Summer time in New Orleans is tough. Temperatures in the upper 90s. Humidity. Heat index in the 100s. Afternoon showers which evolve into afternoon flooding. Keeping track of the daily hurricane advisory reports. Pre-season football. Pimm's Cups. Sno-balls. Well, maybe it's not all doom and gloom.
But when August rolls around most of us are near the tipping point and could use a few days of escape. Many head to the beaches of the Gulf Coast, while some opt for cooler temperatures up north (my preference). Unfortunately, your faithful bloggers can't afford to foot the bill for you to spend a long weekend at Grayton Beach or a week in the Blue Ridge Mountains. But we can take you on a virtual vacation to a cooler time and place.
During the week of Mardi Gras, The Folk Singer and I hopped a plane to Spain and spent a week eating, drinking, and sight seeing our way through Madrid and San Sebastian (with a few more stops along the way). This was an officially sanctioned Blackened Out research and development excursion, but it's taken this long for me jog my memory from my notes to be able to author a worthwhile blog entry. Luckily, TFS took plenty of pictures.
Over the next couple of weeks, we will take you on a pictorial journey through northern Spain in February. Imagine yourself wrapped up in your warmest winter clothes, overdosing on jamon and tempranillo, and trying to use your 6th grade Spanish to navigate signs on the Spanish interstate system because you forgot to request a GPS unit from the rental car company. It was glorious.
The view from the veranda of our apartment, which was a stone's throw away from Plaza Mayor and directly across the street from a Museo de Jamon. What else could one want?
The first order of business on Day 1 was a walk to the Mercado de San Miguel for breakfast. There is nothing like oysters on the half shell and a glass of cava to start your trip.
Most of our eating in Madrid took place in La Latina, a neighborhood loaded with tapas bars, especially on the main thoroughfare of Cava Baja. Just one street over on Calle Almendro is the aptly named Taberna Almendro. From my research on the interweb, this looked like a worthy spot to check out. Taberna Almendro only serves clear beverages - beer, white wine, sherries, and the house specialty, barbadillo, a dry, slightly effervescent white wine which I fell in love with. With only a Spanish menu (always a good sign), I placed my order at the kitchen window not knowing exactly what I was getting myself into. Suddenly there appeared in the window a ginormous oversized bagel and a massive plate of freshly fried potato chips topped with chunks of crispy ham and two fried eggs. Upon witnessing this spectacle, TFS wondered aloud (knowing good and well the answer already), "I wonder if that's our order?"
Huevos rotos con jamon (above) is Taberna Almendro's answer to F&M's cheese fries. Rosca is the retort to lox and bagels, only this version is super-sized and filled with the world's best ham before baking in the oven.
At one point we met up with a friend of a friend of TFS who has been living in Madrid for the past year and teaching English in public schools through a program sponsored by the Spanish Ministry of Education. (NOTE - We met quite a few young Americans who were participating in this program, known as the Cultural Ambassadors: North American Language and Culture Assistants in Spain. It is a highly recommended alternative to law school.) Our friend of a friend was gracious enough to serve as our tour guide one afternoon, and one of our stops was the Parque de Retiro, where TFS was introduced to her new favorite Spanish beverage, tinto verano (translation "red wine of summer"), made of equal parts red wine and sparkling lemonade or sprite. I stuck with Estrella Damm.
Dinner at Taberna Matritum. We went for the patatas a las cinco quesos gratinadas (potato gratinee with five cheeses), but we stayed for the pasta artesana spaetzle con ragut de rabo de toro (spaetzle with oxtail ragu - pictured above).
The long walk up Pasadizo de San Ginés to Chocolateria San Ginés, the Cafe du Monde of Madrid. Much like beignets and cafe au lait, many Madrileños begin their morning or end their night with freshly fried churros dipped in bowls of melting bittersweet chocolate.
As luck would have it, we were in Madrid on Sunday February 20th, the same day that the entire country seemingly went on protest against recently passed labor reforms. The sight of hundreds of policemen in full riot gear gave us some pause for concern, and the hundreds of thousands of protestors flooding the streets made for an interesting walk to the Prado. As always, ACN's Will McAvoy was reporting on the protests and offering thoughtful, educated, and unbiased commentary while remaining firmly in support of the Democrats under the guise of being a registered Republican.
Back to La Latina and Cava Baja for dinner. We stopped at La Chata, which has a very inviting bar scene where each drink is served with a complimentary tapa. The longer that we stayed in Spain, the more we grew accustom to this convivial style of dining. Little did we know that the bars of San Sebastian take tapas to a whole new level. More on that in the weeks to come.