Friday, July 26, 2013

A little light Spanish Housekeeping....

Its been about four months since I last posted.  I was truly enjoying what I was doing but as always "life" or what I would refer to as my day job gets in the way of fun frolicky illuminated Madrid writing. Marriage, kids, and losing a parent has mostly been on my mind. For specifics here's another blog I've ignored as well Hichila Macha. Anyway, there are couple of things I wanted to touch on and then it's back to posting on all the unique things I find about Madrid and who knows maybe the rest of Spain. In This New Business section of this post definitely addresses the latter.

Old Business: See MY LAST POST . Ok so I am a huge fan of Secretos de Madrid. What's not to love about a site devoted to mostly Madrid's history, its food and culture?  But methinks my translation of the Secretos de Madrid Essential 50 into English may have pissed off the site's owner, Manu. It's a shame as I think it's perhaps one of the best websites out there on Madrid. Here's Manu's new website address  If you speak Spanish you'll love it. If you don't the photos are worth a perusal. The irony is that I cannot access this new website. Tried several times. Hmmm, coincidence or conspiracy? I've been checking back frequently as I follow Secreto's tweets and it's starting to feel like I'm a junkie going through withdrawl. Or maybe I'm sounding like the twitter version of Glenn Close in fatal attraction? In all seriousness though, Secretos is a great Madrid-centric website but I won't be translating any of Manu's stuff anymore. He may know people in high places and I don't want to be banned from my favorite city as well. Ha.

New Business: Familial roots in Spain- My father passed away a few months ago. We had a strained relationship. Anyway, his mother, my grandmother Pearl was a Spaniard. Her parents, my great grandparents were Spaniards from a province in Granada, Canar. The village is part of a region called the Alpujarras sandwiched in between the Sierra Nevada and the Mediterranean. Here's a video of what it's like to live in this village. Apparently, animal stables are as popular in homes as garage's are here in Los Angeles.

In 1907, my great grandparents Jose and Pilar Espigares embarked on journey starting in Malaga, Spain over to Hawaii. In a boat and in deplorable conditions with their toddler Placida in tow they headed to Hilo to pick sugar cane. Eventually they migrated to California, settling in Yolo County, close to Sacramento, California's state capital. Although they originally planned on returning to their homeland, they never did. Before she passed away in 2007, my grandmother did get to visit Canar in 1993 with her sisters ( a year before I moved to Madrid). Unfortunately, my father never did get to go to Spain. And while we had our differences, we both shared a great love of reading history. And I know he was very proud that I embraced my Spanish heritage aside from truly identifying with my Mexican heritage.

Ok, that's that.  But one more thing- I really need to go to Canar- check out the boutique hotel El Cielo de Canar. Looks like there perfect place to reflect and ruminate on one's heritage. And not to mention relax with the neighbors!

So it's time to get back to embracing what I love and enjoying and managing "life" when it tries to get in the way or become overwhelming. There have been greater obstacles. As an example, here is the 1984 transcription my grandmother did on her parents journey to the United States from Spain.
My Great Grandparents journey as told by my Grandmother in 1984

Journey from Malaga to Hawaii never returning to Spain.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Secretos de Madrid's 50 essential things to do!

Normally, I would not keep posting about another blog. But if you speak Spanish and appreciate Madrid, then you MUST check out Manu's blog, Secretos de Madrid This blogger is truly talented and I sincerely hope he is writing abook on Madrid history for tourists or fans of the city. His last post, The 50 essential things to do in Madrid is phenomenal. And if you are headed for Madrid, bookmark this page! But if you don't speak Spanish, I went ahead and translated it. I hope Manu doesn't mind. But truly, he's presenting a experience to be had that is not touristy. If anything its an authentic way to enjoy my illuminated Madrid.

1) Walk down the rowdy, noisy and bustling street of Gran Via in Madrid.

2) Go back in time visiting the fanatsmic metro line of Chamberi, now a museum.

3) Spend a reflective sunset at the Temple o Debod

4) Enjoy the silence at Las Vistillas Park ( close to La Latina metro stop)

5) See Madrid from above by riding the "teleferico", a cable car/aerial tramway system that soars over the city's Casa de Campo, parks and homes.

