are my two centavos.
First, I tried Ayala-Japón located in Ayala 67, which is average. It‘s not fancy, it has mostly spicy rolls, but it’s definitely a lively crowd on the weekends and could momentarily cure your sushi cravings.
There is also a very trendy place called Kabuki, which has a cool NYC feel to it, you feel okay dressing up and throwing down a few hondos on Sake. The sushi is original which, in this case, doesn’t always mean good. I mean, you have to give it to them for trying, but do we really need a sushi made to taste like Patatas Bravas? Or a wagyu burger sushi? Stop playing with your food, kids! But I have to say their nigiris are pretty decent since their fish is very fresh, and they have quite a different selection than back in the states. I would say this is where I have eaten the best sushi in Madrid, just be careful with their “creations”.
In terms of seafood, there is a new terraza open at the new Astrid & Gaston restaurant, which is incredibly nice, I had drinks there in the afternoon, but it seemed like the perfect place to have an outdoors dinner and feels very much like Paris. I have eaten at their other venues before (Bogota, Mexico City), and their Peruvian creations are great!
For the freshest Northern Spanish seafood I have found no better place than La Trainera. This is as old school as it gets for Madrid seafood: old and “to-the-point” waiters, lots of Madrid politicians, lots of smoke, terribly decorated with a boat theme, but you are there for the food, remember? A lot of locals complain about this place because of the final bill, but I find it is worth it to sample some of the best cigalas and the only place that still serves fresh angulas in town. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Calle Lagasca, 60
Tel. 91 576 8035
There is also a nice Mexican restaurant called Tepic, which is in the neighborhood of Chueca. I know when you are in Madrid you do not think mexican, but there is a large population of people from Mexico here, so if you are tired of tapas, give this place a shot. It is quite informal and they have a good bar. The area is known as sort of the Soho of Madrid.
If you are in the mood for Thai, Thai Gardens is pretty much the only place, it is nothing exciting but it’ll do the job. It‘s a nice restaurant (and not trendy as it feels like it was decorated in the eighties).
Every guide recommends a restaurant by chef Sergi Arola called Gastro, for Spanish nouvelle cuisine in the style of Ferrian Adriá, which I found to be very pretentious and boring. I’m a certified food snob and I heard that this was the place to eat in Madrid, but I regret to say… it is still far from what I expected. Do I really want three different types of salt? All I wanted was to get my dishes served with the right timing and, if not, I expect them to be superb, none of it was accomplished. The Rouget (Mullet) with swiss chard and fried sea cucumber, along with the steak stuffed with La fueya cheese and dark cherries was tasty, but I was very disappointed when the sommelier gave us no Spanish wines to try. Unbelievable! I got a full list of California wines, which I love, but c’mon, you must be able to surprise us with new boutique spanish wines, no?
Arola also has a new set of casual cafes called El Panino D’E which are actually very decent. It’s quiet, but they have a nice young urban crowd and modern decor. Their coca-pizzas, which are small gourmet pizzas, were original and tasty. Definitely give it a try for a quick snack, or easy dinner.
If you are looking for a place that has decent food and a nice young lively crowd on pretty much any given night in Madrid try Lateral, which is a simple unpretentious place. No dress code, mostly Madrileños and lots of cute girls. I believe now they have several locations, my favorite being the one at the Serrano neighborhood. It’s not a fancy place, but it always a good place to save your night when you have absolutely no plan. You’ll be sure to enjoy some original tapas and some cold beer. It is also open a little later than other restaurants and functions as a bar, as well.
I have tried relentlessly to have an early drink in Madrid (early for my standards means after lunch), and never had any luck. This is a late night city, and even during the summer everything, besides the obvious cafes-tapas bars, is either dead or supercrowded with tourists. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a late night junkie, just wished they would utilize so many of the beautiful places they have during the day. So for Madrid standards early drink is after dinner, so at around midnight.
Madrid is well known for their terrazas. This time I went to the downstairs terraza at the Hotel Puerta America Madrid, which had a very Miami feel to it, definitely a cool place to have a drink, but the crowd was disappointing. I found the upstairs bar to have a great view but again the same crowd, and it never really got happening on a Saturday night. This is the kind of place you bring your own party to.
Then there is the “now too typical for every city” Stark designed restaurant Ramses, which is also trendy and a little bit of an older crowd with some upscale tourists. The sushi is mediocre, but it’s a fun place to go have an early drink. I did not try their main menu, but I heard is ‘just okay’.
Also, if you just want to walk around and go bar-hopping, there is a street close to La Puerta del Sol full of small bars called Calle Huertas, it’s nothing fancy and very touristy, but always a fun walk if you have nothing else going on. Try the Mojitos at Samoa.
In terms of clubbing, Madrid is not known to have hot happening places, but rather, classic old school clubs that have lasted decades. Here it’s not so much about the trend, but more about tradition. Love it or leave it. And just like any big city, there are spots for the locals and spots for the tourists. On this trip I stayed with the locals. Here are some classic hangouts:
The place I always end up at is Fortuny, which is an old mansion turned into a nightclub with a nice summer terraza. On the second floor there is a small VIP if you want to avoid the over crowded bar. It is mainly a nice good-looking crowd of Madrileños and expatriates from Mexico City. Their playlist is mixed with alternative rock and spanish pop, some house later in the night. This place usually ends up turning into an all-night party, but then again, that might be my issue more than the place’s.
34 Fortuny, Alonso Martínez
There is also Gabana on Velázquez 6 which is actually next to Kabuki, it’s smaller than Fortuny and the crowd is older, dressier, still a pretty good spot.
If you are looking for house and electronica then a classic is Joy-Eslava, definitely a touristy place, but a classic indeed. You will find no locals there.
I usually try to stay away from the “after hours zombie crowd”, although I have to admit I’m usually part of it. My recommendation is to go to sleep. It’s not worth it, not in this town.
On Sundays during lunchtime, it is a tradition to go cure your ailments from a Saturday night’s debauchery at any of the many bars in the La Latina neighborhood. Just make sure you get enough rest between clubs, okay? You’ll need it since Madrid is a late, late night party place.
For other great ideas in Madrid, Jaunt also recommends the site: