Smoked eel

Smoked eel, red rocoto, white-coconut ice, and creamy coconut broth

El Club Allard was the first Michelin-star restaurant on our itinerary, and we were brimming with anticipation.

If only we could get in.

Blame it on jet lag, but it took us longer than necessary to enter the building. A sign affixed to the wrought-iron gate on the corner said, “Use other door.” The other door appeared to be locked. It was dark. Our cabs had departed. The street was not deserted or decrepit, but at the moment there was no one around to ask for help.

We checked our phones. A couple of us set off on an expedition toward the other end of the block – perhaps there was another door? Wrong night? Wrong time? We shrugged. One of us was dialing the restaurant when an amiable couple waiting inside the foyer apparently lost patience with our Keystone Cops routine and let us in. Saved!

Then, not a moment before 9pm, the ornate door at the top of the foyer’s marble staircase opened and the staff welcomed us inside.

El Club Allard exuded classic elegance. Comfy-looking upholstered chairs surrounded well-spaced, linen-topped tables. Glowing chandeliers reflected to infinity in mirrors on opposing muted gray walls trimmed in creamy white.

Amuse-bouche

Amuse-bouche at El Club Allard: an edible card with flavorful aioli.

We were seated in a room of our own, with a view through French doors into the general dining area. As we settled around the large, square table for eight, waiters drizzled bubbling Cava into flutes. Propped before us were place cards embossed with the restaurant’s logo.

A waiter placed small bowls of creamy spread on the table and explained: “Tonight you will find that our chef likes to have a little fun, and this amuse-bouche reflects that. The cards in front of you are edible. You are invited dip your card in the seasoned aioli and eat it. Enjoy.”

Well, why not? The potato-starch cards themselves were unremarkable, but they were made delicious by the aioli. We were undeniably amused.

After the Cava the waiters poured Naia Verdejo. Throughout the evening they ensured we rarely saw the bottoms of our glasses.

Servers glided in and out as the plates of our 10-course meal began to arrive. The first was a shallow bowl arranged with three triangular bites of smoked eel, crowned by red flower petals and accented with red rocoto peppers and tiny balls of coconut ice. Servers finished the dish with a creamy coconut broth, making a beautifully cool, composed soup.

Butterfish ale

Butterfish “ale” with Japanese salmon-egg crostini

Course two brought liquid comfort – a shot glass of “amber ale” alongside a crostini jeweled with Japanese salmon eggs. The ale was actually a warm butterfish broth beneath a white asparagus foam — a warming umami treat, craveable on a chilly, windy night. The staff promised without hesitation to package an order of the broth for Bob, who was under the weather and resting in the hotel. We couldn’t imagine anything more therapeutic.

Next came heavy stone bowls containing a single tiny pea ravioli and a light broth of Iberian dewlap, also poured at the table. (Dewlap, we found out later, is part of the pig’s neck. Who knew?)

Quail egg and truffle mushroom

Quail egg and truffle mushroom: the cupcake that made everyone cry

Everything was delicious, but the fourth course generated an unexpected reaction. Servers brought in chunky porcelain pedestals shaped like cross-cut logs standing on end. Atop each stood a mini-cupcake frosted electric green and studded with small crisps resembling Lucky Charms cereal.The scent of truffle engulfed the table. It was campy, a little gaudy, and slightly psychedelic.

“Here you have a quail egg and truffle mushroom, best eaten in one bite,” our waiter said.

We popped the morsels into our mouths and the table fell silent. Then came a chorus: “Mmmm,” “ahhh,” “ohmygod.” The cupcake, made of yucca, featured a moist canelé-like texture that transitioned to a soft interior, where the quail egg resided. The frosting was airy truffled custard. A bite of heaven. Sniffles came from the head of the table.

“Mom, are you crying!?” Kati said.

Her eyes brimming, Dorothy laughed and said, “I really needed that.” One charming bite had justified the effort of trip preparation, and perhaps released some of the stress she felt for her ailing husband. Soon nearly everyone teared up. Roxanne, sniffling and laughing, said, “This will be remembered as The Dinner With the Cupcake That Made Everyone Cry!”

Calamar "risotto"

Calamar “risotto”

Next, another gastronomical slight of hand: What appeared to be herbed risotto was really calamar cut to resemble rice. Alongside were green seashells that glistened like jellies, but were actually crisped rice. The flavors and textures were the definition of balance.

Orube Rioja began to flow as we moved to heartier flavors. The next dish was a beautiful plate of flaky black cod resting in a blue-tomato-infused broth, garnished with tiny scallions and a single purple flower.

Black cod

Black cod with blue-tomato infused broth

Following that: collagen-rich confit of suckling pig that melted on the tongue, accompanied by sweet-savory onion compote. Would it be bad form to lick our plates?

Desserts began with a refreshing, palate-restoring pisco-sour ice in a hibiscus flower cup – a nod to the chef’s Latin American roots.  The second dessert, understatedly billed as “chocolate clusters,” was a playful presentation of color and flavor: chocolate “rocks,” green minty “sponges,” olive toast, and pepper ice cream. Finally, a whimsical slate of petit fours – marzipan shaped like chalk, erasers, and refrigerator magnets.

Kati, Chef Marte, Dorothy

Kati, Chef Maria Marte, and Dorothy

Our meal complete, we asked if we could meet the artist behind the flavors. Chef Maria Marte obliged with a stop at our table, where she humbly accepted our praise. Dominican Chef Marte’s story is remarkable. Ten years ago, she was a dishwasher at El Club Allard, piecing together a living, working mad hours, trying to get ahead. Today she is the head chef of the two-Michelin-star restaurant in Spain’s capital, a testament to her drive, determination, and talent.

Of all of our meals in Spain, this one would stand out for the elegance and gracious service; Chef Marte’s whimsy, creativity and humble kindness; the colors, flavors, and balance; and, of course, the cupcake that made everyone cry.

 

 

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Spain 2015: Del Corazón

February 29, 2016

SoupJamon

Jamon Iberico is central to Spanish cuisine and was at the heart of nearly every meal we enjoyed.

Paris was a disappointment.

We’ve spent many happy days in the French capital, most of them unforgettable in fact. But this day was a letdown. Why? Because this day we expected to be not in Paris but in Madrid. This day we hoped to be touring the Prado, awakening our travel-weary senses to the delights of Velázquez and Goya, lunching on olives and croquetas, enjoying our first day in Spain with our friends the Weises. Not slumped on a bench in Charles De Gaulle Terminal 2F, unable to sleep.

Six of us had departed from Portland. But a faulty aircraft component had delayed our flight to Amsterdam, where we missed our connection to Madrid. Hence, the rebooking of four of our party through Paris and two through Barcelona. And a five-hour wait.

***

In 2012, Jeff and I were fortunate to have been invited along on a Weis family vacation to France. Dorothy engaged Trufflepig Travel to help organize that tour, which went down in family history as The Trip of a Lifetime.

Three years later, she re-enlisted Trufflepig to plan a 10-day adventure in Iberia over the Thanksgiving holiday. Sebastian Lapostol, an American living in Jerez whose interest in Flamenco guitar brought him to Spain, is Trufflepig’s expert. He helped craft an itinerary that would include Madrid and Toledo, Sevilla and Jerez, Barcelona and the Costa Brava.

LaFamiliaWeis

On the plaza in front of the Royal Palace

We were a cast of nine, comprising Weis family members primarily: Bob, Dorothy and their daughter, Kati; Zandra and James; Kyle and Roxanne; Jeff and I.

Our 120-page Piglet guide outlined our itinerary in detail. Much of the focus would be food and wine, but there also would be splendid hotels, opulent palaces, breathtaking vistas and knowledgeable people — aficionados — to guide our way.

Reflecting now, the cuisine features prominently, of course. But the greatest impression I carry is of the people we met and the passion they exuded — for their culture, tradition, food, music, art, architecture. For their country. It was clearly del corazón — from the heart.

