Tapa Thursdays: Yakitoro, a Chicote-run Dining Concept in Madrid

Faced with a lunchtime dilemma in Madrid, I was thrilled to get a message at the very moment my stomach rumbled from my friend Lauren, a self- and media-professed foodie and an insider in the Spanish capital chow scene (jo, she’s one of the co-founders of Madrid Food tour. When I say expert, I mean it!).

Though we were trying to find a time for a drink, I had to ask: We’re in Chueca. Where do we eat?

Lauren offered up a few choices, but we were closest to Yakitoro, Alberto Chicote’s newest restaurant. Much like Anthony Bourdain or Gordon Ramsey, this madrileño chef is riding a wave of immense popularity after appearances on Spain’s version of Top Chef and Nightmare in the Kitchen, called Pesadilla en la Cocina.

Welp, our minds were made up on that rainy Saturday afternoon – we’d be wannabe foodies and celebrity stalkers. I came into Yakitoro with high expectations and left slightly let down, to be honest.

Let me start with the good stuff:

Concept

Yakitoro is a Japanese-Spanish fusion restaurant (with food reminiscent of Nazca in Seville). The kitchen prep area is behind a large glass wall, and you can imagine my surprise when I saw Chicote himself making the food. The first question we were asked upon sitting down was Chopsticks or a fork?

I’ve been mildly obsessed with concept restaurants since a sixth grade project where we were asked to plan a restaurant, from decor to menu to price to sustainability. Ours? OJ’s Cyber Cafe, where the 1995 trial took center stage in our menu and chalk outlines were the hallmarks. Morbid.

The tapas – an eclectic mix of vegetarian, fish and meat dishes – are then cooked over a fogón, or a large stove, in the middle of the restaurant in plain view. Polished wooden tables spiral out from the central stove, meaning patrons are grouped together, sharing a cooler in the middle with bottles of beer and chilled wine.

We were sat at a low, steel bar next to the window and filled with succulent plants. The servers wear flight suits that reminded me of the Communist theatre I went to in Harbin, China.

Food

There were easily 50 dishes on the menu, glued to wooden boards, and a small but thoughtful wine list. We chose an entire bottle of rosé to detox from copious amounts of tinto during the week and I ordered for Laura.

The sardines in tempura with a sweet chile sauce were up first. Laura was put off by having to peel them, so I dug in. Those that were cooked were exquisite, and the sweet ñora sauce was an excellent touch, though a few of the fish came undercooked.

I’m not a mushroom fan, though Laura raved about the cooked-to-perfection shiitake mushrooms with dried mackerel shavings and a garlic sauce. The smoky taste of the dried mackerel added depth and distracted me from the texture of the mushroom. The portion was rather generous, as well.

The grilled shallots – a signature dish in Catalonia – were browned on the fogón and crowned with tangy romescu sauce, were a nice break between our heavier dishes. They came speared on a brochette, thus the basis of Yakitoro’s menu.

We chose two meat dishes to finish off. The chicken in tempura was delicious, particularly with the thick and sweet Pedro Ximinez reduction for dipping.

The braised short ribs were cooked to order, glazed with a sweet sauce and a perfect ending to the meal. 

The tapas, while small, were an excellent price – from 2,50€ and up – and we ordered an entire bottle of wine and five tapas for well under 40€.

Service

I mistakenly thought that the less-than-desirable service at Yakitoro was due to it being a brand-new venue – pues no, Yakitoro has been open for business since June. When we arrived just after 3pm, the place was packed, so we got our names on a list for an hour later. 

The kitchen didn’t close midday, which is more common in Madrid than in Seville, but the restaurant wasn’t nearly as buzzing when we arrived at 4:30. We were sat right away, though it took nearly ten minutes to get a menu and another ten for our bottle of wine to be opened. Thankfully, we weren’t in a hurry and enjoyed the sobremesa on Laura’s last day in Spain.

As we left nearly 90 minutes later after a long lunch, Chicote was standing at the door and said goodbye. I fibbed a little and told him the sardines were exquisite – they would have been, had they been cooked for a minute longer. Every restaurant has its kinks to work out (haven’t you seen his show?!), so I’d be willing to try Yakitoro in the future.

Yakitoro is located on Calle Reina, 41, just steps off of Gran Vía in the Chueca neighborhood. The kitchen is open daily from 1pm until midnight, and reservation are accepted. You can check out their website for more.

Tapa Thursdays: Eating at a Guachinche on Tenerife

Julie’s plan had only three itinerary stops on my only full-day on Tenerife: Rental car. Teide. Guachinche :)

Eager not to ruin my own surprise, I refused to give into sneaking a peek at what this oh-so-tenerifeño dining experience was. I actually didn’t know it had anything to do with food until after we’d climbed to the peak of Teide on empty stomachs and was promised a mountain of raciones.

Zigzagging down the face of the active volcano through rollercoast roads, I actually think I heard my tripa gurgle. But the excitement in which Julie told me about these temporary, family-run restuarants blew my expectations (sorry, done on the volcano expressions and puns).

