January 23, 2012

Gastrofestival Madrid

A first taste of Degustapas at the presentation this morning.

This morning I attended the official presentation of this year's edition of Gastrofestival at the Museo Thyssen. In its third year, this citywide event is an offshoot of the marvelous annual gastronomic conference Madrid Fusion, which kicks off tomorrow. While the three days of conferences that make up Madrid Fusion are mainly directed towards chefs, restaurant professionals and intense foodies, Gastrofestival was conceived of as a way of involving the rest of the city's citizens and tourists in this yearly celebration of gastronomic culture and all things edible.

Establishments all over the city will be participating in the many different facets of this festival. Degustapas, consists of dozens of bars and taverns that will be serving up a special tapa and a small bottle of Mahou beer for 3 Euros. Additionally, a long list of restaurants will be offering special menus priced at 25 or 40 Euros. However, my absolute favorite initiative (which admittedly I have yet to try) is called Cena con Las Estrellas (dinner with the stars), during which several of the visiting international chefs from Madrid Fusion are paired up with restaurants in Madrid, where they prepare their special (75 Euro) menus for only a day or two.

Of course in addition to all of these opportunities to eat eat eat, the festival also provides Madrileños with plenty of culture culture culture. Held from January 23rd -  February 5th, Gastrofestival extends beyond the restaurant scene and into gastronomically-themed expositions in museums and art galleries; special offers, courses and lectures in specialty shops and cooking schools; and even a food-themed film series at the Filmoteca Nacional.
Needless to say, this is the perfect opportunity for me to shamelessly plug the participating exhibition in my mother-in-law's art gallery, Pelayo47,  by José Manuel Nuevo entitled Cosas del Comer.

January 19, 2012

Mi Sushi - Well, you can keep it!

For lack of another photo, this actually really is a photo of MY homemade Sushi 

Last night I had an inexplicable hankering for Thong...let me just let that hang in the air for a moment.

The Thong to which I am referring of course is the delightfully named Chinese restaurant that I frequented years ago on Calle Santa Teresa, 4, in Alonso Martínez, which was right around the corner from where I found myself yesterday at dinnertime. Unfortunately, I soon realized that this Thong was long gone. Before anyone has time to worry, however, I should point out that there is still another Thong location on Calle de López de Hoyos, 14 - but while this agreeably elegant restaurant can be counted on to serve up equally agreeable Chinese food, it doesn't beckon to me enough to cross the city for a spring roll. Therefore, as I yearned for Thong, I settled on grabbing a quick bite at Mi Sushi, the apparently 'Japanese' restaurant that has taken its place. Big mistake.

My companion and I were feeling neither very hungry, nor very flush, so we opted to go the cheap and cheerful route of just ordering a couple of small dishes, including a few mixed maki, fried rice for her, and (a cold weather comfort food) udon noodle soup with tempura for me. The million item menu should have been enough to make me trust my instincts and get up and leave - no restaurant should have THAT many dishes - and if not that, then the nasty stare of the waiter when we ordered tap water (which he repeated back to us 3 times). But, being tired and weak, we ignored our gut feelings and stayed, proceeding to (not) enjoy the miniscule but acceptable maki (which cost upwards of 3 Euros for 3 tiny pieces) and the greasy and small portion of fried rice. I had to draw the line however at the soup, which smelled so unappetizing that I couldn´t eat it. It wasn't a rotten smell, but rather more like tepid dishwater with noodles, tinged with greyish beige hues and sad clumps of limp bean sprouts. 

I would definitely never ever want to call this restaurant My sushi, rice, soup or anything else. Ugh.

Mi Sushi
C/Santa Teresa, 4
28004 Madrid

January 12, 2012

Red Meat on a Stone: Viña P's enduring classic

I couldn't get them to stop flipping the meat long enough to get the photo.

There are few dishes that seem to leave as big a mark with my foreign visitors as the Carne roja de Buey a la piedra that has been served up at the classic Madrid restaurant, Restaurante Taberna Viña P, for as long as anyone can remember. This straightforward dish consists of a plate of barely seared aged beef that has been thinly sliced and generously sprinkled with rock salt. It is then accompanied to the table by a piping hot clay dish that has been lightly coated with oil. The rest is up to the diners, who cook their own meat to the desired amount on this piedra, or stone. The plate doesn't stay hot for long, but not to worry, the waiters will bring you a new one as soon as yours cools down.
There is something about cooking your own meat and watching it sizzle in front of you that has a memorable effect, leaving people like my co-cuñadastro, Will, eager to repeat almost 8 years after first having tried it - not to mention that the thinly sliced beef is flavorful, tender and quite lean. Listed on the menu for two people, it is admittedly not cheap (around 30+ Euros), nor does it seem to be as generous as it used to be. Even so, it is often enough to order just one portion for 3 or 4 people to share and then tack on a few other raciones, such as the fried eggplant with honey (thin, crispy and always delicious) and the tasty grilled pericos (green asparagus) with garlic mayonnaise. For dessert, I always get the Crema Catalana to share (similar to a creme brulee) and a icy glass of patxaran for a digestivo.