6) See the statue of the fallen Angel at Retiro Park

7) Eat, drink and soak in the lively ambiance of one of Plaza de Olavide's terrace cafe's. ( Trafalgar neighborhood, Chamberi district)

8) Walk aimlessly through the old city centre, known as Hapsburg/Asturian Madrid.

9) Stop in the middle of one of Madrid's best known and busiest places, the Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun) and take in all that is surrounds you.

10)Browse the secret garden of wonderful eclectic shops at Hermosilla 26 in the neighborhood of Salamanca.

11)Walk amongst the statues of kings at the Plaza de Oriente````

12) Enjoy the "Pasadizo San Gines", a very special corner thats sells both books and churros.

13) Head up to the "Circulo de Bellas Artes" rooftop and gaze at one of the best panoramic views of Madrid

14) Go shopping on Fuencarral Street

15) Look for sculptures as you walk the terraces and rooftops of Madrid

16) Pass through Plaza Mayor and breathe in its immense history

17) Cross the "Arco de Chucilleros" ( Cutlers Arch), the most famous of nine gates of the Plaza Mayor and find the mini pulpit!

18) Feel as if you are the protagonist in a story from yesteryear at the Capricho Park.

19) Sit on a bench at Plaza del Rey, next to the house of the seven chimneys.

20) Eat a calamari sandwich/sub

21) Traverse "Calle Espiritu" Santo, the best authentic example of the Madrid nieghborhood of Malasana

22)Visit the church of "San Antonio de los Alemanes", a hidden Madrileno gem.

23)Enjoy a reprise at the Plaza Santa Ana with the Hotel Me Iluminado.

24) Take a stroll along the Madrid Rio

25) Admire the extraordinary size and beauty of the Royal Palace

26)Check out the trendy, independent and unique stores of "Barrio de las Salesas".

27) Give yourself some love, sleep in and enjoy a Madrileno Sunday brunch.

28) Head to Madrid's Municipal Museum and admire the detailed map of Madrid created by Teixiera in 1656.

29) Come close and observe the one of the oldest structures in Madrid, the medieval church "San Pedro el Viejo"

30) Take a look at one of the tallest buildings, "Edificio Espana" in all its strength and size.

31) Observe the two distinct sides of the Puerta de Alcala

32) Contemplate the solemn and elegant street of Felipe IV

33) Hobnob with art found along the Paseo del Prado ( and visit some of its museums for good measure)

34) Travel through the Spains Golden Age by walking through "El Barrio de las letras", the Neighborhood of the Writers.

35) Visit one of the most alluring secrets of Madrid, " el Jardin del Principe Anglona" a garden located in the heart of the neighborhood of La Latina.

36) Tour Retiro Park in search of the Cristal Palace

37)Feel tiny amongst the four largest skyscrapers in Madrid located in the four towers business area along the Paseo de la Castellana

38) Spend sunday at the renowned flea market, "El Rastro" and while you there stop by and say hello to the statue of Spanish Solidier, Eloy Gonzalo

39)Take a guided tour inside the Monastery of the Barefoot Royals, a historical treasure of a museum.

40) Look at the giant Schweppes sign and humorously see if the character Santiago Segura from the 1995 black comedy Day of the Beast is hanging from it.

41)Gaze at the most iconic Madrileno image, that of the Metropolis building and Gran Via.

42) Attend of of Madrids continual musical offerings.

43) Appreciate the colorful and sloping Cava de San Miguel

44) Feel as if you are living in another epoch while walking down the elbow shaped Calle del Codo 

45) Finish off the weekend taking a long, slow late afternoon stroll through Malasana

46) Awaken all your senses at the unique and renowned San Miguel open air market.

47)Dine on exotically savory Hindu cuisine at one of the terrace restaurants in the neighborhood of Lavapies

48) Feel like Captain Alatriste admiring Plaza de la Villa

49)Visit the Basilica of San Francisco el Grande

50) Visit Cuesta de la Vega, look at the walls of old Mayrit where everything you just read about all began!