We arrive, finally

StaircaseDay1Hotel

AC Palacio del Retiro’s enchanting spiral staircase

Bob, Dorothy and Kati landed on schedule and enjoyed the first day’s activities, which included the Prado and lunch. Those of us coming from Portland, not so much. But by evening we and our belongings had arrived — most of them, anyway. Kyle and Roxanne’s luggage was a no-show.

We late-comers checked in at our hotel, the AC Palacio del Retiro, formerly part of the Spanish Royalty’s secondary palace complex. Then we all met at the foot of the building’s elegant winding staircase for dinner.

The travel delay had blown our restaurant booking. Complicating a last-minute reservation for nine was the horde of soccer fans who had flocked to the city for a weekend match between rivals Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Though reluctant to recommend it, the hotel concierge directed us to a nearby Italian restaurant. “You won’t have trouble getting a table,” he said.

True enough. Fortunately, Trattoria Sant Arcangelo served precisely what was needed after a too-long travel day: translucent beef carpaccio, rich tagliatelle Bolognese, risotto fragrant with truffle, pizza al prosciutto e funghi, and silky gnocchi Gorgonzola. It wasn’t Spanish, but no one complained. That long-ago trip to France was a memory and our recent detour through Paris was over, thankfully. After several bottles of wine and a brisk stroll back to the hotel, we were ready for sleep, ready to recharge.

Our current Trip of a Lifetime was under way.

The Royal Palace of Madrid

The next morning we assembled in the lobby and met our guide, Gerardo (“Please call me Gerry”) Rappazzo. We shook hands all around, filed into our minibus and
departed for the Royal Palace of Madrid.

MeetingGerryDay1

“Please call me Gerry.”

Gerry switched on the mic and went into tour mode, his voice booming. “The road we are on, it’s called the Ronda,” he said. “Ronda means circle in Spanish, and this Ronda follows the footprint of Madrid’s ancient wall.” Looking north, we saw the narrow, ancient streets of old Madrid. To the south, wider, newer streets radiated into the distance. “Maybe you noticed the arch near your hotel; it’s called Puerta de Alcala, and was one of the original gates to the city.” He was clearly enjoying himself, but, as we would learn, he was just getting warmed up.

At the Royal Palace, Gerry ushered us past lines of tourists awaiting entry, over the vast parade ground and into the 3,000-room palace, whose design was inspired by drawings made for construction of the Louvre. Inside, we marveled at the grand staircase and gilded moldings, the painted vault ceilings and intricate, symbol-rich wall coverings, the assemblage of clocks.

Gerry was in his element, an unstanchable font of history, art appreciation, commentary, and trivia.

Did we know that in the 18th Century the king was dressed and undressed in public? That an audience watched him eat? That a royal marriage was consummated in view of the court? But of course, according to Gerry, it had to be so.

BigNoseDay1

King Charles III  (AKA Big Nose)

“You might ask me,” he said, one of his signature phrases, “Gerry, why is each room in the palace smaller than the previous?” And he would answer his own question: “Because the audiences witnessing the royal activities were smaller as the activities became more and more personal.”

Onward: The priceless Stradivarius collection; the Golden Fleece, symbol of the Monarchy; the magnificent velvet-walled throne room with its fresco ceiling; the near-ubiquitous presence, in stone, on canvas and in spirit, of 18th Century reformer King Charles III, known as Big Nose. All of which Gerry described in loving detail. Would we like to glimpse the king’s commode?

Bystanders would hear Gerry’s discourse and attach themselves to our group. Some asked questions. Gerry would gently disinvite them.

We learned much that day, but lesson No. 1 was this: A self-directed tour is generally a feeble substitute for one led by a knowledgeable guide who loves his or her subject.

Guernica

Case in point: Guernica, Pablo Picasso’s renowned anti-war statement housed in the Museo Reina Sofia, to which we paid a short visit after the palace tour.

Gerry, who has a background in art history, enlivened the painting with his interpretation. He described the political landscape that led to the German air bombardment of the Basque town of Guernica and its market, recounting how most of the village’s men were away at work or fighting the Nationalists when the attack occurred. Victims were predominantly women and children. He noted the symbolism of the bull, the aggressor (the Nazis or fascism in general), and that of the horse (the people of Guernica), screaming in pain; how the harsh angularity of the painting’s lines echoed the anguish of the human figures; the broken dove; the flower, a tiny emblem of hope. Though Jeff and I viewed the painting in 2011, we didn’t truly experience it until that day.

