One week in Vegetarian Madrid

January 31, 2010 at 11:20 pm (Restaurant review, Trip report)


I just got back from a week in Madrid.  I didn’t read anything about it before leaving (didn’t even buy a guidebook) and thus wasn’t sure what to expect.  I certainly didn’t expect the huge metropolis that I found.  Madrid reminded me a lot of New York City–tall buildings, lots of people and traffic, great metro system, millions of shops and restaurants….  The main differences seemed to be that Madrilenos eat dinner at 10:30 at night, and speak Spanish.  I think Madrid would be a fun city to live in, but it was a bit overwhelming as a tourist destination, at least for a tourist as unprepared as I was.

Before leaving for Spain, I had read a bit about the cuisine.  I mostly found webpages complaining about how veggie unfriendly the country is.  I even found one page that claimed that Spain was voted the second worst country for vegetarians to travel in, after Mexico.  Supposedly meat and/or fish are in everything.  I don’t know if Madrid is different than the rest of the country, but I found the veggie-options to be better than I expected.  I was lucky enough to travel mostly with Spanish speakers, which definitely helped.  I never ended up being served anything that had any meat or fish in it (at least to my knowledge).

What did bother me (way more than the omniprescence of meat and fish) was the ubiquity of of cigarette smoke.  I felt like I had entered a time warp.  Smoking is allowed everywhere (it seems), but on the metro.  Cafes?  Suffused with smoke.  Restaurants?  The air is invariably murky and grey.  Bars?  I didn’t enter any, but I imagine they’re unbearable.  If I come to Madrid again I’ll come bearing a list of non-smoking restaurants (assuming they even exist).  Eating early (around 9pm) helps a bit, because the restaurants are mostly empty.  Most Spanish restaurants open for dinner around 9pm, but the crowds arrive closer to 10 or 10:30 I think.

A few restaurant tips:  Unlike Germany, it’s easy to get tap water in Madrid– just ask for “un vaso de aqua”.    Another tip:  Eat your main meal at lunch.  I know it’s a common traveller’s tip, but I think it’s even more relevant in Spain, given the late dinner hours and the ubiquity of well-priced “menu del dia”.  Apparently Spanish law requires every restaurant to offer a set lunch menu, and they tend to be 3 courses and 10-12 euros, 15 at most  (at least at the restaurants we visited).  Also, note that many restaurants give you bread, but there’s a small charge for it.  If you don’t want the bread give it back before you order.  Tipping consensus seems to be none for a drink in a bar or a cafe, except possibly a few cents if it’s easier.  In a cheap or moderate restaurant you’d leave nothing or round up a little to avoid making change, maybe adding a few euros at the most.  In a nice restaurant it seems like the norm is 5-10% depending on the quality of the service.

Vegetarian restaurants

There are quite a few vegetarian restaurants in Madrid (somewhere between 10 and 25 I’d guess), although a number of them actually also serve meat and fish.  I wasn’t able to try them all, but did my best:

