Fodor’s Choice: Barcelona and Madrid Dining

070102_Zalacain.jpgZalacaín, Madrid
This place introduced nouvelle Basque cuisine to Spain in the 1970s and has since become a Madrid classic. It’s particularly known for using the best and freshest seasonal products available, as well as for having the best service in town. From the variety of fungi and game meat to the hard-to-find seafood served, the food here tends to be unusual — you won’t find many of these sorts of ingredients, or dishes, elsewhere. (photo, right)

Botafumeiro, Barcelona
On Gràcia’s main thoroughfare, Barcelona’s finest Galician restaurant has maritime motifs, snowy tablecloths, wood paneling, and fleets of waiters in spotless white outfits moving at the speed of light. The bank-breaking Mariscada Botafumeiro is a seafood medley from shellfish to fin-fish to cuttlefish to caviar. € €-€ € €

Casa Leopoldo, Barcelona
Hidden in the dark Raval, west of the Rambla, this restaurants serves fine seafood and Catalan fare. Try the revuelto de ajos tiernos y gambas (eggs scrambled with young garlic and shrimp) or the famous cap-i-pota (stewed head and hoof of pork). € €-€ € €

El Racó de Can Fabes, Barcelona
One of the top three restaurants in Spain, this is a must for anyone who is interested in fine dining. Every detail, from the six flavors of fresh-baked bread to the cheese selection, is superb. The taster’s menu is the wisest solution. It’s a bit out of the way, so it’s a lunchtime-only option. Sant Joan 6, Sant Celoni. 93/867-2851. € €-€ € € €

El Chaflán, Madrid
Juan Pablo Felipe has converted what was once a venue for traditional Cantabrian cuisine into a temple of sophistication. The soothing pastel tones, indirect colored lighting, and minimalist atmosphere evoke comfort and style. The open kitchen gives you a view of the master chef at work. The dishes and the sampler menu change constantly to reflect the chef’s innovative style. € €-€ € €

Asiana, Madrid
Young chef Renedo and his friend Takeshi surprise even the most jaded palates in a unique setting — Renedo’s mother’s antique Asian furniture store, which used to be a ham-drying shed. Sit among a Vietnamese bed, a life-size Buddha, and other merchandise for sale while enjoying the perfectly balanced and eclectic 10-dish fixed menu. € €-€ € €

La Trucha, Madrid
This Andalusian deep-fry specialist, decorated with hanging hams and garlic, is one of the happiest places in Madrid. The staff is jovial, and the house specialty, trucha a la truchana (trout stuffed with ham and ample garlic) is a work of art. Other star entrées are chopitos (baby squid), pollo al ajillo (chunks of chicken in crisped garlic), and espárragos trigueros (wild asparagus). Jarras (pitchers) of chilled Valdepenas seem to function like laughing gas in this magic little bistro. €-€-€

Casa Botín, Madrid
An excellent restaurant, and extremely charming (and so successful that the owners opened a “branch” in Miami, Florida). There are four floors of tile and wood-beam dining rooms, and if you’re seated upstairs you’ll pass ovens dating back centuries. Musical groups called tunas often drop in to meander among the hordes. € € €

Casa Ciriaco, Madrid
At Madrid’s most traditional restaurant — host to a long list of Spain’s illustrious, from royalty to philosophers and painters to bullfighters — expect simple home cooking in an unpretentious environment. You can get a flagon of Valdepenas or a split of a Rioja reserva to accompany the perdiz con judiones (partridge with broad beans). € €

La Broche, Madrid
Sergi Arola, a Ferran Adria disciple, has vaulted directly to the top of Madrid dining. The minimalist dining room allows you to concentrate on the hot-cold, surf-turf counterpoints of the seasonal menu. (Surf-turf has become a hallmark of the chef’s style; playing with food temperature is also a distinctive trait.) The menu de degustacion permits Sergi and his staff to run you through contrasts, generally progressing from light to dark, fish to foie, seafood to tenderloin. € € € € €

Santceloni, Madrid
This restaurant has proved an immediate and major success in the Spanish capital. Lighter and more original than Arzak, less playful and bizarre than Adriá, Santceloni combines innovative dishes, fine Mediterranean ingredients, and an excellent wine list. € € € € €

See Fodor’s Madrid and Barcelona for additional information on dining.