Friday, March 15, 2013

M-11, Atocha and my Madrid-Alcala Commute

I arrived to Madrid just as Felipe Gonzalez was winding up his tenure as Prime minister of the Spanish government. Elections would be held a year later in 1996 and there was truly a sense of Socialist (PSOE) fatigue amongst the many Spaniards I spoke to. At the time, Jose Maria Aznar  of the Popular Party was the candidate that was to eventually become the next prime minister of Spain. I remember there was a more compassionate view of the conservative party candidate as an attempt on his life was taken by ETA while driving in an amoured car around the Chamartin train station, the same station I went to pick my boyfriend when he flew into Paris then took a train to live with me in Madrid. Aznar wasn't prime minister yet but with all the scandals plaguing the PSOE party after so years of majority rule in Parliment, it was time for a shift.

One early morning as I exited the Gran Via metro stop and walked down the wide cobblestone street along the well beaten tourist shopping area in central Madrid, I saw something that felt more foreign than anything I had ever experienced while living on another continent. I was on my way to teach English to a very nice but customarily very tardy Spanish banker who chain smoked. An insinerated charred car was in my path. It looked as if it was unassumingly left there by whomever. The moment I took in this image, I suddenly could feel how empty the streets were. Madrid usually wakes up later and as I knew it was desolate now, within a couple of hours there would be crowds of people shopping, working, eating, sightseeing and pitpocketig unsuspecting tourists. Staring at the car, I wondered if they'd be as taken aback as I was. I found out later that not suprisingly the ETA terrorist organization was responsible and had I arrived an hour sooner; I would have been caught in the explosion which would have defintely sent me and my long black Gap dress flying over Madrid.
Post card to my cousin regarding ETA attack. Circa 1995
The irony of all this is that I continued to feel safe in Madrid despite these types of occurences. As a 20 year old, I walked the streets alone at Midnight to get air when I was tired of studying in my apartment all day, took public transit at all hours and never once felt threatened by anyone. Granted during this time, I experienced Spanish Men, young and old to be misogynistic cat calling jack asses but it was always harmless and hey, American men can be just as alluring as a Duncan Hines cake box with their own come on's so to each his own. 

Ten years prior to the 2004 Madrid bombing, known as M-11 which took the lives of 191 people and injured 2000, I took one of the Cercanias commuter train routes that was bombed. I commuted back and forth to Alcala de Henares, where I was beginning my Spanish Literature studies at its University temporarily living in the dorms at the Complutense University in Madrid.

Gap dress in question
I started my day by taking the metro to the Atocha Renfe station. And at the station I would board the red and white renfe train to Alcala, a sleepy little town where Cervantes was born and Mario Vargas Llosa received his a namesake writers prize that very year. 

The Atocha Renfe is the largest train station in Madrid and it is at the end of the Paseo del Prado and across the street from the Modern Art Museum- The Reina Sofia. In 1992, a lush indoor exotic garden  was installed in what used to be the old wrought iron style concourse where people originally boarded  trains from. It was pristine when I first visited it in 1994 and the palm trees reminded me of how far away I was from home as these tall trees were considered exotic or at the very least not Madrileno. The region of Andalucia, maybe, but definitely not native to this city that was not tropical nor looked like a desert. I was in awe of this particular part of the Atocha train station as like many of the similar but functional train station concourses you find in Europe, its indoor high ceiling architecture is harkening back to time where as Americans we were just in our infancy. And this defintely didn't look like California where I had spent most of my 20 years before flying across the United States and coming overseas.

