Oh Solomillo! 15 Days in Spain

Old Nov 26th, 2013, 06:02 AM
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Day 10 (Friday) – Sevilla, Day 3
Yesterday was the Cathedral, today is the Alcazar. Gorgeous. Quick tip – yesterday afternoon when there wasn’t a line at the ticket office we dropped in and picked up tickets for today in advance. That way when you are ready to visit you can just walk past the line and go straight in. Absolutely beautiful, and a great morning.

Lunch today is at one of the little tapas bars in Santa Cruz. We settle on a sampler platter with a mixed grill of different iberico pork and grilled chicken. Everything was wonderful, but the problem with a mixed grill platter is that you don’t necessarily know which is which (as in, “wow, that’s yummy, but is that the secreto or the presa?). Maybe this will take more research. We also got a small half-racion portion of lomo iberico – cured pork loin – that was fabulous. It might be sacrilegious to say this, but I think I like lomo iberico even more than jamon iberico. (And I know that technically lomo just means “loin,” but I never saw the term used on a menu to mean anything other than a cured form of pork loin or tenderloin.)

This evening we stopped for tapas at 5Js (Cinco Jotas) on our way to the flamenco show that we had made reservations for when we arrived. I knew nothing about 5J’s but we liked the look of the place and the menu looked great. I didn’t find out until much later that it is a chain of restaurants associated with 5J jamons – producers of some of the most famous iberico hams in Spain. We split a half-racion of their solomillo iberico bellota with a sauce of juniper berries. An amazing experience. With a nice glass of red wine, this is absolute heaven. Really, really, really, really amazing. Barely medium-rare pork tenderloin, so tender that it melts in your mouth. I could eat this every day.

So off to the flamenco show, El Patio Sevillano – recommended by our desk clerk because “it’s happier” than the gypsy-style flamenco of Tablao El Arenal. Umm. How do I put this? I have no doubt that there was some serious talent on the stage (there were definitely a couple of high points and a couple of very good performers), but the whole thing felt a little Disney-esque, for lack of a better term. Some of the performers even performed to pre-taped music rather than to a live flamenco guitar. Not what I was hoping for.

When we get out of the show we are walking back in the general direction of the hotel, but taking a liberal series of detours through charming streets that we have not yet explored. It is closing in on midnight Friday night, and the town is hopping. And somehow we find ourselves right in front of Restaurante Enrique Becerra, the famous little restaurant that is one of the real classics in town, where you always need reservations. The place is crowded, of course, but there is a tapas bar area in the front and we decide to try to get in and maybe get drinks and tapas at the bar. When we went in the waiter approached us. We said we just wanted tapas and he pointed to a table in the dining room that was just being cleared. Yes, we scored a dining room table at Enrique Becerra on a Friday night for tapas. Fried mejillones were amazing. Grilled artichokes with ham, yum. And the special tapa on the menu tonight is risotto with goat cheese with stuffed chiperones. OMG. This little culinary experience definitely saved the night and went a long way toward offsetting my disappointment in the flamenco show.
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Old Nov 27th, 2013, 08:08 AM
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Day 11 (Saturday) – Sevilla, Day 4

Today is spent doing a lot of shopping in the big shopping zone just north of the Cathedral area. Lots of wide pedestrian-only streets with lots and lots of shops, and a big Corte Ingles department store with a supermarket in the basement where we finally found good pimenton de la vera and good saffron de la mancha, along with some more packets of tinto de calamari. For a late lunch we decided we needed one more visit to La Isla, and this time split a regular mixed paella for one and a big bowl of clams in a marinera broth. Perfect match.

We wandered back past the Cathedral at about 6 pm, at exactly the right time to see the Virgin processional leave the Cathedral to the cheers of a large crowd gathered in the square. It was the 450th anniversary of something or other – we never found out what – and a lovely way to start the last evening in Seville.

