Tapas are what you want when in Madrid. No need to book a table at a fancy restaurant -there are plenty of great ones – but really, tapas are satisfying enough and often times much more fun. It’s all about sharing small portions of whatever the bar serves and most offer great dishes that pair really well with a cold “caña” (small glass of draft beer) or a nice “chato de vino”, a small glass of wine.
On a warm tueday night last august, half of Madrid had gone on vacation. Many restaurants and bars were closed . Fortunately, in the barrio de Ibiza, near the Retiro park and Salamanca, a few were still open like La Catapa on an otherwise boring weeknight. Packed with patrons, as if no one had to work the next day, this small eatery was bustling with people while a petite waitress ran around tables ensuring everyone was well served, the chef also comes out to check on his happy crowd. Another fun spot for tapas and drinks in Madrid.
We ordered the tortilla de bacalao…a freshly made omelet oozing with sauteed salted cod, onions and green peppers served with plenty of country bread…a lovely combination that proved absolutely satisfying. We also had a nice salad of burrata drizzled with a basil vinagrette that was nicely chopped up for tapa convenience – when sharing you want to have bite size pieces on your plate for easy serving.
I thank God for places like this one that make a tuesday night a little more special, breaking away from the sleepy routine of a hot summer weeknight in Madrid.
Okay, so one night you’re walking around Madrid “tapeando” , standing in bars, drinking and sampling small plates of food until you realize that you’d like a break from the crowds, and would rather sit down somewhere more quiet and be served. Then, you stumble upon Vinoteca Moratin.
Right in the heart of bustling Barrio de las Letras, hides this small and intimate restaurant. Even though its name: Vinoteca- wine cellar -evokes a fine wine list, its food is by no means compromised. Quite the contrary, for the menu is a true offering of the best local in-season produce as well as the finest meats and fish in the city. Yes, even though Madrid is landlocked, the freshest fish caught off the coasts of Spain is immediately shipped here, so wherever you eat, you’re bound to find a fresh catch.
Chef and owner Marcos Gil opened this small eatery in 2012 following his passion for “buen vino” and great food. Here you’ll find a long list of over forty white wines, from Albariños to Ruedas and Rieslings to over 50 different red ones from Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Jumilla. Also on the list, are some French offerings from Loire and Burgundy, as well as some Portuguese from Alentejo.
We were warmly welcomed by a waiter named Chema who sat us at a cozy table by the window. He offered us some wine to start with and we picked a bottle of Juan Gil from Jumilla in Murcia, a region that lately has gained a lot of attention for its fine crops. This particular one is made with the Monastrell grapes which gives it a smoky combination of violets and berries, full bodied yet smooth . For a moment, I just wanted to sit in the dim lit ambience and savor my glass slowly as I admired the beautiful and serene decor . Old candle lit wooden tables surrounded by soothing earth toned walls add comfort and warmth to this lovely bistro. The attention to detail was evident, even in the acoustics where no matter how busy it was, it was never too loud. I was ready for another glass of wine and a look at the menu.
A simple “carta” offering the best in season: Puerros con romesco. A generous appetizer of six mouth watering braised leeks served with tangy Romesco sauce made with almonds, hazelnuts and red peppers. Absolutely delicious!
For my entrée, I had to have the pulpo de Santoña con aceite de pimentón y cilantrosobre parmentier de patata, small slices of the most tender octopus, seasoned with smoked paprika from Béjar and coriander, nestled over fluffy mashed potatoes. I could have easily ordered seconds but decided to take over my brother’s merluza al cava en papillote instead: hake steamed in Spanish sparkling wine, far too tempting! He wasn’t happy but he knew it was part of my job and begrudgingly obliged. Moist, flaky and “en su punto”. Another great example of what Spaniards can do with this delicate white fish.
For dessert the suggestions are changed daily and the options are few. We split the tarta de manzana, an individual tart made with golden delicious apples garnished with a dollop of fresh Greek yogurt. As we dug into this decadent yet healthy dessert, we were offered a glass of Dow’s 10 year old tawny Port wine, a sweet mellow touch to the end of a delectable meal. The whole dining experience was almost spa-like, so relaxing I didn’t want to leave. Can’t wait to go back!
Madrid is a mecca for great food. With a tapas’ bar on almost every corner, it’s not hard to find a good place to eat. In recent years, new restaurants have been turning up, straying from traditional Spanish cuisine and betting on lighter and more avantguard ways of preparing and presenting it, without losing an ounce of its true essence. I was very fortunate to stumble upon one of these great food sanctuaries: Marcano, specializing in Basque cuisine, located in the centric neighborhood of El Retiro, away from crowds and tour
Right behind the bar stands an open kitchen where young chef David Marcano toils, day and night, working on his craft like Merlin on his magic. So I decided to let myself fall under his “culinary”spell. Smart move!
This seemingly modern and spartan eatery was a sharp contrast to its deliciously intricate menu and warm and friendly service. A nicely priced wine list made for a rather welcoming move: a great selection of reds from Rioja, Ribera del Duero and great whites like Albarinho, Rias Baixas and Ruedas were listed for 2 and 3 euros a glass or an average of 17 euros per bottle.
As soon as you’re served a glass, a lovely tapa comes your way. Not just any tapa but something Marcano, who’s worked with renowned chef Arzak, concocts that very same day. I chose a glass of red wine: Tamaral Roble form Ribera del Duero and along came some gazpacho topped with a shrimp. Confused, I asked myself “Did I order this?” It didn’t matter, it looked so delicious that I couldn’t turn it down, a bowl of silky goodness that came totally unexpected. Soon after, the waitress brought me a small serving of aceitunas marinadas (olives seasoned with paprika) followed by some hearty white beans topped with a sardine. I was in tapas heaven!
I could’ve easily been satisfied with this experience and called it a day. But the lovely atmosphere and the choices of appetizers and entrées were highly tempting. I opted for the tuna tartare, freshly diced tuna marinated in a light soy sauce complemented with creamy avocado and dainty dollops of caviar. I also had to try the croquetas, small croquettes made with rich bechamel and nutty boletus mushrooms. As an entrée I had one of the main staples of high Basque cuisine: Merluza braseada con guiso de cocochas, braised melt in your mouth hake fillet served in a light broth with cocochas: small morsels of the most tender part of this fish: its cheeks. Absolutely exquisite!
Marcano treats his food with the same grace and respect as he treats his clients. Impeccably presented orders are served diligently and carefully, cutlery is replaced with every dish and as far as table linens go, no detail is spared.
Right before I finished my entrée, I looked up and noticed how he tirelessly works behind the counter immersed in his own world , raising his head only to make sure everyone is content. He sees we are and gives us a big smile in return. It’s like eating at home, only with a much more exciting menu than that of your mother’s.
After this delectable feast, I dared to go for something sweet: the Milhojas de naranja y frambuesas which turned out to be as light as it promised. Thin layers of homemade phyllo dough covered with an orange crème anglaise and fresh raspberries. That was all I needed but someone recommended I take a bite of the Flan de Queso which was no less delightful. A velvety custard made with fresh cream cheese in a light syrup. To top it off, I accepted a small glass of Patxarán, a rather sweet Basque digestif made with sloe berries which proved to be the perfect ending to an exceptionally perfect meal.