Madrid, Spain: An Insider’s Take on Food & Nightlife

Alejandro Cachoua Jaunt MagazineThis 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.

Do Madrid Like 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.

sushi restaurante-kabuki-madrid

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”.

http://www.restaurantkabuki.com

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!

Seafood Madrid La TraineraFor 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
28001 Madrid
Tel. 91 576 8035
Metro: Velázquez

Madrid Restaurants Restaurante TepicThere 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.

http://www.tepic.es

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?

Madrid Cheap Good Restaurants El Panino D'EArola 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.

http://www.elpaninode.com

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.

http://www.cadenalateral.es

EARLY DRINK:

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.

Hip Madrid Restaurants Ramses Starck Madrid SpainThen 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.

LATE DRINK:

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:

Bar Fortuny Madrid SpainThe 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
Madrid

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.

AFTER HOURS:

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.

NEXT DAY:

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:

http://www.good2b.es

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Los Roques, Venezuela: Diving & Sailing Adventures

Los Roques Venezuela Diving Honeymoon

Los Roques… every time I meet a spicy little Venezuelan they tell me, “Go to Los Roques!” Protected since 1972, the sexy archipelago, blocked by two reef barriers, one north to south and the other east to west, is an island chain popular among in-the-know South Americans and Europeans. Similar in size to the complete Northern Caribbean Virgin Islands, the water is a clear and varied range of bright blues, similar to the stunning shades found in the Marquesas and the Maldives. Highlighted by the white sands and deep greens of the mangrove swamps, it’s one of the last places where you can still see vibrant reef. There’s diving, sailing, and sport-fishing for bonefish (Macabi, Pez ratton), otherwise known as Lady Fish, the grey ghost of the shoals found in the tropical sea of Central America, the Caribbean and Florida coasts, and numerous keys provide a variety of marine settings – sand beaches, rock beaches with strong surf, bays with still water, coastal reef or barrier, lagoons and salt mines.

The best accommodations are the Posadas. Posadas belonging to the local inhabitants or former fishermen’s wives are usually more simple and inexpensive with intermediate Posadas (remodeled houses) and top of the line Posadas that are incredible blends international architecture and dinner time is always quite an event, planned during the day and living up to Latin hospitality.

This is a great site for accommodations on boat or land. Since the island chain is small, food and dining are readily available and easy to spot!

http://www.los-roques.com

http://www.losroques.org

The Pyramids of Giza: A Unique Fairmont Experience

We’re all living in de-Nile, but we’re not always lapping champagne at her shores. So, in an effort to walk like an Egyptian, we sniffed out this awesome adventure. We’re so down with Ahkenaten, you have no idea.

Pyramids of GizaCheck this one out: The new Global Explorer Series from Fairmont Hotels & Resorts and the National Geographic Society has only one exciting event left for 2009, which they say is ‘guaranteed to be unforgettable.’ Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary-General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (the same man selected by Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to accompany President Obama to the Pyramids earlier this year) will also be on hand to host guests of Fairmont and the National Geographic Society.  As part of Fairmont’s commitment to responsible tourism and the environment, this series offers a fantastic way to interact with a destination and culture in an authentic and unique way.

The Wonder With One Of The Seven Wonders package promises ‘a deeper understanding of Egypt,’ one of history’s most captivating cultures, and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to engage with a celebrated National Geographic expert while learning about the legendary archeological sites he has studied for decades.

Luxury Hotels Cairo - Fairmont Nile City

Running November 27-30, 2009, it features one night at Fairmont Towers, Heliopolis and two nights at Fairmont Nile City with breakfast and dinner; a full day tour of the Great Pyramids of Giza and Saqqara; a guided tour of the Cairo Museum, Nile Felucca ride and a dinner lecture with Dr. Zahi Hawass, who has spend 20-plus years working to shed light on the mystery that surrounds the Great Pyramids.  Discoveries made or supervised by Hawass include the “Valley of the Golden Mummies,” and two intact 5,000-year-old tombs near Cairo. During his lecture, Hawass will reveal secrets of the Great Pyramids by sharing some of his recent discoveries at Giza, including intriguing new details about King Tut revealed by groundbreaking CT scans.