  • La Galette:  (Frommer’s review) This is the oldest veggie restaurant in Madrid, and was also the first one I tried.  The restaurant is small and cozy to the point of crowdedness.  The walls are plastered with various animal figurines, and the music is classical.  Unfortunately, they allow smoking, and the menu has quite a few meat and fish dishes on it.   My travelling companion Adriana and I both ordered a set lunch menu.  I started with a salad of some sort.   I can‘t remember what was in it but I remember liking it a great deal.  Maybe it was spinach and apple?  The dressing was excellent–tart and rich but not too much of it.  Adriana’s salad had no greens in it!  It was a lot of cheese (some sort of mild, fresh Spanish cheese) and diced pear, and something else as well.  The pear was perfectly ripe and delicious, and the cheese was fine, but the honey dressing was much too sweet.  The salad needed some bitter greens and a more acidic dressing to balance out all the sugar.  For my main dish I got a “Persian” stuffed green pepper. Although the dish didn’t taste remotely Persian to me, the pepper itself was very flavorful.  It wasn’t a bell pepper–maybe a poblano?   The pepper was covered in a mild cheese, which was salty and rich but there was perhaps a tad too much of it.  The pepper was stuffed with something innocuous–some veggies and rice and/or corn maybe and the occasional lentil.  The dish was cheesy but I enjoyed it.  Adriana ordered a zucchini quiche, which was reasonably tasty but quite heavy.  For dessert I got a slice of apple tart, which I adored.  It was actually more like an apple pie.  The apples were cut extremely thin and there were a million layers.  It was just so full of apple flavor.  I’d definitely order it again.  Adriana ordered the lemon cheesecake.  We couldn’t taste much lemon, and the texture was different than an American cheese cake, but I thought it was delicious.  Given the price for the set lunch (around 11 euros I think), I’d definitely go back.  I do wish that the veggie options were less cheesy, however.  There was little to no seitan, tofu, tempeh, grains, or beans on the menu.  The service at La Galette wasn’t great, but it wasn’t the worst we had in Madrid.  The servers didn’t speak much English, so Adriana ordered for me in Spanish.  B+
  • I went to Isla del Tesoro for dinner.  I hadn’t made a reservation and everything was reserved but they said they could squeeze me in if I was done by 10pm.  Like La Galette, the inside was small and cozy, although the decor was a bit less homey/kitschy and a bit more trendy/funky/romantic. I didn’t order a starter but they gave me a complimentary dish of warm cooked chickpeas with warm spices, onions, and mayo.  It was rich but I thought it made a great spread for the bread.   And I was thrilled to have some beans.  For my main I ordered the “Tan Tan Seitan”.  The dish was made of diced seitan and veggies in some sort of strong-tasting sauce.  The seitan was covered with mashed potatoes, which were then topped with some crunchy, flaky topping.  On the side were pieces of battered, deep fried taro root in a sweet ginger sauce.  I hated it.  The seitan itself was fine, but it had a pretty strong seitan flavor.  The vegetables it were cooked with were awful.  I’m not sure which vegetables were there, but I think there was a huge amount of celery.  I normally like celery okay but this celery was just too overpowering for me.  I’m never a big fan of mashed potatoes, but these ones were innocuous.  However, the crispy, flaky things scattered all over the top were awful.  I found them very sharp, tasteless, and annoying.  The taro was just very starchy.  Why would they add taro as the side when they already gave you a big pile of mashed potatoes?  I think broccoli or some other non-starchy vegetable would have been more appropriate.  Also, the sweet sauce that the taro was topped with just did not go with any of the other flavors in the dish.  I ate a little of the seitan and potatoes and left the remainder of the dish untouched.  The waiter didn’t even notice–just whisked the plate away when I set down my fork.  I was still hungy so I ordered a dish of carmelized apples for dessert, hoping for more of the apple-y goodness I’d had at La Galette.  The apples were fine, but I wouldn’t recommend the dish.  I don’t know what I expected from caramelized apples, but I found the dish a bit boring.   Despite hating my main dish, I’d try Isla del Tesoro again since the reviews online are pretty good and I really only tried one dish.  However I’d go for lunch when the prices are cheaper.  Rating:  D