Tonight I want to take one last chance to see really good flamenco. Fortunately, we did. Early that evening we picked up tickets for the La Casa del Flamenco show later that night at Hotel Alcantara (Ximenez de Enciso 28). I wanted to make up for the less-than-memorable flamenco performance last night (at least less that memorable-in-a-good-way), and my guidebook lists this is one of the best shows in town. It was fabulous – leaps and bounds better than the floor show extravaganza of the night before. I read that this is one of those shows where you never know who is going to show up, and every night is different. Tonight there are 4 performers (2 guitarists and two dancers - 1 male, 1 female) trading off performances, and it felt like the flamenco equivalent of a good jazz club with jazz tap dancers, if that makes any sense. If you are looking for a good flamenco show in Sevilla, I highly recommend it. Notably, there were no tour groups there, and only a few Americans. The audience mainly looked like it was composed of people who were visiting from other parts of Spain, locals who had friends visiting and wanted to show them a good time, and even a few people who were obviously on a date. This completely made up for yesterday!
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Old Nov 28th, 2013, 02:48 AM
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Glad you finally had a great flamenco-night in Sevilla. Would be sad to be left with a bad, "happy" and meaningless touristy experience when there's so much excellent flamenco in town.

La Casa del Flamenco is one of the better places with top notch artists such as Luisa Palicio, Juan Polvillo, Andrés Peña, Ana Morales, Alberto Sellés etc performing regularly. All have been soloists at the most important flamenco festivals and performed in the finest theaters. The program one month ahead is published here: http://lacasadelflamencosevilla.com/...ompleta?page=1

Luisa Palicio from Estepona (Málaga): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_fBzzTX2HY

Rising star Alberto Sellés from San Fernando (Cádiz) in the wonderful Lope de Vega theater in Sevilla: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gV8hmd2Kox8
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Old Nov 28th, 2013, 06:43 AM
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Great detail, tejana, about dance, food, and language. I'll have your tapas tips on hand when it's time to order.

And good to know that "happy" = "Disneyesque."
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Old Nov 29th, 2013, 12:46 AM
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Loving your report. A few comments: "solomillo" in the North of Spain refers mainly to beef and not pork. They don´t eat much beef in Catalonia and in the South of Spain, while up here in the North (Basque Country mainly), grilled (rare) T-Bone Steaks are a specialty. Also, we use “montaditos”, but have imported the term from the South. Your favorite tapas bar, Bilbao Berria (Bilbao is where I live), is supposedly a Basque pintxos bar…but no colour compared to the real thing. It´s true that the gastronomic differences are huge among regions in Spain…and accents, habits, way of life, way of being, languages…it´s probably the most heterogeneus country in Europe, being so small. The North is always a delightful surprise to visitors, being so different from the typical idea of Spain.
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Old Nov 29th, 2013, 06:57 AM
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ttt
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Old Dec 10th, 2013, 05:53 PM
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thanks for the comments... I've been out of pocket for a couple of weeks but I promise to post the final leg (Madrid) in the very near future!
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Old Dec 10th, 2013, 05:55 PM
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but I must say that the most amusing comment about my Spanish came in Madrid, where I was accused of having a "Mexican accent." It actually msde me quite proud.
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Old Dec 10th, 2013, 06:19 PM
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Thanks so much for such an informative TR, will definitely make use of it for our May trip to Barcelona, Madrid and Seville.We will be staying in an apt in the Barri Gotic and hopefully will be able to try your favorite restaurant, Bilbao Barria. We are also in Barcelona for 4 nights but being our first time, it will surely be a more rushed trip than yours!
Looking forward to hearing about Madrid!
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Old Dec 12th, 2013, 05:36 AM
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Day 12 (Sunday) – Madrid!

This morning we take the AVE high speed train to Madrid. It is a completely different experience from the local train from Granada to Seville – this includes double scans of tickets and x-raying your bags before you can board the train. An uneventful two and a half hours later we are in Madrid.

It is a bright, sunny, chilly Sunday morning as we grab a taxi for the short ride to Hotel Room Mate Alicia on Plaza Santa Ana, recommended by a friend. The location is fabulous, but I must say that the hotel is just a little too hip for us, and the room reminds me of a dorm room, except all euro-centric and uber-cool. Sorry, but a shower that is open to the entire room might be considered trendy and chic, but it is a little bit outside of my comfort zone. The location can’t be beat, though, and we noticed that there is a “Me by Melia” hotel on another side of the Plaza that looks delightful and a little bit more our speed – we’ll file that away for next time.