It was diferrent in the summer of 2012.  Jet lagged to full hilt, I dragged myself out of bed and took a long walk to the station on my way to see the M-11 memorial of spiral names and condolences in a long cylinder like monument. Upon arrival, I felt like I did when witnessing the changes to airports after the 9/11 attacks. The station in all its bustle was closed off at various points to only those with tickets so its layout felt awkward. I headed to the old concourse to look at my beautiful lush garden where warm steam would be let off every few minutes to keep it vital. No longer new, there where areas along the sides of the concourse that had become inhabited by cafe's with seating cordoned off by makeshift low rising gates. Wine tasting shops for tourists and Spanish fast food "autoservicios" where ominously present unlike back in the day where fast food was limited to only Mcdonalds and Burger King in  select parts of Madrid. The only place to eat in this area back in 1994 was a beautiful bar restaurant perched up above the concourse. It resembled a Colonial French outpost where rich landowning expatriots surveyed their land and drank cool fully loaded drinks. As a lowly substitute ESL teacher and Literature student on a tight budget, I looked with big sad brown eyes as eating there was out of the question. Sadly my shangrila was now closed and dilapitated, available to be rented for parties or events.But despite my dismay to see it older, and more internally wounded, The Atocha train station is  still alive and well- still functioning as a neccesary thoroughfare for the four cardinal directions. There are many more places to eat inside the functional part of station including diffrent ethnic foods which was non existent in my days of living here. There are many affordable clothing, accessory and electronic stores to shop from and the metro stop once you arrive from your train destination has several lines to get you anywhere in Madrid.

I was a little saddened though. Walking through the station provoked a sense of mourning for my past days of innocent youth full of promise and the fact that our world feels a little more dangerous. We were gruesomely attacked and so were the Spanish, despite the many ETA acts of terrorism they have experienced over time. M-11 was an overwhelmingly tragic day and like 9-11 it involved a multitude of people from all corners of life. Not just targeted politicians or journalists that an organization has a vendetta against. It was random commuters, even foreign girls like me going to study the Golden age of Spanish literature. It reminded me of how the dangerous evolution of warfare has no boundaries even in supposed civilized countries. No one is safe and yet we all have to keep walking, taking trains and grabbing a couple of coffees to stay awake as I needed to after all this pondering.

In my reflective state, sleepy and hazy I walked across the street which takes a bit of effort as the Atocha train station is a monster and the streets that surround it are distant and huge. I got to El Brillante a cafe where calamari bocadillos are king. As I sat at the counter, I ordered my cafe corto and looked at all the pictures of their menu items plastered on their yellowy walls. It was a little early for fried calamari so I ordered churros instead. Still fried but just sweet instead. The waiter, an older gentleman in a white short sleeved unbuttoned work shirt wearing a necklace with a virgin metal on it took my order from behind the stainless steel counter. When he brought me my drink and as I was silently pouring sugar into my coffee, I must have had a frown on my face because he looked at me and humoursly gave me strong land of castile command. "Sonrie guapa!" Smile indeed. Life goes on and as this week the Spainsh honor the departed during their turbulent economic times, they more than anyone show their will to live life as they always have.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Secretos de Madrid-My secret love.

Most people who know me would tell you that I must be on facebook all the live long day. And with an iphone in my bag of Mommy tricks that was probably true- until recently. I'm actually stepping out on facebook with twitter, its wilder smarter and more mysterious brother. Returning from Madrid, I realized that I could continue exploring my favorite city by following its diverse people. I wasn't wrong in my assumption. Currently, I am following over 300 people who have their own unique angle on Madrid. Over the course of a few months, I began to follow tweets displaying various information on Madrid food, culture, events, music, bars, art, theatre, opera, current events and history.
It was especially facinating finding a twitter feed that led me to a spanish blog which proved as riveting as two books recent read, Ghosts of Spain by Giles Tremlett and The New Spaniards by John Hooper. What made this blog even more desirable to me, was that it zeroed in on the city of Madrid's rich detailed history that could easily be dismissed, discarded or just plain overlooked. Not suprisingly, there are many blogs nowadays but few are really well done or consistent updating content. Secretos de Madrid is a deep well documented history of Madrid told in a random order, inspired by street names, old photos and even heavy metal local inhabitants. And this blogger is dedicated. 

Whether he's covering the story of a misguided angel landing upon Madrid rooftops, following the bittersweet perigrination of the infamous Tio Pepe sign, or the sinister history of the street named after a decapitated head, Secretos de Madrid's posts are written to interest anyone visiting Madrid for a short period or even one of the over 3 million inhabitants that occupy the city, unaware of its beautiful profound detail.