  • Derek and I tried Yerbabuena the night before I left.  The decor was not as nice as either La Galette or Isla del Tesoro–the room had more of a plastic, fast food feel to it.  The menu is enormous and all the dishes are extremely complicated sounding.  Luckily they had English menus or we wouldn’t have understood any of  the fine details.  They started us off with an amuse bouche of crisp bread topped with some kind of veggie spread (tomato maybe) and a shot glass of melon juice.  The bread was pleasant but I thought it was odd to serve melon in January.  We decided to share an appetizer of mushrooms and hot green chilies.  Both were battered and deep fried.  The mushrooms (not sure what type) were very flavorful and the green chilies had a nice, strong (but not too spicy) flavor.  The veggies were served with some kind of dipping sauce which I liked, and there was a bright green sauce spread in droplets around the rim of the place.  The green sauce was very fresh and “green” tasting, but I couldn’t figure out what it was made of.  I wish there had been more of it.  It heped cut through the grease, of which there was a huge amount.    I wish the waitress had told us that the appetizer was way too big for two people.  It would have made a fine appetizer for 4 or 5 people I think, but the two of us were overwhelmed by all the oil.  For my entree I ordered the seitan scallopine.  I was expecting something kind of thin and delicate but it was a huge, dark hunk of seitan.  The taste was good–not thrilling but I liked it fine, as did Derek.  There plate also came with four vegetable sides:  broccoli, red cabbage salad, boiled potatoes, and broiled tomatoes.  The veggies were all fine, but not too memorable.   Overall the dish was okay but not great, and very heavy.  Derek said everything tasted like it was drowning in oil, especially the seitan.  For his main, Derek ordered the vegetable cannelloni.  I was suspicious since the filling contained tvp and wheat germ, but Derek thought they looked good.  Turns out I was right–they were awful.  The cannelloni were covered in a vegan “bechamel” sauce that was just nasty.  Like lumpy, grey, soy glue.  The filling had no identifiable vegetables, nor any taste, and the tvp/wheat germ texture was gross.  The only edible part of the dish were the sprouts on top and two “parmesan” crisps.  When I first tasted one I was convinced it was a dosa, since it tasted just like the “dosas” I make at home.  But Derek immediately corrected me.  I was embarassed that I hadn’t tasted the parmesan!  The waitress noticed that we hadn’t touched the cannelloni, and asked “Didn’t you like it?”.  I said “no” and she said “why?”  I couldn’t explain why in Spanish.  When we got our bill we were extremely surprised to see that the waitress had only charged us for one main dish.  That kind of service doesn’t exist in Germany!  In general at Yerbabuena the service was quite attentive and prompt.  I thought the prices were a tad high but the portions are huge so if you find something you like you could definitely share it, and then the prices would be more resonable.  The Happy Cow reviews are quite positive, although a few reviewers complain about the oil and too many fake meat dishes.  Rating: C
  • I enjoyed La Galette and so I decided to try its sister restaurant:  La Galette II / Casa Escondida.  I showed up at 1:30pm for lunch and was told to come back at 2pm, when they open. I don’t understand why there are two names.  When they sat me they didn’t ask which restaurant I wanted, but their card seems to indicate that the two restaurants have different menus. Like La Galette the menu isn’t really vegetarian, although there is a large vegetarian section.  There are also set lunch menus, but they’re more expensive than at La Galette and offer fewer choices, so I decided to go a la carte.  After I ordered the waiter set down a basket of bread and a ball of something pale pink and a little gelatinous looking.  