Rates for the 3-night package start from $960/pp

http://www.fairmont.com/globalexplorer

The National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. Founded in 1888 to “increase and diffuse geographic knowledge,” the Society works to inspire people to care about the planet through its magazines, television programs, films, books, DVDs, exhibitions, school publishing programs, media and merchandise.

http://www.nationalgeographic.com

Ballroom Dancing With Crystal Cruises

Ballroom Dancing with Crystal Cruises

We once got swept off our feet.  We’ll never forget it.  The moon was just so… the stars were out in droves.  So Jaunt says, “Get swept off your feet too.”  We don’t know about you, but when we go on a vacay, we love a good learning experience.  Anything involving art, yoga, wellness, and dance… well, we’re there!  We also thought, ‘Is there really a better place to learn ballroom dancing than on a moving cruise ship in the middle of the open sea?’

Of course not!  It just makes sense. This November, Crystal Cruises is offering something a little bit sweet, a little bit… dance to the beat with a Dance-themed Transatlantic voyage. Keep in mind, the median age of the Transatlantic Voyages is about 50 + so this is the perfect trip for early retirees and grandparents who can still shake a leg.  We also think it would be a pretty fun, campy experience to share with, say, your parents and your honey. We smell a father/husband/mother/wife couples trip!

Whaddya say, Matey?

By day, you’ll have dance classes with professional dancers, afternoon tea dances, and even, get this… a presentation from Town & Country editor Janet Carlson about her book, “How Ballroom Dancing Saved My Life.”  Evenings offer more dancing and performances, with extra Ambassador Hosts for guests in need of dance partners (single cougars, anyone?).

The 10-day cruise aboard Crystal Serenity departs November 12, from Lisbon to Miami.  Guests on the preceding Barcelona-Lisbon itinerary can extend their vacations with the southern Atlantic cruise back to the U.S., and enjoy extra back-to-back cruise savings.

Crystal SerenityCrystal’s exclusive Creative Learning Institute will also feature added classes including Yamaha music classes and Berlitz language classes. Also aboard this cruise: an auction of unique, exclusive experiences benefitting the Five & Alive charity, of which Crystal is a founding partner.  Auction experiences include a cameo appearance in one of Crystal’s elaborate production shows or as co-host of the Morning Show, private Bridge tour with the Captain himself, and a private wine tasting and tour of the ship’s vastwine cellar with the head sommelier.  The cruise visits Lisbon, Miami, Punta Delgada, the Azores; and Turks& Caicos; Grand Turk.

Value Collection fares start at $3,165 per person, double occupancy, including a $500 per person ‘All Inclusive – As You Wish’ shipboard credit and Crystal Family Memories amenities. 

Tel: 888-799-4625, or visit crystalcruises.com

Maine: Cheese-Making and Moose Safaris!

Cheese Making

Beer-brewing, cheese-making, mushroom foraging and moose safaris? Can I get a ‘Hell Yeah!” We just uncovered a new group of quaint outdoorsy adventures that tickled our fancy (and our adventure bone).  Select Registry is an elite network of 400 award-winning inns, luxury B&Bs and boutique hotels in and around major destinations across North America with scenic retreats throughout the U.S. and Canada. Members offer travel experiences as unique as the inns themselves – from hands-on cheese-making and beer-brewing on property to moose safaris, mushroom foraging, Native American drum circles, and fall foliage tours. Many members offer weekday deals and packages, perfect for long weekends and road-trips.  Below are two from properties in Maine that are next on our To Do List.

Hartstone Inn Maine Bed & Breakfast

  • Mushroom foraging tour at Hartstone Inn (Camden, Maine) – Part of Select Registry’s ‘Fun for Foodies Vacations’ program, Hartstone Inn’s guided mushroom hunt takes place in the picturesque Camden Hills State Park. Guests forage through wooded trails with an expert mushroom hunter to uncover Porcini, Hen of the Woods, Chicken of the Woods and many other wild varieties. During the two-hour excursion, participants learn to identify and distinguish edible species of mushrooms from those best left untouched. This unique tour is priced at $75 for one guest, and $15 for each additional participant.