The author of this insightful blog is a thoughtful young gentleman by the name of Manu. I took one of his quotes so as to fully describe what he aims to do.
"Lo que más me fascina de ella es su capacidad de adaptación sin límites, de simple fortaleza a villa, y en apenas cuatro siglos a urbe cosmopolita de primer orden mundial. En agradecimiento infinito a ese recibimiento y en homenaje a esa historia convulsa de cambios y crecimientos sin medida va este blog. Bienvenidos" -Manu
 Here is the my translation in English,
"What facinates me the most (Madrid) is her capacity for limitless adapting, a simple strength of spirit,  with only four centuries of being a first world urban cosmopolitan city. Because I am infinitely grateful for this realization, this blog is a homage to its convulsive changes and its inmeasurable growth.

Secretos solved one of my mysteries. After celebrating our wedding anniversary over a wonderful dinner at La Gastroteca de Santiago, my husband and I decided to walk back to our hotel. From Plaza de Santiago, we decided to find Kathmandu, an old club I used to frequent as a student in the 1990's. Once on Calle Senores de Luzon, a fairly narrow cobbletsone street, we located the club which was closed as it was Madrid's shut down month, August. Well, hey at least it was still open 17 years later and that me feel somewhat young. The street then let us out into Calle Mayor where unbeknownst to me, Plaza de la Villa is located. Andy took a few shots of me walking past the Plaza slowly, looking at the statue and surrounding buildings. It was deserted on a summer Monday night, so it was easy to notice that this medieval plaza must be historically relevant. Except, I had no idea what it represented. I obviously didn't delve enough when I lived in Madrid back in the 90's as I was too busy trying to cover many areas of Western Europe.

According to Secretos de Madrid  Plaza de la Villa is comprised of three buildings- the fiftienth century gothic-moorish influenced Lujanes Tower named after a successful aragon merchant family, the Cisneros House and Casa de la Villa City Hall that for 300 years served as the headquarters for Madrid's city hall. One of the wonderful historical tidbits he provides is that the tower was a prison for the King of France, Francis the First after the Battle of Pavia. As he was being imprisoned, to humilate he him even further, his captors had him enter through door where he would have to bow his head and in those times for a king that was unheard of. 

I loved that Manu likes to begin his route through the great Asturian area of Madrid at the Plaza de la Villa, away from the crazy bustle of Plaza del Sol or the infamous Plaza Mayor. His writing can be personal and yet demonstrative of why someone like me loves illuminated Madrid.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Estado Puro- Global Gastro Bar Tapas & Drink

Checking into the Hotel Palace and ready to enjoy my first day in Madrid, I decided to spend some time at the Prado Museum. It was around 2am California time so I decided to get a coffee to stay awake.

I was in a hurry to head to the museum but couldn't bring myself to get coffee at the Starbucks around the corner from the hotel. And the Spanish cafeteria/restaurant VIPS wasn't an option. I saw Estado Puro just up ahead so I figured I'd get coffee and check out where I was having lunch later.

I had done some research on tapas bars around our hotel area and was impressed when I read a Bon Appetit article on the modernization of some antiquated open air markets and the inception of the "Gastrobar" namely, Estado Puro created by Paco Roncero, Terraza del Casino head chef and the "disciple" of Mr. El Bulli himself, Ferran Adria. The mural of the stereotypical Spanish youth wearing a peineta and pouring out her Mahou beer also intrigued me. These were the little changes in Madrid that I had not witnessed being away for so many years.

There are two locations for Estado Puro currently, the one I was heading to is part of the Hotel NH Paseo del Prado, just in back of the Madrid Hotel Palace. It was a warm day, perfect to work up a tiny sweat but never feel uncomfortable. The sidewalk terrace looked great to have lunch at but I was going to have my coffee inside the bar. The space is smaller than I imagined but what they do with it is clever.
sealed with kiss and no drool
The ceiling where you can dine indoors features hanging peinetas that match the Spanish girl's in the Mural. At first glance, it looks like Creme colored Mexican papel picado thats been laid flat. The L shaped bar was well stocked with every spirit imaginable. The wines looked fabulous. For a moment I wanted to get sloppy drunk. This was the bar to do it at. But I drank another coffee instead. I had a plan and I knew with a few drinks in me, I'd pass out drooling on the white counter.