After checking in we walked over to the Plaza Mayor (very busy on a Sunday) and then across the street to the Mercado San Miguel, where there were so many people that you couldn’t even walk, much less shop your way through the food stalls. So then we walked toward the Plaza de Oriente, near the royal palace, to have a light lunch at La Taberna del Alabardero (also recommended by a friend). So we are sitting outside, sharing a presa de iberico (help me out – I think that presa is a pork shoulder cut, and it was delicious), enjoying the sunshine, and who should appear but a troupe of what initially appeared to be street performers, but within a few seconds it is clear that it is actually a group of music students and opera students who had decided to give themselves a little extra practice and give the crowds around that area a special treat – a half hour performance of classic pieces (including “O Sole Mio”). What a great way to start our visit!

Back toward the hotel to unpack and take a quick nap, then we headed over to the Prado museum for a quick visit. On Sunday afternoon from 5 to 7 it is free admission, so it is a perfect time to drop in and hit the obligatory sights (Las Maninas and Garden of Earthly Delights) before wandering out to explore the Madrid tapas scene.

The busiest (and cheapest) tapas place is definitely the Museum de Jamon – a very lively crowd around the long bar, with €1 glasses of wine and a racion of my favorite lomo (cured pork tenderloin) for €3. The next stop on our little tour was a bit less successful, as we decided to go give Mercado San Miquel another try. Although the tapas and montaditos at the Mercado are tasty, they are incredibly overpriced. We finally realize that the whole place seems like an overpriced food court. It was fun to visit and look at all of the various vendors, but we won’t be back.

We then wandered back to our home neighborhood (Plaza Santa Ana) and stopped at a Cinco Jotas on the square. Remembering the 5J’s in Sevilla fondly, it seemed like a safe bet for a light dinner and we were happy to take a table on the square. (On a side note, by the time it gets dark in Madrid you need a sweater with you, as the town cools off very quickly, and it is nice to see that all of the restaurants on the square are prepared with outdoor heaters.) We ordered a full racion of the solomillo in berry sauce that we had loved so much in Seville. It wasn’t bad, but not nearly as tasty as the exact same dish in Seville, and the pork seemed to be a bit overcooked (medium to medium-well, instead of the perfect medium-rare that I was hoping for). Still, with a delightful Caesar salad (complete with jamon croquets!), it was a nice experience, and dinner on a busy square, watching both tourists and local families enjoying the evening, was great.

After dinner we finished the night at a little Vinoteca wine bar across the street from the hotel. They have seating in the plaza as well, but the bar itself looked like fun and it is always fun to chat up a bartender, especially at a wine bar. We had a nice time comparing glasses of various riojas and crianzas before finally making our way back across the street to our hotel and a good night’s sleep.

Overall, my first impression of Madrid is a little bit of sticker shock with respect to their tapas prices. Montaditos that cost €1.50 to €2.50 everywhere else (Barcelona, Granada or Seville) are €3 to €5 here. (And although here they are just called tapas, we found that most of their tapas consist of something delicious served atop a piece of French bread, the same as a montadito in Barcelona). Price-wise it is probably the equivalent of someone visiting the US and comparing prices in Manhattan to prices in other metropolitan areas, but the tapas prices here are more “off-scale” than the prices for regular dinner menu items, which seem to be about the same as dinner menu prices in the other regions. Notably, wine is still about the same – usually no more than €3 to €4 a glass, even for a really good red. For anyone interested in sangria, it was interesting to see that sangria will almost always be twice as much as a glass of wine, even though it only has half of the alcohol, because orange juice and mixers – not to mention the fruit - are so much more expensive than wine is. Still, the city is beautiful and the weather is lovely, and it is so nice to finally be able to wear the sweaters that we packed and have been carrying around in our luggage for the past 10 days!
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Old Dec 12th, 2013, 10:24 PM
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One thing about sangría: it´s a tourist trap. It´s one of the false truths about Spain, locals rarely have it in a bar (it´s normally home made and to be tasted with friends) but visitors tend to think that it´s a "local" thing. Up here in Northern Spain we very rarely have it, it´s not in our drinking list.
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Old Dec 13th, 2013, 05:18 AM
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I'm afraid that I have to agree with you on sangria. Which would you rather have - a glass of really good red wine, or a wine cooler?
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Old Dec 13th, 2013, 05:43 AM
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Very enjoyable, tejana. I have 2 Spanish CDs and one is SA and one is Castilian (with the lisps)--if anyone even understands me in Madrid, don't know what kind of accent it will be!
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Old Dec 13th, 2013, 07:39 AM
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Day 13 (Monday) – Madrid, Day 2

