Dining Out in Madrid, Part One

Food & Drink

The terrace dining space on the sixth floor of the Palacio Cibeles overlooks Madrid’s Gran Via.Restaurante Palacio Cibeles

There’s never been a finer time to dine out in Madrid than in this decade, when young chefs have brought young ideas to what had been a rather staid dining scene. That they have done so without mimicking the excesses of molecular/modernist trickery is all to their credit.

Still, buoying all the excitement, is a strong respect for culinary tradition, so that from the tapas bars to the well-established places like Botin, Madrid has become a true gastronomic capital.

(By the way, while tax and service are usually included in Madrid’s restaurantes, the old bread-and-butter charge is still in place.)

At Atico all is prepared with an eye towards flavor first, then beauty as in this cremosa dessert.Principal Hotel Madrid

ATICO

Principal Hotel

Calle Marqués de Valdeiglesias, 1

34 915 32 94 96

Atico’s al fresco terrace dining space is open for lunch and dinner service.Principal Hotel Madrid

The pleasantly quiet, 77-room Principal Hotel, across from the historic Metrópolis building and just a block from The Prado and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums, has snared one of Spain’s most illustrious young star chefs, Ramón Freixa, who is also chef at the Unico Hotel in Salamanca. His dining room Atico has already won high accolades from it well deserves.

The swank dining room and outdoor terrace, which at night is a starry vantage point to watch the city move and shift, seats 70, and there is also a charming cocktail lounge where you might begin your evening with a glass of cava. The wine list is not large but impeccably chosen to show the best in Spanish viniculture in this century.

At Atico the scorched rice of a traditional paella, called soccarat, is the basis for a lavish appetizer.Principal Hotel Madrid

Sitting outside on a clear autumn evening, my wife and I chose the €70 menu of six courses (with €24 for wine pairings), which began with a kind of surf & turf of octopus with Peruvian purple potatoes and a curry-scented mojo on top. Next was cannelloni with black truffles and a carpaccio of beef with what resembled a Mexican mole. Grilled sea bass came lightly sweetened with mango, sided with saline marine algae and a quinoa salad spiked with a dose of ginger.

For dessert he served a lovely version of liquid dulce de leche coffee caramel with lollipop cakes dusted with sea salt.

Each of these dishes referenced Spain’s involvement in the global spice market and paid homage to the food cultures of lands Spain once held.          This was very beautiful, subtly refined cuisine, and with glasses of contemporary Spanish wine, it all fit seamlessly into our first night in Madrid.

Lunch menu at 45; dinner 70.

Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Adolfo Munoz and his son Javier run the sixth-floor restaurant at the grand Palacio Cibeles.Restaurante Cibeles Palacio

RESTAURANTE PALACIO CIBELES

Plaza de Cibeles 1

91-523-1570

Among the restaurants in the world with fantastic views of their respective cities, I’d include Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower, Sirocco in the Lebua Hotel in Bangkok, OXO Tower in London, the Signature Room in Chicago and several in Chinese cities, though not all for the quality of the food. The Restaurante at Palacio Cibeles would carry this same stature if only for its situation in one of Madrid’s most spectacular buildings, but the cuisine of Adolfo Muñoz has garnered both Michelin stars and the praise of Spanish food media critics.

Palacio Cibeles’s indoor dining room is done in an elegant modern decor.Palacio Cibeles

Adolfo and his son Javier also have a tapas place in Madrid called Coleccion Cibeles, a restaurant in Toledo (shall be writing about in the future), a new boutique hotel and a winery. Here, with seating inside for 100 and more on two terraces, their restaurante is on the sixth floor of what was formerly the Communications Palace, now Madrid’s City Hall. It is an ornate 20th century edifice that arcs around the Cibeles Plaza, looking up towards the Grand Via. By tradition, when the soccer team Real Madrid wins a game, fans flock to the Fountain of Cibeles to celebrate. Inside the building are municipal offices as well as CentroCentro exhibition hall and the Glass Gallery.

At the restaurant there are set menus at €38.50, but we put ourselves in Javier’s hands for a more extensive sampling at €59.

Javier, 36, a wiry, bearded fellow who reminds me of a Dominican figure from an El Greco painting, says that he is “making my grandmother’s food,” but either his grandmother was a very sophisticated cook or Javier has taken a great deal of leeway with the family recipes. What he meant was that he does not stray into eccentricity with his cooking, basing everything on the freshest local ingredients—the Madrid fish market, located twenty minutes away, is the largest outside of Tokyo —and he adds no salt to his seafood. The foie gras in from Extremadura, and the figs come from his family’s farm.

Stylized plates like this bed of quinoa with beets and colored eggs are all based on the finest local ingredients.Palacio Cibeles

He began by serving us canapés of zucchini flowers and dried beet chips to nibble while we sipped a gin cocktail Javier suggested. Next came a ceviche of shrimp, mussels clams, tuna and marinated salmon with red onion, using the shell liquid as its base. Cod came carefully steamed with a sauce of roasted pimiento topped with tobiko eggs.

Another wonderfully flavorful fish was turbot grilled over paper, then finished under a salamander with soy, sunflowers and just a touch of honey to give a sweet note. Two meat courses followed: Venison was cooked in red wine for 24 hours, so it was fork tender, served with a chutney of apricot and figs, while very moist, creamy-textured suckling pig, beautifully presented after roasting at a low temperature for five hours, had a crisp skin and a nice smoky flavor that did not compromise the essential taste of the pig. It came with a confit of peppers and Lyonnaise-style potatoes.

To end this remarkable evening we enjoyed orange ice cream with chocolate sticks in the sty le of Parisian chef Cedric Grolet.

Below us in the Plaza, car headlights raced in firefly patterns, while up the Gran Via the buildings gave us a shadow-and-light show against the dark foliage of the Retiro Park. But even late in the evening, the sounds of the city gave the scene a unique vitality that would go on for hours more.

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