We wished for more time in the museum, but our mission was focused and we had a lunch reservation. So it was into the bus and off to Iroco.

Lunch

FoieIroco

Foie terrine with tangy mango chutney

Located in the posh Salamanca neighborhood, Iroco boasts a bright interior and crisp white tablecloths. The leafy terrace would have been first choice for seating, but the chill sealed our decision to eat inside. We took a large banquette table near the French doors to the terrace and ordered a couple of bottles of Albariño while we perused the Italianesque menu.

To start: sirloin carpaccio, sliced so thin it practically melted on your knife; chilled foie gras terrine, served with a mango chutney to cut the fatty richness; golden, crispy croquetas of Iberian ham and mushroom; and soft pillows of burrata alongside sweet tomato confit.

Entrées included cannelloni stuffed with meltingly tender veal cheek, gratineed with a punch of Gorgonzola; lightly sautéed baby squid punctuated by tangy citrus dressing; cod confit, artfully arranged with creamy white garlic sauce and a dotted arc of black garlic sauce. Mindful that dinner would be upon us soon, most of us leaned toward the lighter side, like a special of layered pato (duck) and vegetable lasagna; cubes of corvina ceviche with sautéed vegetables and cauliflower puree; and a green salad topped with crispy fried chicken and pomegranate seeds. After a morning of touring, lunch was restorative.

We departed into the brisk afternoon, strolling to the hotel through the northern margin of sun-dappled Parque del Buen Retiro. Dorothy and Kati then went in search of gifts for our next-day visit to Toledo. Still awaiting luggage, Kyle and Roxanne shopped for clothes. James, Zandra, Jeff and I resisted the urge to nap and walked to Plaza Mayor and the Mercado de San Miguel where, in the din of the crowded market, we enjoyed wine and a plate of jámon Ibérico.

We then set course for the hotel, keeping an eye out for a pub where we could stop in and watch the soccer match. Unfortunately, every establishment with a television was overflowing. As we heard later, it was not Real Madrid’s night. Barcelona won 4-0.

It was just as well that we couldn’t find seats. Watching the match would have involved more food and drink. We were just as happy to preserve our appetites for what would turn out to be a highlight of the trip: dinner that evening at El Club Allard.

Bar Lolo's new look.

Bar Lolo's new look.

Hey, Lolo! (Sorry … Bar Lolo.) So great to see you the other night. It’s been a while, and we have to say you are looking good. Really good. You’ve taken some time to focus on yourself, and it has paid off.

It looks like you’ve kept the best of what attracted us to begin with, and made a few small, but standout changes. First, we adore the pops of color — those coral-crimson chairs and bar stools, the wall of colorful paella pans and the natural wood wine holder really stand out against the cool putty colored walls and floor. And the blinged-out longhorn cow skull over the door proves you haven’t lost your sense of humor. We’re also totally digging the fact that you’re really getting back to your tapas-bar roots. The high wooden tables along the window scream Madrid. I see J and I and our fellow neighborhoodies dropping in after work for a glass of Albariño, cider or a cocktail, and a few small bites before a night on the town.

You’ve also made a few positive changes to the menu. We sampled quite a few tapas last night, including our longtime favorite shredded romaine salad, but I have to say, those specials you whipped up: Warm mission figs topped with Serrano ham and Gorgonzola? Are you kidding me? I thought I’d died and gone to heaven with that salty-sweet medley. I’m so glad we placed a last-minute order for the special paella croquettes — crispy fried spheres, perfectly proportioned, oozing with hot saffron-scented paella, chicken and shrimp in the middle. Incredible. We also love that you ditched the full-size burger in favor of delicious mini lamb sliders. Such a treat. And though we didn’t need them, we could not resist the  piping-hot churros with chocolate and honey dipping sauces. You really outdid yourself.