Drifting through the Prado for three hours proved dreamily powerful as toward the end of the third hour, I nearly fell asleep on my feet. Nearly colliding with some German tourists, I decided to break for lunch. Taking my seat within Estado Puros sidewalk terrace, the warm air tenderly tussled me awake to my first Madrileno late afternoon. The city's vibrant atomosphere was pumping oxygen through my body and every mundane thing seemed amazing. I loved watching the waiters playfulness, expounding paternal sweet nothings to a patron's fussy baby and warning another client not to leave their iphone on the table as someone else got theirs stolen that way. There's not much to the terrace itself but the location is stellar. You look out and Neptune with his watery fountain is standing guard across the street. The tree lined Paseo del Prado is your neighbor and the most beautiful post office is in the distance.

The majority of their are tapas modern, no doubt deconstructions of old favorites. Patatas bravas morph into whole small potatoes with a goopy red sauce center that can be devoured like a deviled egg. I normally could eat Bonito out of its tin can, and thats exactly what they brought me except the olive oil and bread that accompanied it made it moist, flavorful and theres just nothing like bread in Europe for the taste buds. Nothing.
Bad Senorita, no bocado for you

I brought Andy back here. I had to, it was a perfect afternoon place after walking around and wanting a snack and a drink before taking a break in our hotel room. We tried the tempura asparagus in a wonderful romesco sauce and devoured the simple salty cantabrian anchioves and tomato bocadillos.
It was all washed down with  a couple of beers. The weather was warm and throughout our trip we fell into the rythm of drinking Mahou beer during the day and red wine at night.

Weeks later, when we returned to the states, I was enjoying my Friday afternoon watching tve espanola, wine in hand while the kids tore the house apart. One of the networks shows, Gente or Corazon ( can't remember which) featured a segment on Estado Puro's Gin and Chicken. The unlikely combination works as for several hours they marinate the chicken in botanicals that go into the make up of gin. Citrus and juniper berries are a good examples of this. Then they traditionally cook it rotisserie style and serve it with a foamy gin and tonic drink that is less in alcohol content and more heavy on manadrin, lime, and lemongrass flavor. It supposed cleanse the palate as you dine on your bird. I'm sure it did. Harper's has an excellent article there famous dish in Spanish. The New York Times review is a good read in English if you want an overview on a the restaurant.

I was disappointed that I didn't try such an amazing concoction. But there's always next time in my illuminated Madrid.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Gourmet Experience, Corte Ingles Callao: extra info

I received a lovely comment from the blogger, Playa de Madrid. They kindly added the cool article they wrote on the new Gourmet experience at the Corte Ingles that went with their video. After reading the article which is in Spanish, I realized that this space has real history. And no, not the rich century upon century history that Spaniards readily have under their belt but a nostalgic remembrance of what was once a piece of Madrid in the eyes of a Spaniard. According to Playa de Madrid, the top floor used to originally be a large restaurant cafe and was even a Galeria Preciados when they were younger.  Funny enough, I remember that brand of department store as I was living there when this chain was about to be absorbed by the Corte Ingles. So, with its long term tradition of endearing waiters and hard core Spanish granny's, who incidentally used to always get the better cuts of meat whenever I went up against them at the butchers, the top floor had a thoroughly retro Madrileno atomosphere to it, where smoking indoors was acceptable as was nursing a cafe and a "tortita". 
Anyway, the purpose of this post is to tell you that Playa de Madrid elaborates on what it feels like to be up at the top dining in the new space and the benefits of using the spectacular terrace that wasn't available before. Oh, and you can apparently smoke outside too. So score one for the past and its bad vices. There's more elaboration on the several restaurants participating in the "autoservicio" way of dining.  Like I said, this ideaology is new to many Spaniards but with the caliber of food places, you can't go wrong like you can here at a Sbarro pizza. The scenic top floor views that are simply Madrid Majestic and that is not easy to come by in the heart of the city, so its worth a trip. Check out the Cafeteria El Corte Ingles De Callao post, check out the Playa de Madrid blog, and let me know if you need to translate! 