I asked if it was vegetarian, and he said “Yes, of course.  It’s… what do you say… la tuna fish.”  I handed it back to him, and he kindly brought me a ball of goat cheese instead.  I ordered the stuffed chard.  The waiters delivered me a dish that looked oddly similar to the Persian stuffed pepper I had ordered at La Galette.  It was covered in a layer of cheese, but I peeked at the side and indeed it looked like a green pepper.  I finally flagged the waiter down and told them it wasn’t what I ordered.  I said I ordered the stuffed chard.  He said “that is the chard”.  “No, it’s the pepper” I said in Spanish this time.  He said, “Oh, indeed” and whisked it away.  Ten minutes later they came back with another lump covered in cheese, but this time it was my stuffed chard.  It was just a single leaf of chard, and I couldn’t really taste the chard itself, but the stuffing was quite lovely.  It was grated carrots (raw perhaps) mixed with raisins, nuts, honey, a little bit of rolled oats (called meuslix on the menu) and maybe lemon juice.  It was very light but all the flavors were perfectly balanced, and the cheese added richness and salt.  I would love to try to make something similar myself.   The dish seemed a bit small given that it was mostly grated carrots–I think it should have come with a side of green vegetables or beans or something.  Still, I was glad to have room for dessert.  In hopes of recreating the apple experience from La Galette, I ordered the apple strudel.  It was some kind of a pastry dough stuffed with finely minced apple, lots of nuts, and lots of strong winter spices.  The dish came with a scoop of ice cream and whipped cream, which were useful to cut through the intensely spiced filling.  I quite liked the dish, although I didn’t really need the pastry dough–I would have been happy with a scoop of the filling topped with ice cream.  My main dish was 8 euros and the dessert 5.50.  Rating: B
  • We took a day trip to the World Heritage Site of Segovia, a lovely little town about a half hour from Madrid.  My travelling companion Karen was kind enough to find a cute little vegetarian restaurant called Almuzara, with adorable menus.  Both Karen and Adriana were quite happy to try the restaurant, even though neither is a vegetarian.  (Great travel companions!)  Although it turned out that, like La Galette, the menu wasn’t fully vegetarian.  We decided what to order but the waitress wasn’t happy with our choices.  She said Adriana would have too much food and the garlic soup I ordered as an appetizer was big enough for a whole meal.  We appreciated the advice!  I suggested that the three of us share the soup, and she acquiesced.  In fact, she brought us the soup in three separate bowls.  It was a rich garlic broth with olive oil and little tiny tendrils of egg.  Delicious.  We were very cold and the warm soup hit the spot.  EVeryone liked it, although Adriana and I both added salt.  I had a really difficult time  deciding what to order, and kind of randomly ended up with a plate of “fresh cheese, steamed vegetables, and brown rice.”  It didn’t really sound very good, and when it came I discovered that the vegetables were steamed red cabbage and leeks.  It looked pretty awful, and I was kicking myself for ordering so badly.  But then I tasted it and it wasn’t very sulfurous at all.  In fact the cabbage was quite mild and sweet and delicious.  I mixed everything up together, added a little olive oil and salt, and really enjoyed my not-at-all-greasy lunch!  Karen ordered a cous cous dish which came with the exact same vegetables as my dish, but couscous instead of rice, and a cold, sweet sauce on the side.  I tried the sauce on my veggies but it didn’t do much for me.  I was hoping for a spicy, moroccan style sauce.  Adriana ordered another tart/quiche like thing which came with sauteed mushrooms.  Both were reasonably tasty, but quite rich.  Adriana and Karen’s favorite part of the meal was some kind of “digestif” herbal tea that they ordered.  Adriana really loved it, and asked the waitress if she could buy some to take home.  The waitress said no, but as we were leaving she handed Adriana a napkin in which she had folded up some of the tea.  Great service!

