Monday, October 15, 2007

Spanish haute cuisine, foam and all

Anne is one of the best people you could ever travel with. I know that I can be judgmental, opinionated, and incredibly annoying, especially when it comes to food, but Anne was gracious and kind the entire time we were traveling together in Madrid and Barcelona. Even when I took her to an over-the-top fancy and expensive restaurant in Madrid, where we awkwardly sat surrounded by ladies who lunch and businessmen in suits, she only laughed. In the end, I think we had more fun than anyone else in that restaurant.

I had picked Zaranda because the Maribel Guides said they offered a fantastic 20-28 Euro prix-fixe lunch. Sadly, it was no longer true and we sat there for at least five minutes, wondering if we should just scurry away, poor American mice that we are. I felt so disoriented, and although the very energetic waiter spoke English, his translation of the menu was so rushed. He kept asking us what we wanted, and when Anne finally chose a baby squid appetizer, I said to her, “I didn’t know you liked squid!”, to which she replied, “I didn't know what it was, I just had to make him stop!”

Also sadly, Zaranda seemed to be a restaurant where most people don’t eat all their food. To me, that’s the only explanation for why the waitstaff kept whisking things away before we were done. So although Anne loved the little sesame cracker in the hors d’oeuvres tray, I never got to have any.

It’s not that the food wasn’t good. The amuse-bouche, a monkfish liver, was sharply salty and delicious, meeting that craving that potato chips meet in a much more downmarket way. And it seemed right that at least at some point in Spain, I should eat something with foam on it.

The chipirone, or the young squid, was also very good, perfectly tender and succulent.

Anne’s young female chicken seemed very bland to me, but I enjoyed my solomillo, or beef filet, with a potato stuffed with menudillos. The waiter translated “menudillos” as kidneys, my dictionary says giblets, and I’m inclined to go with the waiter as I’ve never heard of a cow with giblets. It’s hard with fancy restaurants that like to use words in fanciful ways. I sat there just staring at the menu, feeling like I had learned nothing in four months in Mexico. In any case, it was tender and tasty, though I’m the kind of girl that likes my beef to have some chew to it. I was more excited to be eating menudillos, which had a strong but not unpleasant taste.

The best part, though, was when it came to dessert. When we ordered the toffee molten cake, we were told that it would take some extra time and were fed complimentary little cups of a light, white custard with passionfruit jelly on top. This was delicious and I loved it.

The toffee cake wasn’t bad either, and we finished that, too. But then, as we began to relax and think about how this whole disorienting experience might soon be over, the waiter came over with a platter of little cookies, the petit-fours, saying as he presented them, “Normally, I bring these over with the coffee, and I didn’t know what to do since you didn’t order any coffee, but I thought I’d bring them anyway.” He meant well, but I guffawed when Anne whispered, “He didn’t know what to do with people as cheap as us, but here are the cookies anyway!”

I almost died laughing when Anne followed up with, “I bet we’re the only people in this restaurant who would even consider staying at the Hostal Lopez.” She thought it even funnier that after our meal, we finished the day by touring the stadium Santiago Bernabeu, the home of the Real Madrid futbol team, where she took a particularly memorable photo of me clutching my heart in front of a larger-than-life photo of Zinedine Zidane.

I don’t mean to be criticizing Zaranda, which I’m sure provides a delectable experience for those who are fortunate enough to enjoy it without a thought for their pocketbooks. I’m just happy that Anne and I will have memories of Zaranda that go way, way beyond the food.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That is very funny. I know Maribel of Maribel Guides and I have sent her a link to your very amusing story. I´m sure she´ll love it.

Ken Baldwin
Totally Spain