Friday, January 18, 2013

High End Street Meat Madrileno Style

One of the first items up for business on any trip I take is what restaurants I am going to sample. While my husband and I tried several restaurants in Madrid throughout our stay, this post is going to be about what I didn't try in Madrid. As I lauded the beauty of going to Madrid in August in my last post, there were a few nice restaurants that were actually closed. One of them was the first one I really wanted to go to. The top of the Zagat list. Chef Owner David Munoz's two Michelin starred Spanish Asian fusion restaurant Diverxo. The restaurant isn't in the centralized part of city, it's closer to the Chamartin train station in the neighborhood of Tetuan, the home of many immigrants from South America and Sub Saharan countries of Africa. 

Anthony Bourdain of No Reservations may have said it best, "One of the things I love best about David's cooking is that it sounds, to me anyway, like something that should probably suck." 

When beginning my research on where to dine in Madrid, I was really impressed that the city was opening its arms to new styles of cooking. It was really amazing that one of the best reviewed restaurants was something as twisted as Diverxo. It wasn't always that way. I fondly recall back in 1994 my first trip out of Spain was to Lisbon, Portugal to enjoy Indian food from the state of Goa as finding any sort of decent ethnic food was tough. I once took matters into my own hands and attempted to make tortillas at my apartment to compliment the one can of refried beans I brought with me from the states. Floury fried pitas and a wimpy red bell pepper and tomato salsa was the end result. As for chinese food, fellow foreign exchange students tried one of the very few chinese restaurants in Madrid. The little they had say about it was the most telling.
Now just because something's eclectic, cutting edge and not your Spanish mother's cocido madrileno, doesn't mean its cheap. Like most high end restaurants in Europe, its expensive and as a student they only thing I could of done at a place like Diverxo was stick my face against the front window and yearn. So not only was I disappointed that I couldn't try this Madrileno gem, I was kicking myself repeatedly when a fellow foodie and a Guide for Madrid food tour  tweeted a picture of the new Gourmet Experience at the Callao location of the Corte Ingles department store. This new feature by Spain's department store chain (think Macy's with a supermarket) includes high end gourmet products and a super sleek food court on the top floor. And much to this once 20 year old study abroad broad's delight, it now seems that DiverXO has a less high maintenance little sister, StreetXO as one of its fellow food court offerings. StreetXo offers some tasty international street fare and while Munoz is not comfortable crowning his latest endeavor a more economical version of DiverXO, the menu does feature Spanish Asian fusion favorites that hint of his high priced mothership.Madrid Cool Blog's mention of the grilled Iberian Pancetta with sautéed calamari, pickled shitakes rolled in lettuce and cilantro, dipped in siracha and tartar sauce is great example of the hybrid that is Spanish and far east. 
For Spain the idea of quality "take away" cuisine is a innovative. The closest thing to casual is mini fast food bocados at 100 Montaditos, the permanent invasion of Dominos, Burger King and Mcdonalds, or standing at a bar and having tapas. The social component of the latter is a luxury you can do without if you are trying to get some shopping done or have to be somewhere.

In Los Angeles we are spoiled bunch having the Fairfax farmer's market and the Century City & Santa Monica Promenade food courts which all feature various cuisines, some of which hails from well respected chefs and only requires that you bus your own table. When it comes to the concept of "Street food" Los Angeles is also king. The City of Angels has become fertile haven for wide eyed creative food truck owners to either orgasm or die. The evolution of the greasy stark white lunch truck has produced flavorful four wheeled vehicles like the Kogi truck's Korean Mexican tacos, The Grilled Cheese truck's French Onion Melt and yes, Papas Tapas, a Spanish tapas truck. This isn't a shocker. Los Angeles according to Wikipedia is home to people from more than 140 countries speaking 224 different identified languages. The city  has a larger population of Asians than San Francisco and next to Mexico City we are the largest Mexican city. 

