As you saw from the kids’ post, we arrived safe in Europe and spent several wonderful days in Madrid. It’s taken us about a week to recover from the jet lag. Fortunately we weren’t in much of a rush since Spain’s day runs later than ours.
For instance, we had no idea that the sun doesn’t rise until around 8:30 a.m. This makes sleeping in much easier, which is greatly beneficial as dinner doesn’t really kick off until after 9 p.m. (weeknights too!). So despite feeling “off” we were able to keep up with the flow of life here.
Madrid was the last place we visited on our European vacation in 2014, and the first place we stopped on this adventure. We chose Madrid partly for flights, but also because after a week in Spain in 2014, we were hooked. Spain filled our souls and we needed more.
It’s a vibrant city full of life at all hours and its architecture is simply stunning. We love the cobbled, windy and narrow roads, the plazas, open air dining, markets upon markets and the number of people out dining, shopping and strolling. And we love the friendly and welcoming Spanish people.
We also very much enjoy the Spanish tapas. We can simply stroll down any number of streets, hop in a tapas bar for two glasses of vino tinto (preferably Rioja) and two bottles of water sin gas. With a drink order, the bar tender will offer a free tapa after which we usually order two or three more before moving on. The kids love the patatas fritas (potato chips), the croquettes (filled with Spanish ham – jamón), the marinated olives, the churros dipped in melted chocolate, and the fried potatoes with garlic sauce.
Mike and I love all of it, but I’d say our favorites are anything with a broken egg, fried potatoes or fresh fish (and shellfish). One afternoon, we found ourselves surrounded by locals in a tapas bar and restaurant and opted to order what every other table in the place seemed to be enjoying. Turns out it was stewed tripe. (Similar to this one.) A first for us. I can’t say we loved it, but it was surprisingly good (at least to Mike, Mr. N and I). Miss A tried it, but preferred to stick to her potato chips.
As for where we had the best food – well, it’s hard to say. Walk into any tapas bar, cafe or restaurant in Madrid and you’ll find delicous options. We can say our favorite lunch spot is the Mercado San Miguel.
While a little touristy, it’s still filled with locals and offers a wide variety of tapas, wines and desserts. We could easily stuff ourselves (and break the bank) in this place. With the kids, it’s important to find a place to sit here, so we usually walk around the market taking mental notes of what we want to eat, while also stalking the communal tables for open seats. Once we see a spot, we swoop in and then take turns going to get food. While Mike and I could easily pony up to a bar and eat, the kids generally still need a seat or at least a countertop.
As for our selections, the kids both chose fried calamari and strawberries with whipped cream. Mr. N also went for the jamón Iberico, while Miss A chose cheese croquettes. Mike found more marinated olives, yogurt and croquettes. I too grabbed a croquette, ham and cheese on foccacia, a baguette bite with tomato and burrata, and a Pastéis de Nata which I remembered making for the blog a while back. Oh – and the kids finished with ice cream – chocolate for Mr. N and amaretto for Miss A.
As for our favorite sit down meal (which we didn’t do often – preferring to hit tapas while out and have a small meal at home if needed later), it was definitely the La Otra Casa. The restaurant was in our neighborhood and came recommended by the host of our apartment. Despite going at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night, the place was empty except for us and two locals at the bar. It was a very modern-eclectic space with glass, chrome and wood and lots of art on the walls. We were actually happy it was a slow night. It gave us the opportunity to work on our Spanish with the staff. We certainly aren’t great at it, but we got by and the meal was amazing!
We ordered four dishes to share – ham croquttes, fried zucchini with tomato sauce and broken eggs, creamed rice with mushrooms, and stewed beef with mashed potatoes. We finished the meal off with a pina colada mousse with pineapple. If you ask the kids they’ll say dessert was the best. Mike and I, however, fell in love with the zucchini. It was very lightly breaded, the tomato sauce was flavorful (possibly some paprika) and smooth and the broken eggs were done to perfection. Only wish there was more of it!
It should also come as no surprise that Mike and I have been trying different Spanish wines. We have only come across one we didn’t like, but do seem to have a strong preference for Rioja reds. We’ve tried house wines, crianza, and reserva wines. While the reserva definitely stood out, many of the house wines are as good as the crianza. We did have a bottle Viyuela Tempranillo from the Ribera del Duero region at La Otra Casa that was very good – dry, with hints of leather and chocolate. It easily rivaled some of the Riojas we’ve had. However, when tapas crawling, we find it’s best to stick to vino tinto Rioja over Ribera. At least in our opinion. Lastly, we also sampled a Spanish sparkling wine – a cava rosé. It was dry, bubbly and perfectly refreshing after the salty jamon Iberico.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention our favorite tapas experience. It was at the end of a long day of walking and we stopped in to an empty little tapas place on La Calle de Huertas – La Colonial de Huertas (owned by Cubans who were absolutely gracious). We ordered our usual wine and water and enjoyed the house tapa. Then a funny thing happened, as I stood at the bar to order two more tapas the place began to fill up rapidly. I barely got the order in as the bar tenders were scrambling like mad. Dozens of locals, done with work on a Friday afternoon, filled the place. They appeared to be office workers – all suits and ties and dresses. Fortunately we had a few bar stools along the wall, so were pretty well situated because it was soon literally and densely filled wall-to-wall. I don’t know how the two bar tenders kept up as everyone was ordering mixed drinks!
The kids were a little nervous at first, but we told them to soak it all in – this was an authentic Friday after work experience in Madrid. There was music, singing, clapping and even some dancing. And it all happened within the span of about 30 minutes after which it slowed to a normal, busy Friday-evening pace. It was still crowded, but not wall-to-wall and our tapas did find their way out to us. The bar tender even came over briefly to chat – he said it’s crazy every Friday and makes him nuts for about an hour. He graciously discounted our bill for the delay in the food (without us even making a complaint – in fact, we were having a ball watching the chaos).
As we left, Miss A asked if all those people singing were drunk – we laughed, no they weren’t drunk – just happy. And Mr. N teased us, “Well I never thought I’d experience the bar scene at 11. That was some questionable parenting.” He’s developing a very clever sense of humor! To our defense it was empty when we walked in – we just happened to pick the place that the after work crowd flocked – who knew! And we all did have a great time – Miss A left dancing down the sidewalk and Mr. N was all smiles. Happiness is contagious.
We’ll be back in a few days with a few homemade tapas we whipped up in our Madrid apartment, as well as another post about the neighborhoods and sites we enjoyed in our first few days. Until then, we have more walking to do (gotta burn off these calories somehow!).