This morning we are thinking about taking a day trip to Toledo, and the front desk tells us that, because we have a US credit card, it is best to go to the train station to buy tickets. The train station is a nice 10 or 15 minute walk away, but when we get there we find – once again – that the automated ticket machines will not take our card (the one that Citi assured us would work in automated machines). We get in line for the in-person desk and quickly realize that it will probably take at least an hour to buy tickets, and decide it is a sign that we aree supposed to spend our time today exploring Madrid instead. Toledo will have to wait for another trip. The sun is shining, it is starting to warm up a bit (although there is still a morning chill in the air), and Madrid is waiting for us.

The Reina Sofia museum is just across the street from the train station. It was fabulous. The current focus of the exhibits is all about war and the interaction between war and politics with the modern art and artists of the time, culminating, of course, with Picasso’s Guernica. I love the way that they have paired movies and films from the time period with the art in each room. The pairing of Guernica with Bunuel’s classic “Forgotten Ones” showing on a continuous loop was brilliant. I’m not normally the biggest fan of modern art, but the entire visit was spectacular.

After the museum it is back to the hotel, where the sweater needed this morning is exchanged for short sleeves. We ask the front desk for a recommendation for a restaurant for one more arroz negro, and she immediately sends us off in the direction of La Barraca – known for their paellas and considered by many to have the best paella in Spain. Ten minutes later we walk into La Barraca, prepared to put its reputation to the test. Instead of one of the many paellas listed on their menu, we immediately go for their arroz negro, which is listed as containing only calamar and chiperones (squid and squid? Or is that “big squid” and “little squid?”). It was very good, and the fava beans with jamon and onions we had as a starter was excellent, but I think I like the arroz negro at La Isla in Sevilla a little better (maybe the tiny clams they added in Sevilla made the difference). The rice is very good, though, and a little less salty than I have come to expect, especially for sepia-tinted rice. A very good last paella, indeed.

After lunch we wandered back through the shopping streets, eventually making it back to the hotel for a nap and then back out at about 8 pm for tapas and people watching – first on the square at Plaza Santa Ana and then at a little bar on Calle de Leon for wine and more of the lovely lomo iberico.
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Old Dec 13th, 2013, 01:56 PM
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Day 14 (Tuesday) – Madrid, Day 3

After breakfast this morning we headed over to tour the Royal Palace. Wow. The tour took about three hours, including the special exhibit from El Escorial that they were running. A really magnificent building, and a lovely morning.

For our final lunch in town we had originally intended to find a restaurant that was recommended by a friend, so set out to locate Casa Luca on Calle de Cava Brava. We found it, and it looked charming, but they we decided to take a peek at its next door neighbor – Taberna de los Huevos de Lucio, also on Calle de Cava Brava (Cava Brava 30, I believe). It just had a vibe about it that we really liked. We went in because of how cool the place looked, and when we asked to see a menu it looked great, so we decided to stay and wait for a table. And it was only after we had decided to wait for a table that we looked up and saw the pictures of customers like Bruce Springsteen, Antonio Banderas and Bruce Willis on the wall. This might be shaping up to be a very good meal.

The place was packed but we managed to get a table for two after only about a 10 minute wait. It was AMAZING. Fried eggplant to start, and then DH had the best solomillo of the trip (indescribably good, with an unbelievable cream sauce), and I had an absolutely insane monkfish with shrimp and garlic in a garlic and parsley sauce. I can’t even describe the perfection of this meal. This might be the best meal of the entire two weeks (or at least tied with the arroz negro at La Isla). With a lovely bottle of wine, it made for a very memorable last lunch.