As a kid, I lived on the Californian border of Calexico/Mexicali. I was raised on taquerias, vendors pushing white carts selling hot dogs wrapped in bacon, Chinese food restaurants located in Mexicali, where there is a respectable Chinese population incorporating a spicier Mexican flavor to its food. Jose Andres, another creative Spanish chef could of had Mexicali's food scene in mind as its essence is on display at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, Nevada. His restaurant China Poblano is where Chinese and Mexican street food literally live side by side.

StreetXO seems to embody all these concepts that I thought where exclusive to the states. It's obvious that Madrid is reinventing itself by blending global tastes with its traditional Spanish heritage, and with the Gourmet Experience being ensconced in the heart of the city's tourist watering hole, Sol & Gran Via, it is a point of pride and there for everyones enjoyment. Madrid Food Tour gives a astute synopsis of StreetXO, its other fine dining food court counterparts, and the gourmet shopping experience for the English speaking traveler. La playa de Madrid has a funny little video that shows what the view looks like from atop of the Corte Ingles. I love that this space, once a simple cafe, is now a wonderful place brimming with rich foods and a breathtaking view of my illuminated Madrid! Can't wait to visit!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Iluminated Madrid

I went to Madrid this past year in what most say is the worst month to go- August. It had been a few years since I had been in Spain's capital and it had truly evolved since I last lived there. It was no longer the ghost city I once youthfully roamed in late August of 1994. In the intial stages of planning my 2012 trip, I was concerned that many travel sites warn you not to go in August. There aren't many places with central air, many Spainards take month long vacations so nothing is really open, the very few restaurants open have tourists swarming them like red ants on a mound, and you'll literally melt liked the wicked witch of the west whenever you go out doors so don't bother. I didn't have the luxury of picking any week out of the year or even a random week out of the summer. I had a small window of opportunity. So it was early August or stay back in Los Angeles, California while my husband plays golf in Scotland for a week. So in deciding not to allow myself to get bitter and more than likely divorced by staying back, I chose Madrid.

I chose Madrid about eighteen years ago as well. I was a 20 year old girl wanting to be in Europe the same time my boyfriend would be after his graduation. I was already a Spanish Literature major at the Univerity of California, San Diego so choosing Spain was obvious but Madrid was a little random. The U.C Education Abroad program offered Alcala de Henares as an excellent option to study Spanish Literature as a foreign student. So while I chose Alcala, I was dead set on living in Madrid. I wanted to live in a European city.
 Atocha Renfe, Madrid 1994 20 years old
This last return to Madrid was as 38 year old married mother of two. The country was facing one of its worse financial crises and I was in desperate need of a change in scenery. I left my children in the care of my family - a Mexican village of grandparents, neices and a sister  and nervously boarded a plane at LAX. It was a solid day of traveling from the west coast to Madrid. I was alone as my husband was finishing his trip of golf in Scotland and he was to meet me in Madrid in 24 hours. 
The week I arrived was perhaps the most beautiful weather I ever encountered. It was apparently painful the following week as the Saharan hot winds arrived but I simultaneously experienced a similar heat on my return to Los Angeles. The sunny skies powerfully iluminated the vibrant and regal city but there was a soft gust of wind that was both calming and refreshing after being on a plane for hours.

I was emotionally wounded for many reasons and physically tired as the last month of my life had been full of highs and very painful lows. Exiting the cab at the Palace Hotel in Madrid (now a Westin) it was inconceivable to me that I was a continent and ocean away from my kids. But in my hesitantancy and trepidation I also felt like I was fuflilling an impossible dream. Just a few years ago, I was holding my first newborn watching TV Espanola and wondering if I'd ever get back to the place that altered my naive albeit youthful beliefs. As I entered the 100 year old hotel and was greeted by the staff I began to realize that this was all meant to be. 
Westin Palace Madrid August 2012,  38 years old