We ate well in Madrid last month. In addition to the usual tapas bars, we found some over-the-top pintxos and splurged on a Michelin-starred dinner. We even found two new spots to enjoy local and international craft beers. Read on to see the gastronomic highlights from our latest trip to Madrid. Warning: some of this food is strikingly pretty and may induce hunger.
Juana La Loca
On a Sunday afternoon the lively La Latina neighborhood was bustling with people. It is the oldest neighborhood in Madrid, occupying the site of a medieval Islamic citadel within the city walls. La Latina is packed with bars and restaurants, one of the most popular of which is Juana La Loca.
We arrived at Juana La Loca about 15 minutes after they opened and the bar was already full. Fortunately we had a reservation for a table in back, where there are just six tables in a small but more civilized space. They call themselves a pintxo bar but the food goes above and beyond the conventional pintxo.
Everybody raves about their tortilla de patata, said by some to be one of the best in Madrid, and we saw big trays of tortilla coming out of the kitchen. I’m a bit sorry that we didn’t try it, but there were so many things on the menu that we wanted and couldn’t possibly eat them all. We ordered three pintxos and one main dish, all to share, and let them bring them out one by one.
With our first dish, we quickly understood why people go crazy for this place. The menu is divided into sections of different styles of pintxos plus more generous main dishes. We started with Butter fish sashimi from the “Fanciful Pintxos” section that was simply delicious. Luxurious slices of butter fish were wrapped around a bundle of little noodles, over an asparagus mousseline sauce and covered with shaved truffle.
From the “About Truffles, Wild Mushrooms & Foie” section, we selected Ravioli of wild mushroom with black truffle. The presentation was unique with each mushroom-filled ravioli sitting on top of a soft egg yolk that spilled down into the bread underneath when sliced through. The whole thing was generously sprinkled with black truffle shavings.
We continued to indulge in our food favorites with the Cochinillo lechal. A “Generous Dish” of suckling pig that was cooked at low temperature was well executed with crispy skin and velvety meat that was saturated with juices and, of course, fat. Shredded potato cakes and greens balanced the plate, but seriously, it’s all about the piglet.
Sweetbreads bruschetta was one of the “Intense Pintxos” and it certainly was. The sweetbreads were lightly fried (or sautéed?) and arranged on a crispy bruschetta with cheese and greens. The intensity came from a bright smoked chimichurri sauce of red peppers and onions.
Although these dishes were all bold and decadent in their own way, they were all still light enough to pair well, if not best, with a white wine. The Terras Guada vino blanco from Rias Baixas, made mostly from the Albarino grape, was delicious and stood up well to all of our courses.
This was one of our best meals in Spain and the bill came in just below €80 euros, pretty incredible considering that it included six glasses of wine and we both walked out full. Looking over the menu now, as I write this, I can’t wait to get back to Juana La Loca. There are soft-shell crabs, oxtails, and that tortilla de patata calling out to me.
Remember, a reservation is a must on weekends unless you want to muscle your way through the bar crowd.
Juana La Loca
Plaza de Puerta de Moros, 4
Tuesday – Friday: 1:00pm – 5:00pm and 7:00pm – midnight (Friday till 1:00am)
Saturday: 1:00pm – 7:00pm and 8:00pm – 1:00am (Sunday till midnight)
Monday morning closed
*These hours are pretty complicated…maybe you should check the website
For a special meal to celebrate the holidays, we went to the ritzy part of town in the Salamanca district. Among the upscale boutiques and restaurants, Restaurante Albora opened in 2012 and received its Michelin star in 2014. The restaurant combines two different concepts: tapas bar downstairs and haute cuisine upstairs.
The contemporary downstairs has a busy bar scene with tapas and plates to share. José Gómez, from Jamones Joselito is one of the founding partners of the restaurant and so Joselito’s famous Iberian hams (declared by some to be the best in the world) are featured in the bar. It is a different world upstairs in the sleek dining room that presents a more elegant formal setting for the “gastronomic restaurant” serving haute cuisine.
There are two degustacion menus available: a short tasting menu for $58 and long tasting menu for $78. Not hungry enough for a big tasting menu, we started with glasses of bubbly cava while making selections from the a la carte menu. We ordered full racions of each dish, which they split for us. The photos show the half portion that was put in front of me.
We started with a wild mushroom parfait. The mousse-like parfait was petite but intense. The texture was creamy and lush, with bold earthy mushroom flavor kicking my palate into gear for what was to follow.
Next up, Pheasant ravioli. The dish was well balanced with slight gameyness to the pheasant raviolis bathed in a delicate broth-like sauce. This was a great match with the Bassus Pinot, a Pinot Noir from Spain. Yes, you read correctly, a Pinot Noir from Spain. It is produced by Bodegas Hispano Suizas in the Valencia region and is more of a stylistic cousin to California pinots than their French counterparts. Fuller bodied than one might expect from a Pinot Noir and it went very well with the game.