It was good catching up, Lolo. You look good, and you seem to have your groove back. The makeover has done done wonders, and I hope it gets you the attention you deserve. Maybe we can hang out sometime?

Toledo’s sloping lunch

April 27, 2011

Tilted soup and sliding spaghetti.

Everything in Toledo is “up the hill,” the guidebook said, and that’s where we went: out of the Moorish-inspired train depot, across the winding Tajo river and up the hill toward the center of old Toledo and the Plaza Zocodover. Station to square involved a 20-minute hike up steep paths and stairways, and as we neared the summit we found there was an escalator cut into the slope that would have done most of the trudgery for us, but no matter. Lunch usually tastes better with a sprinkle of sweat.

Old Toledo is like a movie set. The city is only 60 miles from Madrid (30 minutes by bullet train), but it felt like we had been transported back in time. Narrow streets and ancient buildings form a shadowy cobblestone maze navigated by grandmothers carting home the day’s groceries. Schoolkid chatter echoes across the plaza. But the Hollywood reverie was soon interrupted by the tourist masses, most of whom were headed to the same place: the Catedral de Toledo.

Begun in 1227 and built during a 250-year span, the cathedral is awe-inspiring — dim and cool, cavernous and soaring, with a marble tomb or gated chapel at every turn. The echoing interior drips with intricate carving and gilded altarwork; the sacristy houses a museum’s trove of paintings by El Greco, Goya, Velazquez and Carvaggio. Eyes heavenward and mouthes agape, we explored. Stunning.

After a couple of hours, the heady combination of hills and holiness got our appetites up, so out we went in search of sustenance. We landed at Restaurant Alcazar, whose terrace perches delicately on an incline. J started with gazpacho, which slanted in the bowl; I had to slurp my espeguettis before they slid off the plate. Frankly, the starters were the best part of the meal, but the fried fish and sauteed pork loin entrees were satisfying enough after an eventful morning, especially accompanied by a refreshing Spanish Rueda.

After lunch, we spent another hour hiking the slopes of Toledo before we made our way down the hill and back to the train station. The trek was definitely worth the effort if only for a few hours and a decidedly tilted meal.

Local Color

April 26, 2011

Fruit stall

Fruit stall at Mercado de San Miguel

Amid the grays, buffs, rusts and other muted tones of old Madrid, cherry red tends to catch the eye. Exiting Plaza Mayor through the northwest gate, cherry red is what you encounter — actual cherries, truth be told, and plump, gorgeous ones — beckoning from behind the glass walls of always-mobbed Mercado de San Miguel.

The market, a sleek food and drink bazaar, occupies an airy iron-and-glass structure that dates to 1916. Everything tempts — fruits and vegetables, fresh bread and pasta, meats, seafood, wine and beer, cheese, olives, pastries, tapas, flowers — all lovingly displayed. If the tumbler of piquant gazpacho and glasses of crisp white wine we devoured are an indication, they’re all delicious too. We’re hoping to eat a full meal here before we leave.

Mercado de San Miguel — one more delightful surprise.

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Pan, Pan, PAN!

April 25, 2011

Simple, delicious.

In the weeks before our holiday, J and I largely avoided bread, pasta and other simple carbohydrates. Now, anyone who knows me is aware I have a weakness for noodles, making this current diet a hardship (and making me cranky) at times, but I stuck with it nonetheless. And, except for the travel day which presented bland in-flight versions of the starchiest kind — chicken and white rice for dinner, egg on an English muffin for breakfast and a dry ham and cheese sandwich for lunch — we have, for the most part, been able to avoid overloading on carbs. That is, until yesterday when I may have met my match: the warm-out-of-the-oven, crusty exterior/pillowy-soft interior baguettes served in some restaurants and cafes.

Our first encounter with these treats was at Hontanares. While we consumed none at the time, the bocadillo (sandwich) action behind the counter caught my eye: a woman toasting fresh baguettes on the grill, then assembling the most simple, but delicious-looking, subs with jamón, queso, sausages or vegetables.

My friend agrees: No pasta, no happy.

