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