For a different viewpoint, here is another trip report from a vegetarian in Madrid.

Tapas

Tapas bars are everywhere in Madrid, but I only ended up going out for tapas once.  I tried a few other traditional tapas dishes at other times.

  • Minchu:  I went to this “chic” tapas bar on my first night in Madrid.  We had a very large group (maybe 10 people), and I was the only vegetarian, so ordering was quite challenging.  Also, the servers just didn’t seem all there, despite the fact that our order was given by a native-Spanish speaker. Nonetheless, I ended up getting to try quite a few dishes.  The first tapa was a salad with goat cheese and raspberry vinaigrette.  It was fine but the dressing was a little sweet for me–I wouldn’t get it again.  I also tried the veggie paella, which was very oily and salty but tasty.  My favorite dish was a dish with eggs and some sort of mushroom that I didn’t recognize.  Although a couple of the guys in our party seemed to really like Minchu, the general consensus was that the food wasn’t anything special.
  • Las Bravas:  This downtown tapas bar is famous for its Patatas Brava, deep fried potatoes covered in a spicy sauce. Derek and I passed it on the way back from the Prado, and we wanted to try it since we were starving and dinner wasn’t for a while.  I had unknowingly ordered the patatas bravas at a cafe near the royal palace a few days earlier, and they were horrible.  They were served with the spicy sauce and with some terrible, sticky, overly sweet, German-style mayo. As you can imagine, I was hesitant to try the dish again.  But then I tasted the ones from Las Bravas, and I liked them.  The sauce was more balanced between spicy, salty, and vinegary, there was no nasty mayo, and the potatoes had more flavor and a better texture.  It was a tasty, if not very healthy, snack.
  • I tried a slide of tortillas de patata at our hotel breakfast, and quite liked it.  It was much less rich-tasting than I expected, and less eggy.  The room temperature layered potato “omelette” made a nice breakfast.
  • pan con tomate = bread rubbed with tomato puree, olive oil, and salt or garlic.  I was given this at one of the restaurants, and enjoyed it.  I saw tons of people making it for themselves at the hotel breakfast.
  • croquetas de queso = cheese croquettes (breaded, deep-fried, oblong cheese balls).  Adriana ordered these for lunch at La Finca de Susana, and let me have two of her croquettes.  They were quite delicious.  The cheese filling was almost liquidy, and tasted a little bit like high-quality Texas “nacho cheese”–they must add some pimentos or something to the cheese?

I’m not sure if it’s a typical tapa dish, but another Spanish specialty I tried was “Cardo”.  Derek’s Argentinian student claimed to know what it was, but couldn’t really explain it to us.  Adriana (who is from Uruguay), had never heard the word.  I was pretty sure it meant Cardoon, which I’ve never had, but have read about.  I know that cardoons are still eaten relatively frequently in Spain, and I decided to try it.  The cardoons were braised in some kind of a rich liquid, which had thickened to a sauce.  They were topped with black truffles, which I could definitely see but couldn’t quite taste.  I liked the taste of the cardoons though–artichokey, with a texture somewhat akin to celery.  The dish was very expensive because of the truffles, but if I could get it without the truffles I’d definitely order it again.

Supposedly there are other common vegetarian tapas, which I didn’t get a chance to try:  tortilla de pimientos (bell pepper), potato croquettes, cheese empanadas, batter-fried onions, pisto machego (zucchini, tomato, pepper, and onion stew), garlic-sauted artichokes, and zarangollo (zucchini and onion stew), and lentejas (lentil stew).

Street food, sweets, and food markets

Hot chocolate and churros (deep fried pieces of dough) seems to be an essential Madrid experience.  The hot chocolate is almost pudding-thick, and (according to several fellow tourists) barely sweetened.  The top tourist destination is Chocolatería San Ginés.  Derek and I stopped by for dessert one night and the chocolate (although extremely thick), was way too sweet, and had a strange “off” flavor.  I love chocolate, yet even I didn’t want to drink it.  The churros were surprisingly salty.  I thought they tasted fine, but I wasn’t that excited about them.  Derek didn’t care for them at all.  I never tried any other churros, but (on Karen’s recommendation) I did try the hot chocolate at the cafe of the Museum Reina Sofia.  It was very thick (almost pudding like) and very chocolately, with no off flavors.  It was a bit sweeter than I was expecting, but quite lovely.  It was a little expensive, but I’m glad I tried it, as otherwise I would only have had the offputting San Gines chocolate to base my opinion on.

Since we spent all day on our feet, we stopped usually once a day at a cafe, ostensibly to have some coffee and a sweet, but really to just rest our weary feet.  I tried a number of different Spanish pastries, cookies, and chocolates.  Most of them were quite cute and small, but none were too memorable.  The best of the bunch was the anise-flavored donut Derek and I shared from Casa Mira at Carrera de San Jerónimo 30.