An hour or so later, during our meal at La Finca de Susana, the waitress came by with smaller, pointier versions of the baguettes. Without ceremony, she placed them next to our plates. To break into one is something for the senses: The crust is crisp, but not too much so; the interior is soft and steaming, and neither the word chewy nor spongy fully describes the consistency, though those qualities exist. It’s soft, light and dense all at once. No homemade bread has ever matched this.

Today, after several hours touring the Reina Sofia and haunted by the assemblage of the sandwiches, we headed back to Hontenares. I ordered a Baguette Alemán — a toasted baguette topped with nothing more than halved sausages (frankfurters, really) and melted cheese. It was a good 12 inches long, and I halved it so J could try. (I gave him an inch and he took four or five!) Moments later, like a wisp of silk scarf disappearing around a corner, it was gone. Panicked, I contemplated ordering another, but I came to my senses. There is always mañana.

Easter Sunday in Madrid

April 24, 2011

Pate and gazpacho at La Finca de Susana.

In stark contrast to Saturday, today (Sunday) was near-perfect: Yesterday dawned cold, rainy and dreary; this morning was crisp and sunny. Yesterday’s walk along the Paseo de Prado began amid lush greenery but veered into the harsh concrete of Nuevos Ministerios; today’s expedition through the Parque del Buen Retiro was idyllic start to finish. Yesterday’s afternoon meal was a hastily chosen, overpriced, mostly bland filler on the Plaza Mayor; today’s main meal was sophisticated, delicious and affordable.

After our now-habitual breakfast buffet, we set out to erase yesterday’s shortcomings. Our walk led us to Madrid’s well-manicured version of Central Park where we spent several hours amid the maze of rose bushes and trellises of the Rosaleda (rose garden), the peacock party in the Jardines de D. Cecilio Rodriguez, the park’s central lake thronged by families and brimming with rowboats, and surrounding neighborhoods. Afterward, we ambled west in search of a friend-recommended restaurant: La Finca de Susanna near the Sevilla metro stop. La Finca had a line forming at 2 p.m., so we added our name to the hour-long wait list and headed around the corner to a cafe with a pastry-laden front window.

Hontanares has a coffee-shop vibe but a taberna menu. We sat at the counter, ordered wine and olives from the genial tabernero and recounted our walk. We were tempted by toasted bocadillos, meat- and cheese-filled pastries and more tapas, but did our best to avoid filling up before our scheduled meal.

At 3, we returned to the bright yellow awnings that mark the exterior of La Finca de Susanna. The interior is a study in bustling efficiency. Putty-colored walls, oversized black-and-gold barrel chandeliers and wall of wine are markedly contemporary, while rustic wood floors, crisp linens and palm-flanked windows give the space its namesake country-house feel.

The menu’s hearty Mediterranean and Spanish dishes make ordering a challenge. We started with a refreshing gazpacho laced with minced onions, red bell peppers and crunchy croutons; and a creamy chicken-liver pate enhanced by fruity olive oil. Hot fresh-baked bread did sopping duty as we awaited our entrees. J’s succulent braised pork ribs arrived accompanied by perfectly cooked couscous. My lamb shoulder, falling off the bone and bathed in a earthy pan juices, was complemented by sweet caramelized baby onions. We finished our two rather large plates, but dessert was out of the question — though a rich-looking wedge of chocolate torte sent to neighboring tables flirted with us briefly. Next time.

A beautiful day capped by a satisfying meal — a perfect Easter Sunday. We dedicate today’s meal to Julia y Pedro, the patron saints of the weekend “linner.” Mwah.

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Los Perros de Madrid

April 23, 2011

Un perrito wants ice cream.

A remarkable thing about Madrid is the concentration of little dogs. Sure, there are larger perros about, but everywhere we turn we run into some diminutive fuzzball on the end of a lead invoking awwwws from me and eye-rolling from J. (It could be that he sees his future in those bitty perritos, but is loath to admit it.)

Green space abounds in this metropolis but not in old Madrid. And, as any city dweller knows, when nature calls, los perros answer without hesitation. So along the streets in this part of town, it’s not unusual to see a little guy squatting on the cobblestone until the terrible tether tugs, pulling him off balance. Unable to set anchor for a bit of relief is a great burden.