Viña P also makes an excellent choice for taking out-of-town visitors due to its wonderful location, smack dab in the middle of Plaza Santa Ana. Granted, it is full of tourists, but there is a wonderfully sunny terrace in the plaza itself (I just had lunch outside in January). Inside, the restaurant is a traditional classic graced by bullfighting photos, posters and aging aficionados. This family owned-and-operated establishment has a long history of being frequented by bullfighters, who during the sport's heyday, traditionally dressed before a fight at the imposing meringue-like Hotel Reina Victoria (now the Hotel ME), located at the end of the plaza.

January 7, 2012

Holiday slabs and holiday flab

Happy New Year!!

I spent the holidays in relative peace and quiet, apart from a spontaneous three day escape to London (more on that later), and really got my bake on. Maybe it was inspiration from my recent trip to Jijona to write about turrón making, or maybe it was just a bit of nesting and nostalgia, but I could not get my thoughts out of the kitchen over the holidays and away from a desire to mingle some of the sweet flavors of my past and present. Naturally, having stuffed myself on these confections - despite not having much of a sweet tooth -, I am looking forward to a few months of healthy eating and honoring the future over the past. Read more in Recovering from Turrón de Michigan and other holiday folly on the Trans-Iberian blog from El País.

January 5, 2012

Welcome back, London Town!

Sizzling fish at the Loong Kee Cafe

The Mister and I spent an impulsive three days in London between Christmas and New Year's Eve, dodging raindrops, visiting (closed) galleries, popping into museums, catching a show and drinking lager and warming up next to cozy fires in festively decorated pubs. With only a day or so to prepare for the trip, I spent the day before we left researching some great places to eat in London on food blogs like Greedy Diva, Gourmet Chick, A Girl Has to Eat and Musings of a W8 Housewife. Unfortunately, we were short on time, a lot of places were closed for the holidays and E was under the weather, so we contented ourselves with a couple of excellent pub meals of fish and chips and hearty soups at the The Antelope in Belgravia (near where we were staying) and at the Coopers Arms off of King's Road in Chelsea. We also had Hanoi-style sizzling fish for lunch at Loong Kee Cafe in the Vietnamese area of Kingsland Road, near Hoxton, which came highly recommended by two different people who we asked on the street, and a very tasty but kind of bizarro Chinese meal at Shanghai Blues in Holborn. This palatial establishment and former library has both the stiff formality of hovering waiters and cloth napkins delicately and silently placed on your lap and the black lacquered tables and blue neon lights of a nightclub. We had a great time, but I would take a noisy and bustling restaurant in Chinatown over this more staid version any day.

The night's menu at The Duke of Cambridge
Our favorite meal, however, was the one that we had been waiting over a year to enjoy. We happened upon The Duke of Cambridge organic pub last year while wandering around the marvelous district of Islington. This charming corner establishment is graced by large windows, rustic wood floors and tables, mismatched chairs and cozy candlelight. There is both an outer pub area and a smaller dining room in back, both of which are presided over by massive chalkboards that change during the course of the evening as the kitchen runs out of certain dishes and adds new ones.

The Duke of Cambridge is an all organic gastropub that opened in 1998, serving seasonal food and drink that is at least 80% sourced from the counties surrounding London. All of their fish is caught on small day boats off the south-east coast of England, all of the meat comes from whole animals purchased from local farms, and all of the beers, wines and alcohol are made by small independent producers. Basically, this place is food lover's dream, served up in an incredibly lovely, cozy, friendly and relaxed environment. Last year we managed to have a couple of beers in the pub, but the restaurant was packed to the gills and it was still a bit early to dine. To say that we were looking forward to coming back this year for a proper meal would be an understatement. To start off, we shared a Chicken liver and port pate with pickled beetroot, chutney and toast, followed by the delicious Slow roasted lamb shoulder (for me) and the Chili marinated coley (fish) with spiced haricot bean and tomato casserole, Savoy cabbage and golden beetroot, for the Mister. Unfortunately, it was too dark for any of the photos to come out, but suffice to say it was a delicious, romantic and lovely experience all around. I love London!

The Duke of Cambridge
30 St Peter's Street, Islington, London N1

+44 (0)20 7359 3066

The Antelope
22 Eaton Terrace, Belgravia, Westminster, London SW1W 8EZ
+44 (0)20 7824 8512

Coopers Arms
87 Flood Street, Chelsea, London, SW3 5TB
+44 (0)20 7376 3120

Loong Kee Cafe
134G Kingsland Rd  City of London E2 8DY
+44 (0)20 7729 8344

Shanghai Blues
193-197 High Holborn  City of London WC1V 7BD
+44 (0)20 7404 1668
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