We didn’t see a lot of street food in Madrid.  We did pass a number of street stalls selling roast sweet potatoes, but I never got a chance to try one.  Some of the stands were also selling roast corn on the cob, but the corn looked liked it had been frozen for five months, and wasn’t very appealing.  The most appealing “street food” was the citrus fruit at all the corner fruterias.   I bought a number of clementines, which make great snacks when it’s 1pm and none of the restaurants are open for lunch yet.  The oranges at the restaurant breakfast were also really good.

Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to many of the markets in Madrid.  On the other hand, I suspect that they weren’t too thrilling in January.  We stopped by one in La Latina and most of the stalls were empty and the ones that weren’t didn’t offer much that was appealing.  I did quite enjoy the Mercado de San Miguel, however.  It’s apparently the only Madrid market which has retained its original glass and metal structure.  It’s lovely to look at, and inside it’s reminiscent of Whole Foods.  It seems that it’s more of a trendy place to eat lunch than a true market, but still it was fun to walk through for ten minutes and look at the various stalls.   They have a stand with books, which included some great looking (Spanish language) books about food in Madrid.

Other restaurants

Finally, a few comments on two non-Spanish, non-vegetarian restaurants I tried:

  • Tagliatella:  This Italian restaurant near our hotel on Capitan Haya was huge, and empty.  It’s part of a chain, and didn’t look to appealing, but we were in a rush and it was convenient.  Derek ordered the 7-cheese pizza, which wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great, but it certainly could have been worse.  I ordered the pumpkin ravioli in a goat cheese, pistachio, cream sauce.  The dish was enormous.  Normally when you order ravioli you get about 5 raviolis–I think this dish had about 15 or 20!  The pumpkin flavor was quite nice, and I liked the pistachios, but there was just too much sauce. If I went back I’d order a lighter sauce, or have them put it on the side maybe.  Overall, it wasn’t bad.  I think if you go with a big group and share a few dishes it would be very cheap, since the dishes are so huge.  I’d probably actually go back if it were in Saarbruecken.
  • Cocina Asiatica Xin:  Derek and I were craving Asian, after eating Spanish food for a week.  I had read a glowing review of this pan-Asian restaurant on the expat blog “Notes from Madrid”.  Inside it didn’t look that promising, but we were hungry and all the other restaurants on the street were full.  I started off with “five-veggie” spring rolls.  There were egg rolls on the menu that were listed as fried, so I figured the spring rolls (which didn’t say fried) were fresh rolls.  They weren’t.  They were deep fried.  The filling was bland–needed more salt and pepper.  The dipping sauce just tasted like watered down soy sauce–no hint of sweet.  I wasn’t impressed.  For my main dish I ordered a vegetable stirfry.  It came, but no rice.  Whoops, the waitress had neglected to tell us that the dishes don’t come with rice.  My dish was extremely salty and extremely oily, and rice was essential.   It was reasonably tasty.  I liked the mushrooms and the baby carrots a lot.  Still, I was appalled at how greasy the dish was–way greasier than standard Chinese food.   Derek wasn’t that impressed by his dishes either.  He started with some meaty dumplings, which were “just okay” and then had some meat with coriander and sesame, which was “fine”.  I wouldn’t recommend Xin, and I would be hesitant to go back.  There must be better Asian in Madrid.  The prices were pretty cheap though.  I think my stirfry was 6 euros?
  • La Finca du Susana:  Adriana and I went to this restaurant for lunch.  In addition to the croquetas de queso (see above), we shared a salad, which was quite enormous given the price.  However, it tasted a little low quality–clearly pre-bagged greens, mealy tomato, etc.  My main dish at La Finca de Susan was a mushroom pasta.  The mushrooms were good but there were only about 5 of them in a huge bowl of pasta.  I was quite disappointed.  The place was packed though.  It’s obviously popular.  I think the quantity of food for the price (at least for lunch) is hard to beat.  Still, I don’t think I’d go back.  Derek also ended up going here on a separate occasion, and said the food seemed pretty low quality.

