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Gumbo? Curry? â€˜ethnic' Dining In Madrid
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EIGHT years ago, when I moved to Madrid, I was so astonished by the diversity of traditional Spanish cuisine â€” to say nothing of the nueva cocina phenomenon spawned by chefs like Ferran AdriÃ â€” that it took a while to notice that most â€œethnic foodâ€ in the city, be it Indian, Italian or Chinese, was often a tame and tepid version of what's available in other modern capitals.
There was decent sushi (Spaniards are Europe's top consumers of fish), Argentine steaks and some Mexican cantinas for birthday parties and boozy celebrations. But in a country where a squeeze of lemon can be considered excessive if the fish is fresh, spicy or heavily sauced dishes were automatically suspected of being made with inferior ingredients.
Not anymore. Over the last decade, waves of immigrants, many from Asia, have crossed paths with legions of Spaniards who have toured the globe and developed new tastes. The results can now be sampled at restaurants all over town.
â€œRight now no other European city except London offers the same range and diversity of international cuisine,â€ said Victor de la Serna, an editor and food writer for the newspaper El Mundo. â€œPlus here you have â€˜New World' restaurants serving gourmet Peruvian or down-home New Orleans that would be inconceivable in Paris.â€
Here are five such places. Prices, for two, do not include drinks or tips.
Each morning at 9 sharp, hopeful diners start speed-dialing Diverxo in hopes of nabbing reservations, which are typically gone by 9:10 a.m. And those aren't reservations for the coming weekend; bookings for the restaurant's 30 seats are taken exactly one month in advance. With no Ã la carte menu, Diverxo's seven-, eight- or nine-course meals last nearly three hours, meaning just one seating at both lunch and dinner.
Things have only heated up since November, when the restaurant, led by the chef David MuÃ±oz and his wife, Ãngela Montero, received a Michelin star. Mr. MuÃ±oz's fresh-faced appearance belies an impressive rÃ©sumÃ©, including five years in London at elite Asian restaurants like Hakkasan and Nobu. Back in Madrid since 2008, Mr. MuÃ±oz, 30, has been piling up accolades for inspired Asian preparations in which he handles classics of the Spanish larder like morcilla (blood sausage) and white asparagus with the same deft touch as mizuna and coconut milk.
I secretly hope to be underwhelmed at places with so much buzz, but Diverxo happily disappointed.
â€œGet over yourself, this is really amazing,â€ my friend Deborah said between bites of a delicate golden pancake cradling the crispy skin of suckling pig. It was a riff on Spanish cochinillo and Peking duck and was indeed amazing. Next came the meat: a delicately steamed pork hamburger nestled in an artfully cut leaf of iceberg lettuce.
My favorite dish was the strangest â€” a buttery â€œbunâ€ that looked like a snowball but was filled with black trumpet mushrooms and served with a paper-thin slice of smoky, air-cured beef draped over a metal spike protruding out of the plate. Coming to the table, it looked like a maquette for one of Santiago Calatrava's next architectural projects.
Diverxo, Calle Pensamiento 28; (34-91) 570-0766; diverxo.com. Dinner for two, from 150 euros, $186 at $1.24 to the euro.
Since moving into sleek new digs in late 2009, Sudestada looks and feels like a swank global supper club hovering somewhere between Hanoi and Havana. Perhaps that's because the owner is Argentine and the chef is from Vietnam and knows his way around such Southeast Asian cuisines as Thai, Malay and especially Vietnamese. Specialty cocktails like the citrusy caipirinhas set a breezy mood, and the waiters do a great job of taking diners through the varied menu.
For first-timers like me and my two friends they suggested a trio of classic starters including nem cua â€” light and crispy spring rolls â€” samosas and Singapore dumplings bathed in a savory pork broth. In a country where chefs have traditionally turned down the heat on spices to suit local tastes, Spanish food critics rave about the authentically hot and spicy red curry with beef cheeks. For us, the sate kambing, a brochette of succulent, almost caramelized lamb was the star of the entrees.
Standouts among the cool and fruity desserts include a mango lassi topped with litchis and lemon-basil granita as well as a sweet coconut cream balanced by tart passion fruit sorbet.
Sudestada, Calle Ponzano 85; (34-91) 533-4154. Dinner for two, 100 euros.
99 SUSHI BAR
In an elegant room with alabaster panels one floor above Calle Hermosilla, which links the high-end shopping district of Barrio Salamanca with the corporate expense account crowd on Paseo de la Castellana, the newest branch of 99 Sushi Bar is not a cheap date. But it's worth the splurge to sample the Peruvian chef LuÃs ArÃ©valo's inventive Japanese cuisine.
Mr. ArÃ©valo offers a worthwhile 65-euro tasting menu that provides an ocean-hopping range through seafood preparations (sushi, sashimi and tartares are the house specialties), but my friend and I opted to skip that menu's standard starters like miso soup and seaweed salad and dive right in with the raw fish, choosing six dishes of our own to share for more or less the same price.
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