The Huertas neighborhood of central Madrid wasn’t a place I would go more than a handful of times a year to eat, but the bars and tapas joints there are famous for their vermouth and hearty croquetas, salty jamón and oily anchovies. This charming and buzzy East Village restaurant opened a few years ago and signed up to the gratuity-free group, strengthening their Euro-credentials. There was the NYT article about how they added the ‘extra tentacle’ to their octopus dish to make the price increase fairer on diners, and it really is more reasonable than other tapas bars where you can spend an obscene amount on very little food.
Canned fish is something our server had spoken to many a diner about before, and his rehearsed lines – ‘Americans look down on canned products but in Spain they are often the best’ – weren’t necessary to persuade us to order the mussels, drenched in rich paprika oil. The croquetas were excellent while the jamón was merely good, but the bistek (skirt steak, $23) and huevos rotos (quails egg beaten over stringed pasta-like potato, $12) were exceptional.
There is a wide range of drinks, from the aforementioned vermouth, to gintonic on tap, along with beers, cocktails and kalimotxos (red wine & cola).
It was refreshing not to have to worry about tipping and also not to be hassled unnecessarily by overly-attentive servers checking up on the table. This is the future.
Subway: 1st Ave (L)
We came here for happy hour and were impressed by the range of tapas and drinks. The mango margarita went down a treat and the Goose Island beer was great, Boquerones (white anchovies) on mini avocado-smeared tostas were just average, while the vegetable empanadas were a little better. Remolacha salad (red and golden beets, with goats cheese and a pineapple vinaigrette) were very mismatched – textbook hippy tucker. Quinoa croquets (filled with mushroom and roasted pepper and served with a truffle aioli) upped the ante, though: we could have easily had another plate of these. Service is friendly and prices are low, with wine and cocktails at $5 during happy hour, and draft beers at an unbelievable $3, until 7pm even on Fridays.
A wide range of toasts with delectable toppings at surprisingly high prices, this certainly is the place to try something a little more Spanish as the Bangladeshi-Indian restaurants are almost outnumbering the neighbourhood cervecerias. The solomillo was delicious, thick and firm and not too fatty at all, while the melted cheese sat well with the mushrooms. We shared three amongst five of us, but if you had one each it would almost make a substantially filling meal.
This is the new outlet for the talents of David Muñoz, he of two Michelin stars, the Premio Nacional de Gastronomía al Mejor Jefe de Cocina (Spanish National Gastronomy Award to the Best Chef) and three soles in Guía Repsol. His restaurant DiverXo, soon to be reviewed on these pages, is fast becoming the most famous restaurant in Madrid for modern Spanish cuisine, verging on the experimental. StreetXo was hopping, serving food to hungry punters standing around its shiny bar, well after the last few diners had left all the other food stands in ‘Gourmet Experience’, on the top floor of El Corte Inglés. You may even see him here with his signature mohawk directing the five or six other chefs on Sunday or Monday, the days when DiverXo is closed.
We tried the Chilli Crab, which was exceptional, if a little messy to eat. The small flakes of meat were mostly in the sauce, a lively concoction that was soaked up with the tasty little cubes of Chinese bread. There’s more to be had here, and plenty more trips to come.
After three visits here, after a film at the Cine Ideal five minutes walk up Calle Dr. Cortezo, I can confidently say that I shan’t be back. Our last two visits were marred by substandard food for not-so-cheap prices. They certainly have drinks, and if you’re thirsty you certainly could do worse, but don’t stick around to eat. Our Rueda de Mariscos was straight out of the fridge, and even the pulpo gallego that it contained was below average. Cold mussels, a minuscule ‘portion’ of prawns and lacklustre service disappointed us all.
Metro Tirso de Molina
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We finally made it here still in our swimwear, straight from the pool. I had never seen PTT open, and this was our opportunity. They even said the kitchen was closing but we pleaded, and they yielded.
The Pad Thai was really rather good, beautifully presented, nutty, crunchy and not at all heavy. But the real star of this late lunch was the Satay de langostinos, with a generous serving of spicy peanut sauce. Be careful if you ask for extra chilli: the birds’ eye chilli flecks they put in front of you are lethal.
Wine is served in splendidly large glasses, and the decor is clean and fresh – the closest I’ve seen to New Asian in Madrid, with subtle touches of bamboo, rice-paddy green and not a trace of gold nor a red-tassel lantern in sight. I shall be coming here very regularly.
Metro Embajadores/ Palos de la Frontera