Madrid Redux – Part One

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When I visited last year it had been 34 years since my previous visit to Madrid. One year later I am back. Madrid Fusion is the reason I have returned, though no excuse should ever really be necessary to come to this lovely city or country.

My first day was dedicated to recovering from an uneventful trans-Atlantic red-eye and to revisiting a few highlights from last year. While waiting for my room to be ready at the charming, small hotel Room Mate Oscar in the Chueca district just off the Gran Via, I went out for a stroll down to the Puerta del Sol and on to the Plaza Mayor before heading back. Though the sky was gray, my mood wasn't as I soaked up the atmosphere of Sunday Madrid in the old part of the city. I didn't bring my camera. Though there were some wonderfully picaresque photo opportunities missed, I enjoyed the sensation that since I had been and photographed there before, I could simply savor it for the moment. The funny thing is that I don't have a great compunction to be much of a tourist this year. Last year, it was enlightening to revisit places I hadn't seen since I was a teen-ager. Now it feels much like when I am in NYC, it is the overall vibe that excites me.

For me, a very important part of the vibe of a city is its food. Los Asturianos (Vallehermoso 94, Madrid, Spain 28003, +34 915 33 59 47) proved to be one of my very finest meals of 2008. Like in 2008, I visited there on my first day in town, this time accompanied by two American expats living and working in Madrid, Kathleen Berger, a talented and dedicated opera singer originally from Phoenix, Arizona and Lisa Abend, a former college History Professor and now food writer focusing on Spain. I walked to the restaurant to work up an appetite and to shake off some of the jet lag and get a sense of a part of the city I hadn't walked through before.

Kathleen arrived first, just before me at 2:30PM, the time of our reservation. While we waited for Lisa, we were greeted by Alberto Fernandez Bombin, one of the brothers who runs the front of the house along with their wine business, while their mother does the cooking. Alberto is a force of nature. One doesn't need much time to get a sense of the joy of living within this energetic young man. Kathleen and I each had a glass of one of the house reds, Macpajo,at the bar while we were brought a serving of arroz con pollo that was full of flavor along with a few bones to accompany the pieces of chicken laced throughout.

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arroz con pollo

Lisa arrived shortly after and we were brought to a table in the back room of this busy, small restaurant. The decor and setting will never compete with those of restaurants looking for a certain cache, but the place is cozy in a down-home, look what I discovered way. Here it is all about what is on the plate and in the glass.

I was happy to be back in this welcoming environment. Since Los Asturianos serves food available on a seasonal basis, many of the same dishes were on the menu as they were last year. we could not resist the berberechos or cockles. sauteed with garlic, parsley and olive oil, once again they were cooked perfectly: plump, moist and of the sea. Another repeat for me was the verdinas con mariscos, or baby green beans with shellfish. Is there a better comfort food than expertly cooked beans? A dish new to me, was the morcilla  matachana with puree de pimientos de piquillo. Matachana is the name of a town in Leon where this type of morcilla comes from. For those who may not know, morcilla is a blood sausage, in this case not encased and enhanced with raisins. Ringed y a puree of piquillo peppers, the flavors of this preparation were outstanding, despite the relatively unappealing appearance of the morcilla itself.

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berberechos

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verdinas con mariscos

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morcilla  matachana

For the first part of the meal we enjoyed a Jerez, La Bota de Fino Macharnudo No. 15. This 15% alcohol wine had a strong nose of apples with little bite on the tongue from the alcohol. The alcohol started to bite me a bit later in the meal as my ability to comprehend Spanish deteriorated rapidly!

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We finished the main part of the meal with a beautifully cooked entrecote a la plancha. To accompany the steak we enjoyed the restaurant's other house red, Tres Patas 2006. While the tomatoes appeared similar to the insipid ones found in American supermarkets in January, that is where the similarities ended. The tomato was a breathe of summer in the cool Madrid winter.

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entrecote a la plancha

We finished the meal with another repeat for me, an example of perfection in chocolate, their chocolate mousse with Maldon salt and olive oil. Though not the fanciest appearing or most beautiful chocolate dessert, there are not many that are superior in terms of taste and mouthfeel.

After lunch I walked back to my hotel to take a nap before venturing back out into the Madrid night.


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