Madrid Food

Following the Casa Alberto dinner our first night in Madrid, we ate some salads in our apartment. We added peppers, canned tuna, and beets to the ingredients from Barcelona.

Salad in Madrid apartment
Salad in Madrid apartment

Checking TripAdvisor, we discovered that La Pizzateca, a pizza place around the corner from our apartment, is ranked 7th out of 4,493 restaurants in Madrid! The pizza on our plates has fresh basil, tomatoes, and mozzarella. The pizza was healthy, tasty, warm, and reasonable (2.50 euros per large slice). We did takeout twice. Note the cava (Spanish sparkling wine), which comes from Catalonia.

pizza from La Pizzateca
pizza from La Pizzateca

The Mercado de San Miguel is filled with tapas bars. Modern inside, with large windows, it’s very popular.

Mercado de San Miguel
Mercado de San Miguel

We ate seafood tapas there twice. The tapas were large and 1 euro each.

seafood tapas and cerveza
seafood tapas and cerveza

We enjoyed a menu del dia at La Finca de Susanna.  Very reasonable: three course and drink for less than 15 euros. Below we had veal and fish, both prepared well. Airy atmosphere — high ceilings, clean decor, large windows — and nice service from the young staff.

veal and fish
veal and fish

One afternoon we shared churros and hot, thick chocolate at Chocolateria San Gines. The Spanish brought chocolate to Europe from the new world, so it’s not surprising they’d have restaurants specializing in chocolate.

churros and hot chocolate
churros and hot chocolate

We searched for tarta de Santiago, an almond cake that’s a specialty of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. We found it only in boxes stacked in the souvenir section of El Corte Ingles, a Spanish department store. Not promising, but we wanted it badly, so we bought an entire tarta. As you probably guessed, the tarta didn’t measure up to our memories. We finished it but didn’t go back for more.

The Prado and Other Museums

We last visited Madrid over 20 years ago. We wanted to see the Prado Museum and the Reina Sofia Museum, which has Picasso’s Guernica.

We purchased tickets in advance to enter the Prado at the 10:00 opening time.  Formed from the royal collection, the Prado features Spanish masters such as Diego Velasquez and Francisco Goya. Velasquez is best known for his painting of the Spanish court, but I found this painting to be the most powerful and unexpected from Velasquez.

Christ Crucified, by Velasquez. From wikicommons.
Christ Crucified, by Velasquez. From wikicommons.

Goya was also a court painter. He depicted members of the royalty in unflattering terms, again and again. He must have been very good to retain his royal patrons.

As part of our planning, we listed the days the museums are closed and when they have free admission. Four museums offer free admission during a week. Aside from the Prado and Guernica, we were pretty flexible about the museums, so we decided to visit the remaining museums during the free admission times. We even visited the Prado again, catching a reconstructed cloister and Goya cartoons for tapestries that we missed our first visit.

The highlight of the Reina Sofia Museum is Picasso’s Guernica. He painted it as part of a publicity campaign by Spanish artists to call attention to the German Luftwaffe bombing cities during the Spanish Civil War. In this case, the Germans bombed the Basque town of Guernica and killed over 1600 people. Picasso stipulated that the painting remain outside Spain while Franco was alive and be sent to Spain after his death. There is good supporting material to explain the parts of the painting.

Picasso's Guernica. From Wikicommons.
Picasso’s Guernica. From Wikicommons.

We hadn’t seen the Thyssen Museum before. Formed from a private collection, it has a broad range of art that isn’t great. The free admission helped. A highlight was this Bernini marble of San Sebastian. The Villa Borghese in Rome has amazing Bernini statues, but they don’t allow photography.

San Sebastian by Bernini
San Sebastian by Bernini

The Caixa Forum is a new museum that had some very good special exhibits assembled from other museums.

The four museums are the four pins on the right side of the map. Crowds were manageable during the free times, so free worked well for us.

