Rosengarten on Forbes: Hello Again, Madrid—Finding What’s New in What’s Old

Rosengarten on Forbes: Hello Again, Madrid—Finding What’s New in What’s Old 150 150 David Rosengarten

One can hardly descend on a European capital today that’s more dedicated to “what’s new” than Madrid. This is Spain, padre…the world capital of molecular cuisine, of calcium chloride olives, of ice balls that implode and vanish in your mouth. Yes, there is no El Bulli in Spain at the moment…but every Spanish kid in a white jacket still wants to be Ferran Adrià.

Well, not every kid. There are maniacs like radical David Muñoz, Madrid’s three-star darling of the moment, chef-owner of DiverXO (the only three-star Michelin in Madrid); he told a colleague of mine this week “I have no influences…everything I make is completely new.” Oh brother. I would think any young chef would be proud to spread the mayonnaise on Ferran Adrià’s sandwich.

(NOTE: If you want to see how the worlds of food, art and theatre are colliding, check this out)

I myself am most interested in those young chefs who share a secret with me: that traditional Spanish cuisine, real Spanish cuisine, is one of the great accomplishments of Western Europe. Why ignore it? I get a rush like no other when flying into Madrid, my heart quivering with the prospect of 30 tapas at a clip, gleaming before me from their little plates, at the world’s greatest tapas bars.

Of course, my gastronomic bones are not completely set in place. My bones too like a little stretch every now and then. As much as I love doing this, I do not want to stand at the same tapas bar on every visit to Madrid, eating the same tortilla Espagnol every time. Believe it or not, I’m after “new” as well…though I define “new” a little differently:

1) Places I never knew about where you can get great traditional food
2) Great traditional places I knew about that I somehow never visited
3) Whole traditions I never knew about with great places remaining

With this in mind, my trip to Madrid last week was a huge success. A triumph of the “new!”IMG_8097

Here’s the roll call:

1) Places I never knew about where you can get great traditional food

On Saturday night, about 9 PM, with a dinner res at 11…I was looking for some tapas, of course! In a pouring rain, I took a taxi towards the Plaza Mayor, which has lousy tapas bars, but good surrounding streets for tapas prospecting. The driver suggested that I stay out of the rain by going to the covered Mercado de San Miguel, right near the Plaza Mayor. I’d never heard of it, I’m embarrassed to say…but I took his advice, I stayed dry…and I have a fabulous “new” place for a tapas crawl!

The current Mercado, on the site of (and named for) a 13th-century church called Iglesia de San Miguel de los Octoes, is widely regarded as the most charming covered market in the historic center of Madrid. The old church was badly damaged in a 1790 fire, and, after being deemed unsafe, was finally demolished in 1809. Food was somehow always in the picture. The new open space became a fish market in the early 19th century, and, in 1916, became a fully covered market with granite floors, a wooden roof, and an iron frame looking very much of its Art Nouveau time. Products of all kinds were sold here.

But trouble came again in our own times. Competition from supermarkets was tough, and the old Mercado de San Miguel declined, finally falling into disrepair. Much civic committee-ing ensued around the turn of the 21st, and, finally, in 2009, the Mercado opened again—this time devoted principally to restaurant-like stalls selling tapas. With great lighting! Wow! What a lively, colorful, bustling, historic-feeling place—with wonderful tapas!

Each bar has its own specialty—like seafood from Galicia, or jamon, or oysters (there were 8 different types on the night I visited!), or cured seafood (the raw sardines I had were KILLER!), or cocido, or Catalan vermouths and Asturian sidras, or…believe it or not…high-end Spanish hamburgers on a griddle (delish!).










I would say that the Mercado de San Miguel is a MUST on your nextvisit to Madrid! Rain or shine! A new old place with fresh old food!

2) Great traditional places I knew about that I somehow never visited

I’ve wanted to go to Casa Lucio ever since my first visit to Madrid thirty years ago…but somehow I never made it. Until last Saturday. And I knew right away…my next visit to Casa Lucio will be on my next visit to Madrid!

Having heard about the posh crowd over the years—this was supposedly the King’s favorite hangout!—I always assumed there was something fancy about Casa Lucio.

I was surprised by many things.

Location first: it’s on a scruffy street of noisy bars near the Plaza Mayor—so scruffy that unkempt types smoking joints are trying to lure you into the bars! I thought I had the wrong street, until I saw the comforting, old-wood exterior sedately stuck in the midst of it all, with the simple sign “Casa Lucio.”

