Tuesday, November 29, 2011
While this week is all about vegetables, last weekend was a 48 hour meat fest. At least it seemed that way.
We went to Madrid to visit my daughter Emma. Between restaurants and tapas stops (with some shrimp stops), it was a whole lotta jamon going on.
Which is just how I like it.
Our last meal, on the Sunday before we ran off to the airport, was happenstance. We were wandering, somewhat aimlessly, around Plaza Mayor, when it started to rain. Stepping underneath an awning, I realized that we had miraculously ended up right in front of one of the restaurants at the top of my list: Botin.
And then the second miracle occurred: they actually had a table and we could sit down right away.
Botin is not only one of the most popular places in Madrid, it’s also supposed to be the oldest restaurant in Europe. (they even have a Guinness certificate to prove it - ‘earliest restaurant in Europe 1725) It certainly oozes period charm.
The smallish restaurant is on three levels. We followed a white-coated waiter down ancient wooden steps to what I can only describe as the cellar. Brick and stone arched ceilings and walls seemed a bit claustrophobic at first, but the space actually ended up feeling quite cozy.
When you enter into the oldest restaurant in Europe, it’s best to stick with tradition, and that’s what we did. After a plate of hand-sliced jamon and a bowl of olives, I ordered the sopa de ajo con huevo, a steaming bowl of onion soup with a barely cooked egg on top. Served in it’s own little terra cotta pot, the oniony broth was studded with porky bits of chorizio and bacon.
Emma went off piste and ordered the sopa al cuarto de hora, a gorgeous fish soup brought to the table in its own silver tureen. Chock full of clams, lobster and cod I am pretty sure it was the only non meat dish we had all weekend.
But all that was just a opening for the main act: oven-roasted meat. This is what Botin is known for and why people have been coming here for centuries. Cochinillo asado and cordero asado: roast suckling pig and roast lamb. Do you know what happens when you have hundreds of years to practice roasting animals? You get it right. Crisp, crunchy skin; flavorful, tender melt-in-your mouth meat. So good and perfect, that it's been going on since the 18th century and shows no immediate signs of stopping.
Before we left I made a quick trip to the second floor dining room, which is completely different: full of light and bright majolica tiles. Instead, the ground floor was very bistro-y in feeling, with cordovan leather covering the walls.
But my favorite room in this gorgeous restaurant was the small area on the ground floor, beneath the stairs. This is where the wood burning oven fires up hundreds of piggies a week. At first I didn’t understand what I was seeing. Row after row of little piglets - some roasted, some awaiting their turn - lined up in terra cotta pots, next to the massive domed oven. And huge logs of wood piled up by the side, ready to keep everyone happy.
(well, not the pigs I guess).
Cuchilleros 17 Madrid