It would seem that there are very few places to eat in Madrid by virtue of the fact that there are more than a few establishments that continue to exist, or even thrive, despite unacceptably mediocre or even bad food. However, anyone who has ever been here knows that the opposite is true. Madrid abounds with restaurants and bars - all the more reason to be confounded by a couple of my recent dining experiences.
I spent last Sunday lunch at the restaurant, "Con Dos Fogones", located in San Bernadino 9 . It was my second visit, my first being about three years ago at which time I swore I would never go back. Unfortunately, being a firm believer in second chances, I did.
The only thing I remember about my first visit was that the food was mediocre at best, and overpriced at worst. The most significant point of reference was the fact that we were seated in the back room and there were at least three sticks of incense burning within four feet of the table on either side. At the time, the smell was so overwhelming and nauseating that the food was the least of my worries. I also remember the service being somewhat surly, but given that the restaurant web page specifically states "we like to have an intimate and friendly relationship with our customers", I thought that maybe I had just caught them on an off day. I was wrong.
The service last Saturday was not only surly, but actually outright rude and unpleasant - and interestingly enough we recognized a couple of the faces from the earlier visit. With the exception of one moderately polite waiter (who unfortunately was not ours), we were treated with disdain and outright nastiness by the other two or three other members of the staff. When the shared starter arrived, a 9 euro quesadilla with avocado and cheddar, I came to conclusion that the hostilities of the waitstaff were intended to distract us from the fact that the cheese was rotten, or at least to scare us into submission. While I may not have a Michelin star, I was a professional chef long enough to be able to recognize the stench of rotten cheddar - and most of my 5 companions smelled it immediately as well. I also know from personal experience that things can happen, no kitchen is perfect, and that things can sometimes get away from us. No problem, right. Apparently pointing out discreetly and kindly that the cheese was passed its prime was a problem, both for the waitress and the chef who sent us back the message that we were completely wrong, that we had no idea what we were talking about and that the cheese was fresh as can be.
The next tip off should have been the fact that curry played such a heavy (and often surprise) role in all of the dishes that followed. The 10 euro hamburger (which came without a bun - also a surprise) was infused with curry (surprise) and the meat, which was purportedly beef, was pale gray in color, although the flavor wasn't bad, providing you like curry. The chicken and avocado crepe with bechamel sauce was not only curry laden (surprise!), but also suspiciously rubbery and mystery saucy. I ordered the solomillo and asked the waitress if the shitake sauce had onions, given that I am allergic. She told me no, but luckily it came on the side as I later discovered that it was full of huge onion pieces. The 18 euro meat was fine, cooked to my specifications if not a bit tasteless, but the tempura of red and green peppers was as greasy and heavy as something deep fried in heavy batter two days before and then microwaved to order, while the sweet potato-pumpkin puree was lackluster and tasteless as can be.
Truthfully, if I seem to be relating this experience at all gleefully or with an eye to vengence, I'm not. I would rather think that restaurants that continue to exist in Madrid do so because the food is decent, the ambiance pleasant and the people who work there somewhat agreeable. "Con Dos Fogones" failed these three modest requests by all accounts - and most particularly with regards to the downright angry treatment by the staff.
The fact that it ended up at an offensive almost 30 euros a head (for 2 shared starters, 1 entree each, and a couple of rounds of beers) doesn't even bother me. I could not be induced to return to this restaurant for any price at all.