It’s clear Madrileños love their pooches, but to call our hotel pet-friendly would be an understatement by the looks of the room-service “Menu para Mascotas”: vegetable risotto with rice, chicken stock, carrot, onion, asparagus and spinach, 16€; sliced filet mignon with steamed potato, olive oil and “a little salt,” 25€; suckling pig with couscous, 21€. And of course a dessert of petit fours.

La familia.

All approved and guaranteed by a local animal hospital.

We thought he world should know, but por favor … do not let Chance and Ernesto hear. We would have a revolución on our hands.

Day 1: Madrid

April 22, 2011

Tapas in the window of a taberna, Plaza Mayor.

Tapas at Plaza Mayor.

Having survived the near-coma induced by 17 hours of travel and a nine-hour time difference, our first full day in Madrid called for on-foot orientation. As every road trip requires fuel, we descended to the lobby of our hotel in search of fresh fruit to counter the unfortunate but unavoidable transgressions committed en route. The hotel restaurant, Midnight Rose, features a sleek dining room abutted by a swank tapas lounge. (More on that later in the trip.) Confronted with the choice of breakfast menu or buffet, we chose the latter — half-price if you join the hotel chain’s loyalty club — and started the day with fresh orange juice, coffee, sliced citrus, pineapple, eggs, pork in various mouthwatering forms and the like. My favorite: a table devoted to assorted cheeses, lox, cherry tomatoes, salchicha and jamón ibérico. Delightful.

Thus fortified and dressed for whatever weather might develop, we ventured west through narrow cobbled streets toward historic Plaza Mayor, which presented the first of many statues whose subjects were either 1. Master astride mount or 2. Steed en solo, having ditched master. The statuary of Madrid has a decidedly horsey flavor.

Restaurants surround Mayor, not surprising given the plaza’s tourist population even at 9 a.m. rivals the number of bronze caballeros in the city. What did surprise was the freshness of the shrimp, octopus, sausage, peppers, croquettes and other enticements artfully arranged in taberna windows. It was all we could do not to re-indulge. But no — onward to visitor-crammed el Palacio Real, through the royally trim Jardines de Sabatini, up to the Plaza de Espana, along the perimeter of Parque de la Montana and through the tranquil rose garden there, up the hill to Plaza de la Moncloa, back along the Gran Via toward Puerta del Sol and our home square, Plaza de Santa Ana. We walked for four or five hours, and though clouds threatened, not a drop christened us.

Ravenous now, we explored Santa Ana in search of a bite. Last evening, in our sleep-deprived haze, we bumbled into the modern Vinoteca Barbechera for croquettas, gambas y tortilla before succumbing to weariness. Today, we opted for Cerverzería Aleman’s terraza seating (outdoor, on the square) where we enjoyed a basic but welcome ensalada mixto, delectable aceitunas (olives), a crusty bocadillo de jamón ibérico y queso manchego (ham and cheese on baguette) and patatas fritas (addictive potato chips served at every taberna). Beer and wine in hand, we were set to linger — but alas the sky darkened and finally discharged. Relatively warm and dry beneath our terrace umbrella, we ate, drank and heartily sympathized with the luckless souls around us as they ducked, scrambled, scattered and otherwise fled the deluge. Many were unsuccessful, but most accepted the drenching with good humor, including our waiter, who warmed up to us as the temperature fell. “I am sorry so much,” he said. “This crazy weather.” We paid our tab and headed up for a siesta.

At 11-ish, our appetites spurred us out into the night with the rest of Madrid and its tourist onslaught. Holy week or is this typical? The cervecerías ringing Santa Ana overflowed, so we cut up a side street and happened on Guru, a quiet Indian restaurant with an open table. We started with a prawn flatbread called a puree and buttery vegetable pakura accompanied by a spicy-salty chile paste, a creamy mint sauce and sliced onions. Sizzling chicken tikka and a mild, savory aloo gobi rounded out our modest midnight meal and sent us home satisfied if not raving. We’ll happily try this place again, but for now it’s back to the pork — and whatever else awaits.

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