Friday, September 14, 2007

Arbitrary restaurant rating system explained

I've been playing with the format a bit and I think I've settled on something. Yes, I make this up as I go along, and yes I might change it… but here's a basic guide.

5 feet : Sell your own children if you have to, to get there. It's that good. Reserved for the best of the best.

4 feet :
Great food and atmosphere, would definitely go again.

3 feet :
Acceptable food, really just somehow slightly better than "good enough" but intriguing enough that I might go again.

2 feet :
Good enough; if you're invited or can't find anything better, go ahead. But don't go out of your way.

1 foot :
Really not worth walking to; I'll never go again.

0 feet :
Horrible disgusting place I wouldn't take my enemies to.

To find all restaurant reviews, click on the "restaurant review" link under Blog Labels in the sidebar. Similarly you can find all of a particular rating the same way.

Finally I'll include as much information as I can about the place so you can find it, including where feasible, a map link.


rating: 0–5 feet

verdict: my summarized opinion of the place
PS - Why feet? Because I like to walk, and I especially like restaurants I can walk to.

Restaurante Madrid I Catedral

Recalling last nights misadventure of finding no real Spanish food aside from occasional tapas, I asked the couple at the front desk where one could go for chuletas. They seemed genuinely surprised at such a specific request, and had a very hard time coming up with anything of the sort in the area! Finally one of them recalled passing a traditional looking Spanish eatery on his way home every night, and struggled to draw on a map where he thought it was. I diligently followed and fortunately his memory served correct; I found a very traditional-looking restaurant called Restaurante Madrid I Catedral.

The non-smoking side of the restaurant was packed; the smoking side nearly empty. A sure sign that even at 9:30 at night, only the tourists were out eating. As there were no seats left in the tourist-zone, I sat in a near empty dining room that, within 20 minutes, was completely packed. Apparently I timed it just right.

The menu was another three-course fare, with a varied selection of starters and mains to choose from, then desert or coffee to round it off. And here, as I laid eyes upon the menu, did I smile from ear to ear upon seeing gambas y angulas in garlic. Gambas are shrimp, and angulas are baby eels. Yes, that's right, baby eels. And they are simply gorgeous to eat. These were cooked very well, although a few of the shrimp were a bit dry.

Second course was what I'd been waiting so long for, chuletas. These were a bit less meaty than the really good ones, and while the flavor was superb there was a little bit of disappointment in eating them as they weren't quite as special as memory served. Also the vegetables were tasty but overcooked. Anthony Bourdain, my culinary hero, said in one of his books a line about vegetarians that I think applies quite well to the Spanish as well… "they can't cook a fucking vegetable to save their lives" (probably badly misquoted, but there you have it). The Spanish do amazing things with meat; vegetables are often for decoration.

Anyway these chuletas were good enough to satisfy my hunger, and naturally washing it all down with a half-bottle of a young Rioja always helps the experience. A café con leche and half bottle of water added to the tally came to an impressive €21… really quite a bargain for what I had.

I left happy.

Restaurante Madrid-I-Catedral
Carrera de San Jerónimo, 16
28014 Madrid - Madrid

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rating: 3 feet

verdict: worth going until I find something better in the area

The Street Walker

Yesterday was essentially a perfect day. I spent time wandering the streets aimlessly, looking for cafés to stop at, people to watch, and street music to listen to.

Metro stop La Latina: oh so that's how I'm getting home!

The morning found me wandering the area around my Hostel, eventually stumbling into a Latin district, where I found somewhere to park it for a while. I spent most of the morning enjoying café con leche and torta de manzana in a cute, edgy-modern cafe, writing and sorting photos. From there, as I finally hungered for something a bit more substantial, I moved on and ended at Plaza Tirozo de Molina which was packed with the afternoon lunch crowd. After waiting endlessly for a table to free up, I asked a beautiful Spanish girl with a similarly shaved head if I could join her and her puppy Lúlu. To my pleasure she said yes, and while I waited for my food and she finished her drink, we chatted about where the best bars and cafés were in the area. It's funny, I think my Spanish is good enough where people think I'm from here, but just bad enough where they think I'm a bit dim. When we get to the part of the conversation where I tell them I'm from California, they are always surprised and I think a bit relieved… as if now they know they're not talking to someone who barely graduated the 4th grade.