Maine Outdoor Adventure Moose Safari

  • Moose Safari at The Lodge at Moosehead Lake (Greenville, Maine). Guests get a private canoe trip into the back country of Maine’s North Woods, home to the largest moose population in the continental U.S. Personal guides navigate the lake’s shoreline to provide up-close views of moose and other wildlife. Prime moose sightings take place May through July, but also last long into October and trips depart twice daily in the early morning and afternoon. Cost for two people is $225, which includes transportation to the moose habitat and canoe equipment, as well as a Safari Box breakfast and Moose-A-Lix trail mix for afternoon adventures.

So what are you waiting for? The moose to come to you?

Select Registry

www.selectregistry.com

The Hartstone Inn

http://www.hartstoneinn.com

The Lodge at Moosehead Lake

http://www.lodgeatmooseheadlake.com

Russia: Top 10 Things to See and Do in St. Petersburg

Russian Caviar Bar St. PetersburgRussia has brought us so many wonderful things. Vodka, banyas, caviar, and leggy dames who strut with the likes of Gisele (and make us momentarily believe that three days at the gym might transform us into one too).

So, as a tribute to our heritage, we wanted to give our readers a cheat sheet of Things to See and Do in St. Petersburg, a destination known for her stunning gardens and opulent monuments.

White Nights is reason enough. And no, we’re not talking about Baryshnikov in white tights (but now we’re thinking about him). We’re talking about those long summer days.  With her network of canals and baroque architecture, you’ll feel like you’ve landed in the Europe of Russia.  With art galleries, classical concerts, and a decidedly beatnik flair, St. Petersburg is one of the most interesting destinations in the world.

Luxury Hotel St. Petersburg Russia Grand Hotel Europe

1. For opulence, stay at Orient-Express’ Grand Hotel Europe, located in the heart of St. Petersburg. Recently completing an extensive restoration project to 10 of its historic suites. Each suite has its own original interior that reflects the rich history of both the hotel and St. Petersburg. From Pavarotti to Romanov, their suites were named and inspired by famous Russians and guests who left their mark on the hotel. Each suite has windows overlooking the picturesque center of St. Petersburg – Arts Square, with its monument dedicated to the great poet, Alexander Pushkin. Don’t forget to hitch a ride on the Katarina, a luxury yacht owned by the hotel, that will take you on a water view ride of the sights.  Dating back to the 1820s, the Grand Hotel Europe is classified as a national and cultural landmark and is under a preservation order as a historical monument.

http://www.grandhoteleurope.com

2. The Caviar Bar & Restaurant at the Grand Hotel Europe also offers a true taste of fine Russian cuisine, an extensive selection of caviar, and a superb selection of domestic and imported vodkas (they even have a vodka sommelier!). The finest vodkas are served crisp and cold – the perfect accompaniment to an assortment of caviar, smoked fish, blini and dried black bread. You can also try out Tolstiy Fraer, a Russian pub, for classic Russian food, from beef stroganoff to dumplings, you can’t go wrong.

1 Kirpichny Pereulok, St. Petersburg

3. In the off-season, for those on a budget, other relatively expensive hotels can be affordable, like the Petro Palace Hotel and the Hotel Pushka Inn. Both are located near Palace Square and St. Isaac’s Cathedral.  Rooms as low as 2,500 rubles in the winter.

www.petropalacehotel.comwww.pushkainn.ru

St. Petersburg Gardens Letniy Sad4. Letniy Sad (Gardens). The most amazing thing about the gardens are the stunning statues. Perfect in the summer, you’ll even spot swans courting in the lake.

5. Dvortsovaia Ploshchad (Palace Square). Okay, so this square was the site f some rather famous uprisings like Bloody Sunday in 1905, when when confused palace guards opened fire on peaceful demonstrators. Today, a beautiful area lined by the Winter Palace and the sweeping majesty of the General Staff building, this square is one of the world’s most impressive inner-city areas. Like Red Square in Moscow, during the Revolution of October 1917, the alleged “storming” of the Winter Palace was also launched from this square.