Inside, it ain’t three-star, that’s for sure. Good. I instantly recognized it for what it is: a bustling warren of rooms (old beams, old stucco, old photos, and small old Madrid paintings) where proud ownership (Old Lucio’s there, after 60 years!), incredibly good and attentive experienced waiters, and non-egoistic chefs are pleasuring you with the best of traditional Spain. It clicked, immediately: this is now my Madrid version of that simple but marvelous restaurant I love everywhere, where the walls ain’t fancy, the provender ain’t cheap, but same provender is worth every penny. Places that say most of what you need to know about a culinary tradition. This is L’Ami Louis in Paris. This is Zuni Café in San Francisco. This is Sammy’s Roumanian in New York City. This is having a raucous night out with other high-minded food people, hold the twee platings and garnishes. This is paradise.

At 11 PM, we had to wait at the bar for a few, gazing at the hanging jamons, until our table opened up. The gazing phase passed quickly. Oh…why the hell not?…having already sampled a score of jamon jewels throughout the week. We asked if a small plate might be possible. The barkeep smiled, as if we were in the wrong country. But the charge was crazy small for jamon Iberico de bellota—12 Euros—AND the plate was loaded with about 20 sliced-to-order beauties…AND, I kid you not, they were the best jamon Iberico con bellota slices of the week…a very big statement! Impossibly sweet, almost cheesy in their age, dense and resilient, but fatty and velvety in many spots. Somebody’s looking out. THIS was quality…as was its perfect match, the La Guita Manzanilla, glacial-stream cold, kept as it was in copious ice right on the bar.

A good hunk of crusty bread. A good racion of vinegar-tingly boquerones. A good 15 minutes before Lucio himself, with marvelous maître d’ Theo, came over to tell us the table was ready. Raucous bar, right? They carried our remaining slices of jamon and sips of manzanilla to the dinner table.

Then the fun really began. Thick, warm, soft slices of comforting rice-gorged, spice-fragrant morcilla de Burgos (blood sausage from the best blood-sausage city in the world). The house specialty next: revueltos…or perfectly scrambled eggs, light and fluffy, in this case mixed with shrimp and spinach. The eggy glow was remarkable, as was the revuelto’s partner on the table: thinly cut, super-wide flaps of oyster mushrooms, perfectly touched with olive oil, garlic and parsley. Then came the incredible cazuela of buttery tripe, floating in a thick orange ooze, enhanced by bits of head AND bits of feet, as well as bits of blood sausage; I felt like I bought the farm, and was looking down from heaven.

Of the many grilled meats at Casa Lucio, the steak—in this case, an entrecôte—was the one that friends recommended the most highly. Next time, lamb variations. But this first time: a thick slab of beef from Galicia, grass-fed, yet still with the buttery richness one associates with grain-fed beef. The cooking was perfect: crusty exterior, lively-rare interior. The Platonic form of tenderness. Powerful sweet-beef flavor. And just in case you need to warm up your rare slices a few minutes down the road—a hot stone is provided on the table for a quick fix.

You’d expect a good, decent Spanish wine list with pan-Espagna possibilities, and that’s just what you get. After a day of tasting, however, late on Saturday night I was a Rioja-seeking missile. My only disappointment at Casa Lucio was the relative youth of what I was offered (perhaps a visit at a quieter time might yield more elderly results!) In any case, my 2005 Viña Ardanza Reserva was pretty damned delicious and food-friendly for a Rioja that’s “only” 9 years old…and at a reasonable tariff, only 35 euros.

We then soaked up our own order of what every other table seemed to have ordered for dessert: the delicioso combo of super-runny rice pudding with a very hard, creme-bruléed top. This feast started at 11:30 PM. What the hell time is it? Don’t ask. It’s Madrid. No one is going anywhere…not when there’s Gallego herbal licor to sip on past 2 AM!

Damn! No calcium chloride balls???










3) Whole traditions I never knew about with great places remaining

I know you’re with me on this merry Madrileño jaunt for 2 out of 3—but here’s where I may lose a few of you. However, I must tell you honestly…of all my Madrid discoveries last week, this was the one that made me happiest. Just because it is the most outrageous of the lot!

As little as 40 years ago, I was told, Madrid was crawling with mom-and-pop places devoted to one thing only: the small intestines of lamb cut ten different ways, each cut deep-fried in a large wok-like pan, each cut leading to a finished product with its own distinct look. The overall name to describe this type of ingredient is gallinejas…and I was told that once upon a time there were 75 establishments in Madrid serving it daily and exclusively…usually to large tables of whole families, there to get their gallinejas fix. Today? There is only ONE of these places left in Madrid today, and at 9PM on a Friday night it wasn’t jammed. But there was a delightful Madrid family seated near me, grandfather and all, missing only the grandmother. “Grandma used to love this place,” they told me sweetly. “So we come here several times a year as a tribute to her.”