Shopping

Finally, a word about some shops I visited in Madid.  I was tired of hauling around my huge backpack when all I was caring was a small guidebook and small umbrella.  Adriana has a lovely little backpack and was determined to help me find one just as nice.  We went into a million shops looking for something similar, and finally found a great selection of adorable little backpacks at the shop Mayorpiel, near Sol.  I bought a lovely backpack by Rialto Leather.

I also visited two English bookstores.  The first was a new bookstore, Bookworld, on Calle Gaya quite a bit East of Salamanca.  I asked the saleswoman for a recommendation and the first book she recommended was one my mother had been raving about as well.  I bought it, and her second recommendation as well.  I read them both before I left Spain.  I figured I would try to sell them to a used bookstore, and buy some more with the money.  To do that, I headed to Petra’s International Bookshop.  Many of the books were piled one on top of each other and hidden behind one other, but besides the chaos (and the cat that made me sneeze) I had a great time browsing through the books, looking for some to take back to Germany.  All the paperbacks I bought were 4-5 euros.  Definitely better than buying new books from Amazon!

Also, before I left I stopped in the grocery store in the local department store (El Corte Ingles) and bought pinto beans, black beans, and a number of jars of canned salsa (Goya and Herdez brands).

Update Nov 2012:

Derek and I went back to Madrid for a short trip.  The first night we went with friends to La Galette II.   Emi and I shared a salad of spinach, apple, toasted pine nuts, and an apple ginger compote dressing.  The ingredients were fine but it was boring–and really woefully underdressed.  We asked for more of the compote and then it was better, but still not worth recommending.  For my main dish I got the stuffed pepper, which wasn’t very good.  There was a lot of cheese but overall it was just quite boring.  Derek ordered a vegetarian ravioli (with pear and sheep cheese maybe?) for his main dish, and it was small but quite tasty.  I don’t remember what the filling was but both of us liked it a lot.  Our friends ordered a meat dish and a fish dish, and neither seemed too excited.  For dessert we shared an apple dessert, and liked it pretty well.  Overall I would say the experience was a bit worse than the last time I went.  B-

I ate one dinner alone at the bar at Asiana Next Door, which Derek had been to before and recommended as interesting and veggie friendly.  I could’t read the spanish menu too well, so I asked the waiter which dishes were vegetarian.  The waiter seemed kind of disturbed by my question, and ran back into the kitchen to talk to the chef.  He came out and asked how hungry I was.  I told him not very hungry and he said “okay, we’ll bring you something vegetarian.”  I said fine, and didn’t ask any questions, which was pretty stupid of me.  The waiter came back with four little dumplings each topped with a shiitake mushroom.  The mushrooms were good but quite small, and the dumplings didn’t do it for me.  They were filled with some kind of creamy but bland cheese (mozzarella maybe?) and were pretty much just tasted like white flour dough, salt, and fat.  I think Derek would have loved them, but I found them pretty uninspired.  After I finished the dumplings the waiter brought me a bowl of thai red vegetable curry, which had lots of eggplant in it.  I have to say I didn’t care for it that much, and not just because of the eggplant.  I just found the sauce too rich.  It was fine, but after the rich appetizer it was a bit too much.  I didn’t really want to finish the curry but the waiter (and some guy in a baseball cap, maybe the chef?) kept asking me if everything was okay and looking really anxious, and I felt like I had to finish what they’d made for me special.  But then when I finished the curry he brought me a third dish!  I can’t imagine how much they would have given me if I had said I was very hungry!  The last dish was a quite small salad, which was interesting with a few different sauces, but again quite rich.  It was probably my favorite of the three dishes, but I was very full at that point.  Overall I found the food too “easy”—at those prices I would expect less salt and oil and more real creativity.

We went with friends to see a Flamenco show at Corral de la Morería, and beforehand we had a few tapas at a place on Cava Baja, and then shared a huitlacoche quesadilla and a plate of nachos at some Mexican restaurant nearby.  The nachos weren’t anything all that special, but I enjoyed them, and the salsas they were served with.