Winter Palace Night

6. The Winter Palace of Peter. Located on the Neva, this was the principle residence of Peter the Great, and  he died here in 1725. A view into the Versailles of St. Petersburg.

http://www.hermitagemuseum.org

7. Yusupov Palace, Yelagin Palace…. more spectacular palaces…

8. While you’re at it, check out Art Vokzal, an industrial space and club for experimental art and music.

http://www.artvokzal.ru

St. Petersburg Russia Nightlife

9. For authentic Russian nightlife (just be prepared, dance clubs are for the youth, da), there are a slew of clubs.  Belgrad, Bridge Lounge, Che, Datscha, Fish Fabrique, and Sinners (the long-standing gay club, complete with stripteases!)  The list of bars and clubs is endless and some seem to open and close frequently, but we found this handy site for nightlife, written by travelers from Russia:

http://www.waytorussia.net

10. For the theater, Akimova Comedy Theatre and Alexandrinksy Theatre are top notch architectural gems and perfect venues to see both modern and classic works. Can I get a Swan Lake?  Yes, you can! The good thing about ballet?  It doesn’t matter what language it’s in.

NYC’s Best Pizza Cheat Sheet

We’re not going to screw around.  In our quest to find the ultimate slice, we wanted to introduce you to… our NYC Best Pizza Cheat Sheet.

New York City's Best PizzaAdmit it, there are so many joints in New York City, it’ll make your head spin. We wanted to make it easy.  So here’s a best pizza list not to be missed… from the village to the boroughs.

Pizza Mezzaluna

146 W. HOUSTON WEST VILLAGE, NY  10012

With artisanal Neapolitan pizza using the freshest ingredients in innovative combinations, these slices are made by authentic pizzaiolos from Italy (yum) and cooked by wood-fire in their brick oven. It’s been named a Critic’s choice by The New York Times and deemed ‘consistently excellent.’

Lombardi’s

32 SPRING ST 
NEW YORK, NY 10012

The oldest pizzeria in the US. Lombari’s was originally a grocery when, in 1905, they began serving pizza. Need we say more? This is a New York institution and they know how to do it right. Now getouttaheah.

John’s Pizzeria

278 BLEECKER ST 
NEW YORK, NY 10014

Can you believe these mofo’s have been around since 1929? Serving the same thin-crust pizzas from the same old recipe. Like a fine wine, pizza recipes only get better with age.

Patsy’s Pizza

2287 1ST AVE 
NEW YORK, NY 10035

Okay, the place is run or trained by guys named Gennaro Lombardi and founder Pasquale “Patsy” Lancieri. It’s like the Godfather on dough.

Una Pizza Napoletana

349 E 12TH ST 
NEW YORK, NY 10003

Mellow, wood-fired, crisp and chewy. When you’re in the hood, do the wood.

Di Fara Pizzeria

1424 AVENUE J 
BROOKLYN, NY 11230

Motz, motz and more motz. Okay, that’s not really how you say it, but these thin-crust gems keep the BK dwellers happy. Loads of cheese, grated Padano and freshly cut basil. Some say it’s the best in NYC.

Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitano

1524 NEPTUNE AVE 
BROOKLYN, NY 11224

Neptune Avenue, baby! We love Brookie and we love Totonno’s original Coney Island location. This place has a crew of fans who are true pizza lovers.

Franny’s

295 FLATBUSH AVE 
BROOKLYN, NY 11217

Gotta love Park Slope with its sustainable attitude and co-op ways. The owners here use renewable energy, made up of 35% wind power and 65% small hydroelectric power.  This new spot keeps the neighbors happy by opting for farm-fresh and fancy-free.  We hear the pizzas aren’t very large (about the size of a large plate) and they don’t come cheap, but the ingredients are fresh, the cocktails unique, and the apps are said to make up for your over-the-top gluttonous cheese and dough cravings.

Lucali

575 HENRY ST 
BROOKLYN, NY 11231

They say Carroll Gardens is the place to get the pie. You be the judge. This newbie spot has seen the likes of Jay Z and Beyonce and offers flavorful brick-oven pies in a rustic setting. De-lish (but make sure you get there early and expect a wait). It’s also BYOB.