“Si esto se llama La Salú para mi madre, que descanse en paz!” 

The small restaurant’s owner, David, was showing us around the various dining rooms, all set around a humble kitchen where family members were peeling Canarian wrinkly potatoes (papas arrugás) and preparing meat at a grill. His mother, a sevillana by birth, married a Venezuelan before moving to the island. When she passed away, her family, who had always loved wine, planted a small vineyard and the guanchinche was born. The name, La Salud, is a homenage to the family matriarch.

We chose seats on the covered patio, watching the clouds roll in over Puerto Cruz. 

Guachinches began to spring up on Tenerife as humble restaurants from which small producers could sell their product. The island’s volcanic landscape lends well to producing young, fruity reds, so we ordered a half liter to begin with. The restaurants operate so long as there is wine to sell – it’s common to find guachinches closed late in the season. 

There were just five dishes on the menu, guaranteeing that everything we tried was fresh – eggs, sobresada and fries (huevos estampidos); garbanzos with a spicy tomato sofrito; chistorra sausage with fries, steak and cheese produced on the island. We ordered all but the steak and an extra half litre of the family’s fruity, fresh wine.

What I loved about the experience (aside from the price – 25€ for everything!), was the personal service we received. Everything was served hot and tasty, and we left satisfied.

Guachinches have started to pop up on nearby Gran Canaria, but the real thing is as tenerifeño as Teide itself.

If you go: La Salud is located in the town of La Orotava on the western side of the island, just east of tourist town Puerto Cruz. The address is Camino de Los Gomez, S/N. They’re typically open from 1pm until 11pm, though may be closed if the wine is depleted. You’ll need a rental car to reach many of them, or a reliable taxi service, as the guachinches tend to be set away from major cities in the north.

Have you ever been to a guachinche, or something similar? Would you eat with locals?

Tapa Thursdays: Room Art Cuisine

With the hiring of MaCuro’s head chef, ROOM Art Cuisine went from an American food bar to one of the center’s newest gastrobars only steps away from Plaza Salvador. When my friends and I used to meet in the city’s famous botellón plazas, we’d be stuck for a decent restaurant that catered to many international tastes.

I was invited in November to the Room’s soft opening, along with several other American friends and Tapas Queen Shawn Hennessey. We got a sneak peek at the revised menu, wine list and comfortable yet modern interior while waiters passed around small samples of dishes straight off the menu.

A month later, we were celebrating Mickey’s engagement and wanted to try out a new place. Most of my friends are vegetarians, so the Room has enough to keep their bellies full and Puja and I still got our meat fix with a delicately cooked presa ibérica.

It’s hard to categorize the Room’s food, as the gambit of Spanish wines can be paired with food from around the world – from Ireland to Lebanon. We tried fried cheeseballs in marinera sauce, guacamole with fried plantains, perfectly seasoned humus, a crisp salad with goat cheese and spicy papas bravas.

The service was exceptional – our waiter was quick to fill our glasses and served us two slices of cake to share to celebrate the occasion. The food was artfully prepared both times I went, and prices and portion sizes vary, depending on what you’ve ordered. We paid about 22€ a head, which included wine.

the Room is open for all meals and located at Cuesta del Rosario, 15, just across from Cuesta Sport gym on the Plaza de la Pescadería. They’re also open for happy hour and coffee. I was not compensated in any way for eating at the Room Art Cuisine, nor for this article. All opinions are my own.

Tapa Thursdays: Apple Strudel at Buda Castle

While Spanish food is one of my biggest loves, I am not one to turn down local fare in any of the places I visit. This meant wild boar tortellini in Florence, leubuckhen in Passau and even grasshoppers in China. A happy tummy means a happy Cat.

When I was on a shoestring budget traveling around Europe, I typically ate street food and made sandwiches in hostels and splurged on one meal. Now that I have a big kid job, I find that a far larger part of my budget on eating and visiting local markets.

Then my parents came to Europe and they offered to pick up the tab.

As part of our package on our Viking Cruise down the Danube, we were offered the option of taking walking tours with local guides. As someone who has traveled independently for six years, I tend to stick to a map and my own intuition, but I found Viking’s guides to be knowledgeable and quite humorous.

My most frequent question: Where do the locals go to eat?

Our guide in Budapest, Julia, showed us around the Buda Castle area and directed us to the Ruszwurm, a nearly 200-year old coffeehouse that had retained its recipes ever since. Famous for strudel – apple, sour cherry and even nut – it’s one of the most frequented and most beloved of the Hungarian capital.

When we walked into the cramped café, one of the other families on the cruise was leaving, so we snagged their seats and ordered an espresso for me, a cappucino for my sister, and an apple strudel and tiramisu to share. One thing you have to understand about my family is that we’ve all got a severe sweet tooth, so a certain amount of self-restraint was required to not get an individual pastry and fend off wandering forks.