Then it was a long stroll back through the Plaza Mayor, mainly for a chance to get a picture of our favorite street performer (the guy in the goat costume -- it’s hard to explain but he was adorable) and back through the Puerta del Sol to get the obligatory pictures of the bear sculpture and the “kilometer zero” marker, before returning to the hotel for a quick nap and some preemptive packing.

Later that evening it is time for our last tapas stroll, beginning with drinks at the Plaza Santa Ana. We tried to get into a cute little restaurant on Calle Leon for dinner that had been recommended to us but it was packed, and we were told that they had reservations already booked that would make it impossible to get a table for quite some time. Too bad – the place looked adorable. Instead we wandered some more and eventually ended up back at Cinco Jotas on the square. I’m so glad we did. Tonight they redeem themselves, serving us a perfectly medium-rare (even bordering on rare) half racion solomillo. Together with a half racion of grilled chiperones in ink and some nice red wine, it was a perfect last dinner on the square.

With an early flight tomorrow we are in bed by about midnight, but we can easily hear the crowd on the still-lively plaza until at least 3:30 AM, when I finally drifted off. When our cab picked us up at 5:30 AM, we could still see people heading home after a festive night.
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Old Dec 13th, 2013, 05:47 PM
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Mikelg

I was shocked when our young cousins, born gallegos, ordered sangria in Santiago bar.

Sangria has taken on odd proportions in the US. Once a drink where they added fruit to mask bad wine, has become a BBQ favorite. It is the same with tapas in the US. The word tapas has become bastardized in the US to mean any small plate. 99% of Americans have no idea of the unique nature of tapas in the Spanish culture and the how the "many angels can fit on the head on the pin" debate that explodes over the differences between tapas and pintxos.
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Old Dec 13th, 2013, 06:58 PM
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tejana..Reminds me of my first trip to Spain AGES ago and telling the Cab driver we wanted to go to Casa Botin (long before it was a tourist "must do").I used my very best University level (2nd yr) Spanish and he turned around and smiling said in perfect English "Your Spanish is very
Tijuana! You must be from the States!" Memorable meal and wine and a small pottery wine jug on my shelf. Love Madrid!! Sangria in Salamanca in a very large pottery bowl in a very nontouristy bar was outstaning and very reasonable. So were the tapas!!!
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Old Dec 14th, 2013, 05:35 AM
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After being in Spain for a while I was getting a little more comfortable with my Spanish, but I thought it was hysterical when the desk clerk in Madrid said that I spoke very well but that he thought he detected a “Mexican accent.” In Seville when I was having (or trying to have) a conversation with our favorite bartender there I said (in Spanish), that I was sorry that I didn’t speak much Spanish and was immediately corrected. In Mexico you use the word “Spanish” (“Espaῆol”) to mean the language, but in Spain, I was informed, you NEVER use it that way. In Spain the word “Espaῆol” only means the grammar aspects of the language (the grammar that you are taught in school), and that you always refer to the local dialect when you mean to say that you don’t speak the language. He tried to explain to me the different dialects for different regions. Although Castellano is the term for Castilian Spanish and would be appropriate for the majority of the country, the actual dialect spoken in the south is Andalusian, so you should apologize for not speaking much Andalusian, etc. Then he made a joke about the language used in Madrid by sticking his nose up in the air and accusing Madrillenos of being way too proper in their speech, speaking pure Castellano, and staying loyal to the “high tongue.”
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Old Dec 14th, 2013, 05:45 AM
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What is the formal way to say "Nice to meet you" in Castellano, please.
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Old Dec 14th, 2013, 07:44 AM
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"Nice to meet you": Mucho gusto conocerle or Encantado/a de conocerle.

<Spanish” (“Espaῆol”) to mean the language, but in Spain, I was informed, you NEVER use it that way>

Many people in the Basque Country, Catalunya and Galicia (where a large number speak euskerra, catalan and galego) will be especially picky about using the term castellano, but elsewhere "español" is widely used. For all practical purposes people in Andalucía speak español/castellano, the official language in all of the country.
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