This lunch spot was typical Spanish, which was just what I'd been looking for. A three-course lunch had me slurping gazpacho for a starter (good), eating a roasted veal with rice and veggies for the main (mediocre), and taking a rocket ship back to my childhood for the cuajada desert (superb). It's a simple custard-like cream, almost like a plain yogurt I suppose, topped with honey. Fabulous. All washed down with a beer, and I was ready for a Spanish siesta! (Unfortunately I failed to note the name of this place, but it wasn't all that thrilling so you're not missing much… and this dessert can be found all over the place).

Gazpacho, and Cuajada

From there I made my way back to the hostel where I could get online and post yesterdays blog entries. I seriously contemplated taking a nap, but somehow the hours wore on and before I knew it it was time for another wander. Apparently my timing was just right, as I walked back outside to slippery streets, the smell of fresh rain and a clearing sky. I walked back up to the plaza and climbed aboard the Tirso Molina metro to go one stop to Sol.

Puerta del Sol

This is a major shopping area, sure to be full of people, and it did not disappoint. Dozens, if not hundreds of shops line the surrounding streets, and I walked up and down most of them window shopping and admiring the ebb and flow of beautiful Spanish women. I eventually stumbled upon Plaza Jacinto Benavente and a glorious Maestro Currero (Master churro maker), founded in 1902. Just what the doctor ordered (I have a kind and understanding doctor, you have to understand!). An order of churros and a cup of hot chocolate was placed before me, and if you've never enjoyed this little treat, you're truly missing one of the great culinary wonders of the world. The chocolate is less a cup of hot cocoa and more a cup of melted chocolate bar. It's so thick and so high-fat that by the time it reaches your table a thick skin has developed over the top. The first churro you dip breaks the skin, and as you twirl the crusty pastry, the skin wraps around it like a warm chocolate blanket, the heady scent of deep dark cocoa hits your nose, and you realize, right then, that heaven awaits. One can only eat a couple of these before a mind-numbing satiation sets in, your eyes glaze over, and you start to wonder if you ask nicely, if someone will just carry you home.

Churros and Chocolate… love at first bite

Once I found the courage to stand again, I kept making my way back to the hostel to prepare for the next adventure of the day. I dropped back into the hostel's lounge and picked up a book for a while, chatting occasionally with other travelers as they passed through. Finally sensing a growing rumble in the belly, I decided to make my way back out for dinner.
Maestro Churrero
Plaza Jacinto Benavente, 2
28012 Madrid
+34 91 369-24-06

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rating: 5 feet
verdict: bring a stretcher

It may not be pretty, but...

One of the challenges in traveling internationally with an iPhone is
of course avoiding the horrendous roaming charges being reported all
over the internets. Which means you really have to behave yourself and
only email photos when in a wifi hotspot. And I just found my first
metro-free wifi in Madrid, so dammit I'm posting. Really there's
nothing here to look at, but you're getting it anyway ;)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

First 12 hours in Madrid

This hostel is pretty good, thanks to W for the recommendation. I'm in four-up room, with a young couple from Michigan and a German dude. The bathrooms are shared and the showers go in 20 second intervals, unless you position yourself just-so and lean against the button while showering up. Hey, for €20 per night, with free internet in the lounge, it's tip-top.

Yesterday when I checked in, I immediately headed to the lounge and as quickly as I sat down, struck up a conversation with an adorable German girl from Berlin. She and her friend are looking for a flat in Madrid, in the meantime staying at the hostel.

I spent the evening wandering the streets exploring and looking for food. I managed to find little India, little Africa, and even little Middle-fucking-East, but for love nor money could I find any friggin' Spanish food! I finally discovered a tapas bar called Taberna La Chilo S…(?), which was going to have to be enough for the moment. I was really craving chuletas, but was fading fast.