From our Madrid apartment we walked to many attractions
From our Madrid apartment we walked to many attractions

The Menu Del Dia Ends at Lunch

After arriving in Madrid on the AVE, we checked in to our apartment in the Barrio de las Letras in old Madrid, where we could walk to the many of Madrid’s attractions: Plaza Mayor, Sol, and Madrid’s museums. Our apartment is the blue pin in the center. Museums are the four blue pins on the right; Plaza Mayor and other attractions are on the left.

From our Madrid apartment we walked to many attractions
From our Madrid apartment we walked to many attractions

The apartment was one of the best we’ve ever rented: newly renovated, large kitchen, very clean, super owners, central location on a lively pedestrian-only street, and quiet. The owners met us and made us feel like guests in their home.

On the way to an Alcampo to buy food for our week in Madrid, we passed Casa Alberto, a restaurant with a menu del dia offering cocido madrileno, stew Madrid-style. Our apartment owners recommended Casa Alberto for traditional specialties. We wanted to try cocido, and the menu del dia price of 18 euros for three courses and drink at a very good restaurant is reasonable. We had eaten lunch on the train a few hours earlier, so we made reservations for dinner.

We returned for dinner and were seated. We asked about the cocido, which we didn’t see on the menu.

The waiter said the cocido is on the menu del dia, but the menu del dia is only offered at dinner.

We know enough Spanish to translate menu del dia to menu of the day in English. We asked “The menu del dia isn’t valid all day?”

“No, only at lunch.”

“Oh. Really? But we came here for the cocido on the menu del dia.”

“Cocido isn’t on the dinner menu, but I’ll check if we have cocido.”  When he returned, he said that they have cocido, but soup and cocido cost 25 euros.”

25 euros for soup and stew seemed high, but we decided to eat there. The cocido was very good with lots of variety: boiled cabbage, carrot, chickpeas, boiled pork fat, blood sausage, chicken, boiled salted pork, sausage, roast pork, and boiled potato. The chickpeas were moist and delicious.

cocido madrileno
cocido madrileno

My wife had rabo de toro, braised oxtail stew, a Spanish specialty dating back to bullfights. The rabo de toro was also well-executed and tasty: ox tail braised then slow cooked until tender, forming a thick sauce.

rabo de toro
rabo de toro

We enjoyed the good food on our first night in Madrid, but the stew, ox tail, and fixings cost as much as our paella splurge in Barcelona. We had planned our Madrid splurge for another local specialty, roast suckling pig.

Further reading confirmed that the menu del dia is customarily offered only at lunch. Some restaurants offer a menu del mediodia, menu of the midday, which is more precise. We learned that by planning our day to take advantage of the (lunch) menu del dia, we could get better meals for lower prices.

The Train in Spain

With a nod to Lerner and Loewe, the train in Spain stays mainly in the plain. It’s faster that way — going up and down mountains slows the train too much.

We traveled from Barcelona to Madrid to Seville to Granada by train. The first two legs were the longest, and we took the Spanish high-speed train, called the AVE. This was our first time on a high-speed train. We rode this train, shown here in the Madrid Atocha station.

AVE train
AVE train

The trip from Barcelona to Madrid took 2 and a half hours to travel about 400 miles. Each car has a display showing the train speed. The highest speed I saw was 301 km/hr.

The AVE has comfortable seats, large windows, and two seats on each side of the aisle. All five trains we rode were on time — so much better than Spanish trains years ago. The ride is very smooth when you’re seated. But when you stand up or walk around, you’ll notice that the train moves enough so that you feel wobbly. There was a Spanish movie, and they distributed free earbuds.

We purchased promotional tickets for the AVE two months in advance. The promotional tickets are less than half the price of the full-fare tickets, but they sell out, so it’s best to purchase them when they go on sale 60 days in advance.

We liked the AVE so much that while in Spain we decided to take the train from Seville to Granada, instead of driving. We also added a day trip by train from Madrid to Segovia.