The next day, a smart, very stylish 35-ish executive of top hotel group NH (one of whose hotels houses the David Muñoz three-star) asked me at lunch where I’d dined the night before. “Freiduría de Gallinejas,” I told him, and watched his eyes pop out of his head. “Why…did you go…there?” he stammered. “Because I like finding old traditions,” I said. “Have you ever been?” I asked. At which point he confessed that he himself goes “2-3 times a year,” because he too likes older traditions.

Comb your guidebooks. You won’t find it. To the outside world, it doesn’t exist. And that is why I would URGE you, now, on your next trip to Madrid…seek out this endangered restaurant species, if you can, ahem, stomach what they serve.

For me: no problem. No problem at all! My dinner there was really delicious and satisfying. The menu is divided into the different intestinal cuts—and it’s amazing that the position in the intestine (starting with where does it sit? how wide a cut? how long a cut? etc.) makes such a great difference in the look, texture and taste.

If you go, you should order at least three or four different cuts (I ordered all ten, of course). They are mostly quite mild in flavor, not organ-y. If you order patatas fritas with your gallinejas, they will be cooked in the oil with your organ cuts, ending up at your table on a huge, sprawling platter from which you pick out the different types of meat (order your potatoes “picante,” and you get a terrific house-made hot sauce for sprinkling, made from spicy-smoky Spanish paprika, vinegar and garlic). The whole thing is like a great meal at Kentucky Fried Chicken…but it ain’t chicken, and it ain’t from Kentucky!

My favorite cuts:

*Chorillos. Tubes, about the size of flat string beans, fatter and flatter than the similar canutos on the menu, another type of tube. Juicier and meatier than the canutos. Lovely sweet, mildly meaty flavor.
* Mollejas Blancas. A “white” sweetbread (there are other sweetbreads), and the only non-intestine cut on the menu. Insanely delicious chunks, with a distinct sweetness and nuttiness. Kind of like the land equivalent of a fried clam belly.
*Zarajos. The show-stopper, but only if you like “barnyard.” Very like the Greek and Turkish kokoretsi, which are intestines wrapped on a stick around other organ-y treats. Of course, the Turco-Greco type is grilled…and the Madrid type is deep-fried. In taste, very much like “hung” game, quite “cheesy,” the biggest flavor of the bunch.

Please arrive with the right attitude: you’re visiting a virtual museum. You will not be able to choose anything else! The gallinejas are served on sandwiches, if you like, which makes them akin to po’ boys, but that’s as far as the variations go. Except for salad. You should order a lettuce/tomato salad—which, believe it or not, was by far my favorite salad of the week in Madrid. Lettuce was eh, but no other tomato in my Madrid munchings came even close! And the oil/vinegar combo was insanely perfect!

And that’s one of the advantages of tradition. When you’ve been doing something for a long time, you have probably learned how to do it right! The soulful owner of Freiduría de Gallinejas, Gabino Domingo, has been in this place for 60 years, turning out the same food. Antonio, his chef and ingredient-procurer, has been at it for 35 years! Talk about dedication! I asked Antonio if the lamb intestines ever come in frozen. He was appalled. He told me that every day he drives almost 100 km to pick up freshly-slaughtered lamb (intestines only of course) from establishments in every direction. “The lamb has to be warm,” he told me, “as they remove the intestines. And the gallinejas have to be cleaned properly!”

Of course, one more advantage of finding a tradition like this has to do with your wallet. Including a really perfect bottle of crisp and earthy 2013 Fosforero Vino Blanco from Toledo, eating through EVERYTHING on the menu came to a check of 35 euros. I felt badly. I wanted to double the tariff, to make sure these guys stay in business. But they wouldn’t even take a tip. They handed out intestine tee-shirts instead!









NOTE: To work a new/old theme into your hotel, as well…the broadly expanding NH group of hotels, founded and based in Spain, has just renovated the old EuroBuilding of Madrid. The NH Collection Hotel in the EuroBuilding is supremely comfortable, clean, hip and chic, with a modernity that’s grounded in Spanish tradition, not at all a turn-off. Its only downside is the location: a nice business area, but a 15-minute taxi ride from the historic center. Didn’t bother me, even late at night (don’t forget: there is no “late at night” in Madrid!). I really enjoyed my stay. And, unlike the current generation of hip hotels…rooms are surprisingly large! And with good views!

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