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

Madrid: Your Tapas Cheat Sheet

It’s a good thing Andalusians invented ‘little plates.’

Not only do they ‘comen las palabras’
with their easy going accent, but I’d also be fifteen pounds heavier…
and broke.

Believe it or not, debate still surrounds the birth of tapas. One story says that a 13th-century doctor instructed Castilian king Alfonso X El Sabio to eat several small meals a day with wine (wish mine told me the same). Voila! Tapas was born. Later, in the 17th-century classic Don Quixote, Cervantes refers to “llamativos” or “lures” as small plates designed to arouse hunger or thirst. These days, the most commonly accepted story is that tapas originated in 19th century Andalusia. Small saucers in the taverns were set over wine glasses to keep the scent in and the buzzing flies out.

Eventually, some smartie pants hit upon the idea that free food placed on top of saucers would increase bar sales. Today, tapas are rarely free, but there’s often an honor system involved. You pay by the empty plates you’ve counted or the toothpicks left in your hand. There are more than a thousand varieties in every region, city, and bar in Spain so this week… it’s all about tapas, mi tia.

While dealing with my favorite travel PR folks in NYC, I was informed of a little company like no other. Offering a nighttime tapas tour of Madrid, the select few could buy the right to become privy to the Tapas World’s greatest secrets. Adventurous Appetites, led by one tapas-loving die hard Euro, gives a gastronomic tour of Madrid’s little plate scene, taking visitors off the tourist track to experience the authentic side of Madrileño and Spanish socializing, while eating and drinking to your heart’s content. To make the process even easier, if you book a room at the InterContinental Madrid, they’ll arrange it all for you.

As James Fraser, Head Honcho of Adventurous Appetites, says: ‘Madrid can be a bit intimidating and particularly if you don’t speak the lingo – you end up walking past a bar teeming with noisy Spaniards and don’t feel brave enough to go in, whereas the next bar is empty and you don’t want to go in. Adventurous Appetites shows you the sort of thing you should be looking for and gives you the confidence to go off and explore on your own. We even leave you a list of vocab and suggestions on places to try.’ Well, Fraser can’t give away ALL his secrets, but he has warmly decided to open up to Jaunt Magazine and share a few gems with you.

Queso Cabrales: Blue cheese from a village in the Asturian region. Originally, each family according to its status in the village had the right to put a certain number of cheeses per year in the cheese cave where these cheeses are matured.

Jamón: Spanish ham. The famous Spanish cured ham is like Italian prosciutto, though not as sweet. Quality from cheapest t most expensive are: Serrano, Ibérico, Ibérico de Bellota, Pata Negra.

Queso Manchego: Typical Spanish cheese. Types include: curado, mature, semi-curado (milder)

Morcilla: Black pudding aka. blood sausage (for the uninformed: that’s sausage made by cooking pig or cattle blood with a filler like meat, fat, suet, bread, barley, or oatmeal until it’s thick enough to congeal when cooled… yummmmmm)

Callos: A traditional Madrid stew of tripe cooked with tomato, chorizo, and black pudding.

Mojama:
Cured tuna; a fishy version of Jamón

Cocido Madrileño:
A typical Madrid stew of chickpeas cooked with a bit of ham, black pudding, chorizo, chicken, turnip, carrot, cabbage. It is traditionally served in 3 stages. First a broth made from the juices, then the vegetables, then you finish off with the meat.

Boquerones en vinagre:
Fresh anchovies, covered with vinegar. This “cooks” them. Then, they’re sprinkled with garlic, parsley and olive oil. Eaten cold, they’re completely different from the salty things on top of pizzas people usually think of when you say anchovies.

Pulpo a la Gallega: Octopus, usually served on a bed of boiled potatoes and sprinkled with sea salt and paprika.

Tostas: Pieces of toasted bread with delicious toppings. In the Basque country and Basque bars in Madrid these types of nibbles are called pintxos and traditionally they have a cocktail stick stuck in them and you would help yourself before paying for the number of cocktail sticks you have in your hand when you leave.

Sherry:

Fino: Dry, drunk chilled with as aperitif and with white fish.

