I knew I was made for a big city. I am absolutely in love with Madrid. The people, the language, the culture, but most of all… the food. I could eat at traditional Spanish tapas bars every day. Interestingly enough, the best ones can be identified by two things:
A) The floors are covered in napkins (I don’t know why, but there is a small guilty pleasure to throw your napkin on the floor, perhaps because it’s taboo.)
B) The bars are filled with old people (the geezers always know the good spots.)
But on days my exploratory needs must be satisfied, this city has a myriad of restaurants just waiting to be uncovered. My most recent dining experience was so mind-blowingly divine that it deserves a dedicated blog post.
I made it to Calle de Ponzano, a street most commonly frequented by gourmands due to it’s variety of gastronomical eateries.
On this street, you can find Sala de Despiece, which, literally translated from Spanish, means “cutting room.” This is a chophouse or butchery-themed restaurant. But don’t be intimidated by the metal meat hooks hanging from the ceiling, or the odd-colored jars filled with unrecognizable specimen.
Appetizing, right? Everything from the foam containers used to transport meat which are used here as ceiling tiles, or the waiters dressed like butchers with their white plastic aprons, not one single detail was forgotten when designing everything from the neon-blue rubber floor to the clipboard menu.
This restaurant doesn’t accept reservations, so of course we had to wait a little to get in. The host muttered something in Spanish to my friend (my Spanish is still pretty terrible, so I just nod and smile most of the time), and soon enough, we are following the host outside. I had no idea where we were going. He rings the bell on what appears to be the apartment building right next to the entrance… we get buzzed in… and, at this point, I’m thinking that we’re going to get chopped up too.
As it turned out, Sala de Despiece recognized an opportunity and built a “waiting area” where you can read the “house rules” (including the requirement to put your phone away and enjoy yourself!) Oh, and of course, where you can order some wine before you start your meaty journey next door.
After waiting nearly an hour, I was ready to give this place a go. From what looked like an inventory list, we selected a few items to wake up our palettes.
First, we started with a carpaccio-like dish; a very thinly sliced raw steak. The meat-men decorate it with a fresh pesto sauce and drizzle white truffle oil.
For the second round, we ordered the “Rolex.” The “band” was comprised of pure melt-in-your-mouth lard, which they slightly cauterize in front of you with a mini-torch. On top, pure gold: an egg yolk, cooked to perfection – slightly firm exterior, jelly-like interior. Yuummmmmmmmmmmm.
Am I torturing you yet?
Okay, I’ll keep going.
Next, one of my favorite things to eat. Pulpo, aka, octopus. This pulpous, perfectly grilled work of art was a sensory explosion, thanks to it’s crispy suckers, chimichurri seasoning, prepared Galician style, which is typically a simple red paprika seasoning.
Sticking with the sea-theme, we followed this up with a giant langostino, or prawn. I never imagined that I would see latex on my plate, but they serve this with blue rubber gloves to protect your little sausages from smelling like this big guy. No special seasonings here, just the flavors of the sea (and lots of butter, of course.)
Yes, there’s more. Next up, “flan” goat cheese. In the menu, the description of how this is prepared states “bath tub” – a reminder that all of the ingredients here are carefully prepared and fresh (if you didn’t know, you can make your own yogurt or cheese at home from milk, and usually this procedure takes place in a bath tub.) This cheese had a deliciously sweet crust, a soft center, and was garnished with a heavenly, dense balsamic glaze.
Did you save room for dessert? I didn’t, but it would have been a shame to pass up. Now this presentation was interesting. The butchers were closing soon, so they were in a hurry to get people out of there. First, they only served us a small jar and a miniature plastic ziploc of little crunchy cereal-balls. But my friend had been here before and knew something was off… He asked them to prepare it the right way, and they came back with what you see below. A vanilla custard with dulce de leche sauce, covered with berries and those little orange fruits whose name escapes me. Much more impressive.
And that was it, I promise 🙂
You can bet that I plan to take any of my American visitors to Sala de Despiece… come to Madrid, friends!
A quick catch up on my life here – other than munching on out-of-this-world fare and hustling as a freelancer, I’ve been drinking port in Porto, eating bratwursts in Dusseldorf, surfing in Cantabria and savoring Spanish vino in wine country.