The strudel was heavenly, flaky on top and tart in the middle. Our bill for two coffees and two cakes came out to 9€ (most places in Budapest accept euros). Warm apple strudel? These are a few of my favorite things.

Marek told us that we should wait until Vienna for apple strudel. Or, you could just wait until Ruszwurm. 

If you go: Ruszwurm is located at Szentháromság utca 7, just steps from the St. Stephen’s Cathedral on the Buda side of the Danube, and is open daily from 10a.m. until 7p.m.

Tapas Thursday: Sampling La Brunilda

I have visited so many places whose names ring famous, and usually have felt like something was missing.

When it comes to food, I’m beginning to have high expectations.

In Seville, a city that’s home to seemingly hundreds of tapas bars, it’s hard to not fall victim to the newest or the trendiest. New bars and eateries pop up so often, and even a week’s absence from traversing the center means I’m bound to come across a new bar.

When La Brunilda opened (I think) earlier this year, my friends raved about the food. Websites raved about the food. I went earlier this month, a bit skeptical but looking forward to a new place.

Like many trendy new bars, the space – which looked like a converted coach house, thanks to a large door and exposed brick – was airy and not busy  early on a Tuesday. Having to work two hours later, I chose to not even read and weep the wine list and opted for a beer.

My friends suggested asking the wait staff for daily specials, but we were clear: D chose papas bravas and a magret de pato with a carrot cream, G and I both got an oversized tapa of dorada with pisto and cream of Idizbial cheese, and I couldn’t resist risotto with crunchy onions and asparagus. 

Believe it or not, I liked each dish more than the last.

I hope you haven’t taken a bit out of your computer.

While the food was spectacular, I didn’t feel that the service was. Our dishes came out quickly, but it took ages to refill beers and get the bill – I couldn’t even imagine how long it would take on a busy weekend night.

If you go: La Brunilda is extremely popular, so it’s best to go early or during the week. Located on Calle Galera, 5, near Reyes Católicos, the bar opens at 1p.m. for lunch and 8:30 for dinner. Closed Sunday night and all day Monday.

Tapa Thursdays: My Most Memorable Spanish Meal

I squinted, trying to make out the words on the menu as the sunlight reflected off the bay near Mogán, a small port on the southern end of Gran Canaria island.

Enrique gave me a quick tsk and a shake of the head as he signaled the waiter over effortlessly. As if they’ve previously spoken, a mug of cold beer was slammed down on the table in front of me. We toasted, giggling as the clinking of the glasses caused a bit of beer to splash onto my wrist and over the basket of bread we’d been brought.

We were at Restaurant El Faro, an unassuming snack bar shaped like a lighthouse. Wide white umbrellas shielded us from the sun, though the heat of midday irritates our pink skin, covered in sea salt from a morning spent on a nearby beach. The waves lapped gently at the rocks, causing the nearby sailboats to bob up and down. Fisherman passed close to our table, giving us a quick salute with their long fishing poles on their way to the wharf. I wondered if their catch would end up on someone’s plate tomorrow.

I picked up the menu again, but Enrique snatched it from my hands, calling out an order to the waiter without even glancing at the specials of the day. One parillada of grilled shellfish, a plate of hot baby potatoes accompanied with spicy mojo picón sauce and a fresh mixed salad. For once, I was on his turf, and I let him make the decisions.

The small potatoes, called arrugás for their crispy skin, arrived first, drizzled with rock salt and olive oil. I watched Enrique peel off the jacket and dunk it into the mojo picón, a spicy sauce typical to the island, and did the same. The dish was simple – paprika, garlic and cumin – but tasted fresh and local. The large stone slab of seafood didn’t disappoint, either. The breeze from off of the port ruffled Enrique’s hair as he spoon-fed me the last bit of potato.

We doused the enormous prawns, crab legs, fried calamari and fried baby squid in lemon, each eagerly squeezing the last drops onto the plate. As a Midwesterner, I was shocked to find that I actually liked almost anything from the sea, so I went about mopping up the remains with a hunk of bread, satisfied both in body and spirit.
It was one of those meals where we didn’t exchange many words – we focused on our food, at stealing clandestine glances at the other. Enrique congratulated me on learning to peel shrimp with my hands as he’s showed me on our fourth date, and I kicked him gently under the table, mouth so full of the plump, grilled meat that I couldn’t speak to counter his teasing.

I can’t recall how much the bill was or who paid, but I will always remember the shade of pink that Enrique’s nose had turned, what he was wearing, and breathing a sigh of relief knowing that I really did love him, that they weren’t wasted words simply because I was merely having fun.

This is my entrance to the Trujillo Villas Food Blogging Competition. Trujillo Villas are a collection of luxury accommodation in the beautiful region of the same name, famous for its castle and for being the home of several conquistadores. For more on the region and their stunning offers, follow them on twitter, @trujillovillas.

Have you ever been to Trujillo? What are your recs for eating and visiting? And what’s your favorite Spanish meal?

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