Thursday, March 8, 2012

Day 4 in Madrid: Little by little the appetite appears (Poquito a poquito viene el apetito)

After a late breakfast, I walked over to the area around the palace, exploring that neighborhood and some of the official buildings. At 1.00 I hiked back to Gabriela's flat, and we went up the street to El Mollete, considered to be the best tapas bar in Madrid. Frequented by Francis Ford Coppolla, Jim Jarmusch, and Gwynneth Paltrow, it has become very chic with the international set. El Mollete is small--perhaps 40 can be shoehorned into the space--and was still empty when we first arrived. Tomas the proprietor greeted Gabriela with open arms and saluted me with kisses on both cheeks, as did his wife Ursula.

The food was as good as Gabriela promised, although the portions seemed larger (and more expensive) than what I've encountered so far. We started with an avocado salad and then moved on to the classic potato and egg dish beloved of Spaniards. Gabriela is on a crazy diet of lentils and meat, trying desperately to shed the weight that often creeps up on chefs. Even so, she couldn't resist: "For two months, no potatoes!" She attacked the dish with the desperation of the starving. This particular tapa differs from a tortilla de patata: one fries potatoes and then tosses on top a couple of eggs prepared over easy. Paprika is sprinkled on liberally, as is a light dressing made up of parsley, sherry vinegar, and a bit of garlic--just to cut the oiliness. It's simple peasant food but absolutely delicious, the sort of meal to make when one has a cold or the blues.

Gabriela generously offered to put me in touch with family in Seville and called a cousin on my behalf when we returned to her flat. She is also calling ahead to a well-known restaurant in Toledo for me to visit tomorrow. Armed with referrals, I kissed her good-bye in the traditional Spanish manner and set off for the Prado museum. I hope to see Gabriela this summer in the States. There's a good chance she will go to the C.I.A. in Napa Valley to do classes and demonstrations; if so, she has promised to stop off in D.C. to spend a few days and perhaps do more classes for José Andrés Puerta, the well-known chef who owns Jaleo and Oyamel, among other restaurants. It turns out he trained some years back with Gabriela.

I had a pleasant hike over to the Prado--the gorgeous weather continues unabated--where I spent a couple of hours looking at Spanish paintings by Goya and Velasquez. I left the museum unimpressed, the same perverse reaction I had to the Hermitage. For the most part, I don't like big national museums (although I adore the Met in NYC), which I find overwhelming and cold. After a couple of hours I go into sensory overload: too many paintings, too many rooms, too many high ceilings, and too many people. In my current frame of mind, I'm not enjoying the Spanish propensity for grim religious art. All those dark canvases and tortured, writhing bodies! At least the Italians paint a chubby Christ child framed geometrically against an intense blue sky and neoclassical buildings. It's pretty, if nothing else, and right now pretty will do me just fine. I much preferred the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, and I should have opted today for something smaller with a more modern collection, knowing of my dislike of large institutional museums. Ah well. All my life I've heard about the Prado, so I wanted to give it a chance.

I returned to my hotel to rest, and now I will walk over to the Mercado San Miguel to grab something light before turning in. Tonight I will not be a gato, given that I plan on going to Toledo for the day tomorrow.

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