Manzanilla: Very similar to fino but from Sanlucar de Barrameda. Dry, drink chilled with as aperitif and with white fish and during Feria de Sevilla with 7-up (rebujito) which is very palatable, but boy… does it give you a hangover!

Amontillado: More like what the Brits drink in the UK and people in the US cook with, but still very dry. Drink chilled with consommés and white meat.

Oloroso: Much rounder, heavier, winier flavour. Drink with red meat and game.

Palo Cortado: Between Amontillado and Oloroso. Mahogany coloured, still nutty but got wine flavour

Red Wine: Tapas Guru, James Fraser, owner of Adventurous Appetites in Madrid, likes the red wines from the area Ribera del Duero (more than the Rioja which is generally accepted by visitors as the Spanish wine). It comes from the area around the river Duero which turns into the river Douro as it goes through Portugal before reaching the sea in Oporto, where the Portuguese make the port wines. A really good, heavy, full-bodied, meat eaters wine.

Pacharan: An after-dinner digestivo to make the food go down. Made from sloe berries and slightly like anisette.

Fraser suggests the following for sit-down eating:

El BOTíN – C/ Cuchilleros 17, Madrid. Tel (0034) 91 366 4217. http://www.casabotin.es
The oldest restuarant in the world per Guinness book of records. Not overly expensive. Speciality: suckling pig. Must book.

MACEIRAS – C/ Huertas 66, Madrid
A very typical Galician restaurant, seated on wooden stools and drinking refreshing white wine out of bowls. Great seafood. Try the clams in an Albariño sauce. Very good value. Cash only. Don’t expect great service but the atmosphere is well worth it.

Gathered from James, and two other inside sources, here’s a list of where to tapas:

LA LATINA – An area full of terraces to sit out and people watch over a beer

CALLE CAVA BAJA (in La Latina) – A street perfect for bar-hopping as full of bars and restaurants.

El TEMPRANILLO (C/ Cava Baja 38, Madrid) – For a great selection of wine and tostadas (pieces of toasted bread topped with wild mushrooms, ham, partridge, etc.

El TXACOLI (C/ Cava Baja 42, Madrid) – A Basque bar for a refreshing glass of white wine (Txacoli) and pintxos, a wide selection of different tapas to choose from, laid out on the bar.

MATRITUM (Cava Alta, 17)
Try the tomato bread with slices of Jamón Iberico and croquettes stuffed with jamón. Drink: Viñas del Vero Syrah.

CASA DE AMADEO (Plaza Cascorro, 18)
Excellent Pimientos de Padrón (small fried Galician green peppers with sea salt), snails in a paprika broth, calf sweetbreads sauted in olive oil and lots of garlic, navajas (razor clams). Grab un caña (a little glass) of Mahou beer and remember why you came here.

LA CASTELA (Doctor Castela, 22)
Don’t miss the fried chistorra sausages with french fries, chipirones encebolladas (small calamari with sauted onions, drizzled with olive oil and squid ink!!), un pincho de bacalao with tomato foam. Drink the Albariño (a tart white from northwest Spain) y “Venga!”

RETINTO (Calle Alonso Cano, 38. Madrid Tel: 914 423 419 Metro Stops: Alonso Cano or Rios Rosas
You won’t see any tourists in here. I read about this ditty online. Apparently, away from Plaza Mayor, Calle Ponzano and its surrounding streets hold several tapas bars with an authentic Madrileno feel. As a free tapa with your drink you may be served little “empanadillas” or maybe the pickled garlic which is in a huge bowl on the counter. Try the Cabrales cheeses with anchovies and avocado, Torta del Casar, and grilled foie with Pedro Ximenez.

End the night on chocolate at:

CHOCOLATERIA SAN GINES (Pasadizo San Gines 5) – Open all through the night till 7am. The place to have chocolate and churros (gloopy melted chocolate and deep-fried doughnut twists)

If you want to know even more under-the-radar novelties, tell James I sent you and book a one-night tour with the foodies who know best.

http://www.adventurousappetites.com

PS. Don’t blame me if you gain 15 pounds. Pace yourself, ya fiend. That’s why they’re called ‘Little Plates.’