When we were seated, we were automatically brought English menus. Usually we like to also have a Spanish menu to compare with, but we overlooked it this time. Oops! The English menu says “red snapper” so we were disappointed in the small size of the fish we were served. It made sense when we got the check and saw that it was actually “salmonete” which correctly translates to red mullet – not red snapper, and there is a big difference.
This little fillet of red mullet, however, packed a wallop of flavor. It was seared on the skin side but barely cooked, well, raw on the other. There was a complex combination of flavors with an intense vermouth cream sauce, saffron foam and a scoop of barley.
We finished with the Venison loin, which was cooked rare (perfection!) with black trumpet mushrooms and sweet glazed chestnuts. Pretty sure I could have eaten a full racion of this myself. It was accompanied by a tray of little air-filled pillows of potato.
We did not order dessert but they brought us some tasty little mojito slushies and a few bites of chocolate, a very thoughtful touch which was really all that we needed to top off the meal.
Everything here was beautifully prepared and plated. Each dish artfully arranged on bright white was like splashes of paint on a blank canvas. The Michelin star food came with a Michelin price. Our meal (including wine) came to €150 euros for two. Certainly not a bank breaker but still quite pricey for Spain.
Upstairs Cuisine: Monday to Saturday: 1:30 to 4:00 p.m. – 8:30 to 11:30 p.m. Sunday Closed
Bar and Terrace: Monday to Saturday: 12:30 to 4:00 and 8:30 to midnight. Sunday: 12:30 to 4:00
Bee Beer Cervezas y Quesos Artesanales
After some amazing meals and wine pairings, it was time to shift gears into craft beer mode. It was Christmas time and we were craving a big Christmas beer. Imagine how happy we were to see St. Bernardus Christmas Ale at the top of Bee Beer’s tap list.
With seven craft beers on tap, there was something there for everyone, from a Belgian lager, Spanish IPA, German Weisse, even a cherry lambic from Belgium. And the St. Bernardus, a strong dark Belgian Abbey Ale. They even suggest artisan cheese pairings for each beer. Now that’s thoughtful!
Husband and wife Xavier and Marlina left their home country of Venezuela and opened Bee Beer in Madrid in May 2016. It is a combination beer shop and bar, selling and serving over 100 craft beers from around the world.
We felt right at home at the cozy little bar, partly due to the friendliness of our bartender, also a family member from Venezuela, and partly due to the case boxes of Flying Dog Brewery and Founders Brewing sitting on the shelves. It reminds me of how small the world really is when I see craft beer from my own home town. Bee Beer regularly gets beers from American brewers Flying Dog and Founders.
They are open all day, none of this closing midday stuff, so if you want a great beer at 5 PM, you can get one.
Bee Beer Cervezas y Quesos Artesanales
Calle Augusto Figueroa 30
Tuesday – Saturday 12:00 PM – 12:00 AM
Sunday 5:00 PM – 10:00 PM, Closed Monday
Brew Wild Pizza Bar
What goes better with beer than pizza? On the other hand, what’s better with pizza than beer? Circular reasoning like this often ends with us wanting pizza and beer, no matter where we are traveling. The guys behind Brew Wild Pizza Bar understand this logic. Brew Wild came about as a partnership between a beer shop in Madrid called Labirratorium; the brewers of La Quince Brewery; a Sicilian pizza chef; and a beer loving photographer named Carlos Alvarez.
La Quince Brewery was formed by cousins Jacobo Lliso and Juan Lliso in 2013. La Quince is a nomadic brewery. Of course my husband already knew what this meant but it was a new term for me. Nomadic brewmasters don’t have their own physical breweries but instead work with established breweries to make and distribute their beers.
Brew Wild Pizza Bar has 15 beers on tap, including several from La Quince. They also claim over 100 beers in bottles. The taproom is just the tip of the restaurant. Downstairs tables are tucked into nooks in a cool labyrinth of original 17th-century caves.
The Sicilian style pizzas are created by pizzaiolo Antonino Addan. There are a dozen delicious combinations to choose from. Our Parma pizza was piled with prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and arugula. Just look at how beautiful that is!
To go with our pizza, we tried two different New England IPAs: La Quince’s Green Mind NEIPA and True England NEIPA from Madrid’s Mad Brewing.
For a dessert beer, we shared a BOMB! Imperial stout from Prairie Artisan Ales in Oklahoma. Wow, full of chocolate and coffee flavors with a bite of heat from Ancho chili peppers and a whopping 13% alcohol.
Brew Wild Pizza Bar
Calle Echegaray, 23
Tuesday – Thursday 6:00 PM – 1:00 AM
Friday 6:00 PM – 02:30 AM
Saturday 1:00 PM – 02:30 AM
Sunday 1:00 PM -1: 00AM