April 15, 2009

Cava Baja: my favorite street in Madrid

This dark, lively, beautiful street is Cava Baja, my favorite street in Madrid. To explain, I need to rewind a couple of days.

During our first stop through Madrid, S+K, Lav and I went on a fun tapas crawl through the streets between Puerta del Sol and Plaza Santa Ana. Five places, some good food, but nothing that left an indelible impression on my mind. I had to admit to my companions that I was a bit disappointed with the food, given how (perhaps unrealistically) high my expectations had been prior to the trip.

But then Lav and I had some exceptional tapas in Granada and Sevilla. I was enthralled, and my expectations were reignited. Madrid would get a second chance as we passed through for just an evening, traveling from Sevilla to Santiago de Compostela. And this time, Madrid wouldn't let me down.

Our hostel for the evening was located an easy 10 minute walk from the area of taverns around the La Latina metro station, near the literary quarter. Our first stop was at La Camarilla (Cava Baja, 21), a full service restaurant with an excellent tapas bar (and fantastic beer on tap). I also spotted an Asian sous-chef in the kitchen... sweet.

Empanadilla de Atún: Flaky, buttery, richly flavored... tuna has never tasted more like pork than in this empanadilla (included with our drinks).

Pinchos of mushroom, crisped jamon and Tempura de Pimentón: Two delicious bites, with the jamon adding just enough of an accent to enrich the earthiness of the sauteed mushrooms and the vegetal bite of the pepper.

Next stop, Casa Lucas (Cava Baja, 30), just a few doors down, serving innovative pinchos. This is the one place I got by speaking only the few words of Spanish I know, somehow without needing to ever point, pause, or make up words while trying not to look confused. A bit of salami was served with our drinks as we looked through the offerings... we ordered two types of pinchos:

Jumilla: A cold mousse/terrine of half spinach, half corn, with a sweet shrimp and garlic aioli. Our favorite of the evening--the corn mousse with the shrimp and garlic was outrageously good.

Alella: Chicken, caramelized onions, corn pudding, and a soy glaze with sesame oil. The corn pudding was an inspired flavor pairing.

Last stop, Casa Lucio (across the street from the original bar at Cava Baja 34), known for their fried eggs. This one probably could have (or should have) been skipped, but I'm going to show you the picture anyway...

Fried eggs, fries and chorizo. People were devouring plates of these fried eggs all around us, sopping up the residual grease with their bread. Insane. How people in this city can eat like this at close to midnight on a regular basis is unfathomable. Bill Clinton supposedly liked these... before his heart surgery, I'm sure...

Cava Baja, you treated me well, though my arteries might not forgive you for that last dish.

P.S. - S&K, you would have loved the places on this street... more for you to see the next time you go to Madrid...

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