My favorite meal of this trip was at a small hole-in-the-wall mushroom restaurant:  El Cisne Azul (in Chueca).  The Guardian mentioned it in an article about mushrooms:  “Inside what looks like an old-style bar, Julian Pulido and his two sons serve 15 types of wild fungus, many of which they pick themselves at weekends in Madrid’s surrounding mountains.”  The restaurant started us off with some complimentary olives that were excellent.  I ate so many!  As an appetizer we shared two dishes.  The first was a plate of baby zucchini with the blossoms attached, which were sauteed in olive oil.  I thought they were fine, but Derek and Boris seemed to like them a lot more than me.  Then we got a salad with some strange wild greens that I’ve never had before.  I loved it.  They were so fresh and so flavorful and the olive oil was really wonderful.  After that we shared several plates of different kinds of mushrooms, including one of porcinis and one of shiitakes.  The mushrooms came with different toppings (one a runny egg, another some cheese,…).  All the ones we tried were good, but none of them were as good as the salad.  I’d definitely go back and try some of their other salads, and some of the other mushroom varieties.  Derek and Boris also both seemed to really like the house wine.  Note:  the restaurant is tiny and they don’t take reservations.

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6 Comments

  1. austingardener said,

    Enjoyed your eating adventures in Madrid.
    You really wrote alot.

    What book did I recommend?
    did you like it?

    • captious said,

      The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It was light and innocuous–very easy reading. I wouldn’t rave about it, but it was a pleasant enough read. I didn’t know anything about the German occupation of the British-controlled islands during World War II, and I enjoyed learning a little about it.

      The other book she recommended was “The Other Hand” by Chris Cleave. I didn’t care for it too much. It felt too much like a highly-contrived political tract, rather than an authentic story about authentic people. I never really believed in any of the characters, in what supposedly happened to them, or in how they reacted to those fictional experiences. As a result, I didn’t really trust any of the political critiques either. Not that there isn’t plenty to critique, I’m sure. Just that I don’t trust Cleave to give me an honest, compelling accounting.

  2. Wes said,

    You know, I was hoping for some good recommendations for Madrid when I came to this blog, but it seems like you’ve got negative things to say about each of these places. All the food was too greasy, too tart, with too much sauce, an “off” flavor, too cheesy, too small, too heavy…

    I do appreciate the balance and attempt to not over-praise restaurants, but your reviews don’t make me really anxious to try any of the places you visited. Were any of them must-visits?

    • captious said,

      Yes, I had negative things to say about each of these places. But I also stated quite clearly what I liked about each place. And no, there weren’t any clear “must visits”. If I lived in Madrid I’m sure I could give you some clearer recommendations, but after only one visit I can report to you only the mixed bag that I actually experienced. Based on my overall ratings, if I were to go back you can see that my order of preference would be La Galette and then La Galette II. I probably wouldn’t go back to Yerbabuena unless I lived in Madrid. I might try Isla del Toro again, since the online reviews are so good, but only with a big group so that I could try more dishes. But partly it depends on you–how much does decor matter? How about prices, or vegan-friendliness? Do you care if there’s meat on the menu? I tried to give people enough info to get a sense of each restaurant.

  3. vegetarianvenues said,

    Hi! Every article we seem to read about vegetarian food in Madrid seems to be quite negative which is why we have started our own blog all about where to get the best vegetarian food in this amazing city! Check out http://vegetarianvenues.wordpress.com/ for some great recommendations and please get in touch to add your own tips – we’re aiming to build a comprehensive vegetarian guide to Madrid.

    http://vegetarianvenues.wordpress.com/

    Thanks!

    2 Madrid veggies x

  4. Rudolf said,

    And its a new vegetarian restaurant and vegan friendly in Madrid, his name is Sanissimo(calle San Vicente Ferrer 28) they have Facebook and Web. http://Www.sanissimo.eu is very cheap, fresh, and good taste

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