Taberna La Chilo S…(?)

A fun place, packed to the brim. The bartender was friendly, the clientele attractive, and the food authentic. A bunch of queso semi-curado and lomo iberico later, washed down with a couple of cervezas and a glass of Rioja joven, I made my way out for the next place.


I had eyeballed a tapas bar earlier on that looked cool but was entirely empty, so headed back that way to see if it was doing any better at this late hour.

It was definitely packed, so I saddled up to the bar for another Rioja. As fortune would have it, they had a bottle of Lan on the table, a wine I know well and is difficult to find in the U.S. So a few glasses of that, some olives and a brief chat with cute Spanish girl who found this Californian who spoke Spanish mildly entertaining until I couldn't produce a list of San Francisco local bands on demand, and finally it was time to call it a night. A tame first night in Madrid, but there you have it.

And now it's Thursday.

Taberna La Chilo S…(?)
address… I think it's here on the map, at the intersection of Calle de la Cabeza and Calle de Jesús y María

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rating: 4 feet
verdict: friendly, fun, and packed


We had dinner at Fifteen, which is a Jamie Oliver venture. Like the restaurant of the same name in London (to which I've yet to visit), the idea here is that they take a bunch of delinquent, criminal-minded, done-time-in-the-big-house kids and slap 'em around with a kitchen knife and an apron until they get their shit together. In theory, they either drop out and go back to stealing bags from little old ladies, or start to behave themselves and become good little citizens. Let's just say that this knowledge keeps you from pissing off the waiter.

View in front of the restaurant

The location is a waterfront converted warehouse, and I've been seeing more and more of these cropping up lately. It's a fun alternative to the standard restaurant location, but does require a taxi ride or intimate knowledge of the area to find it. At some point you usually wonder if the taxi driver is taking you to the docks to relieve you of your money and dump your lifeless body in the ocean, but inevitably you end up at a fantastic restaurant, lite only an expensive cab fare.

Graffiti "Jamie woz ere"

Fifteen sports a large bar, open kitchen and a terribly amusing bathroom sign (sorry no photo, but imaging your standard bathroom gender-notifier characters standing cross legged grabbing their crotch, and you get the idea). Graffiti on the corrugated steel walls lets you know you're not at Nobu, and the polished cement floor and 30 foot ceilings add to the warehouse feel.

The service was superb, and everyone had a great time. The menu was prix fix; one just has to tell 'em if you don't or can't eat anything on the list, then just sit back and watch the food parade by.

Nibblers… divine

Opening course was a smattering of nibbles, some of which were simply divine. The cheese bread, made with Manchego, I believe, was to die for, and everyone kept cutting the last piece in half again and again until only crumbs remained. The mozzarella and pesto was delicious, with a really high quality cheese. Beets with a light horse-radish cream sauce was very entertaining, and quite a unique but successful flavor.

Stinky cheese risotto and fig… unspeakable goodness

Second course was a light pasta with a fish on it; OK but not remarkable. However the alternative dish was out of this world. A risotto, made with a 'stinky cheese', was utterly sublime. The stench of the cheese was overwhelming for many, but I usually love the flavors of these cheeses so dove in. It did not disappoint. In the center of the mix was a fig, absolutely unusual and yet a perfect match to the strength of the cheese. Easily the best dish to cross our table that evening. I'd go back just for this.

Main course, and the meal goes downhill

The main course, frankly, didn't work. A thick cut of lamb, slightly overcooked, was served surrounded by a squash or pumpkin puree. Pretty to look at, but the high rating ended there. The lamb or puree on their own tasted fine, but really the combination of the two simply didn't impress. No one else seemed too enchanted with it either. Back to the drawing board on that one I'm afraid, Jaimie.

Dessert… have had better

Desert was some kind of very-creamy ice cream on a sponge cake surrounded by raspberries. There was some kind of fruit-thing embedded in the cream, which was a bit odd. Again not terribly impressive overall, almost a case of trying too hard. I'd be more descriptive but to be honest by this point so much wine had flowed that if it weren't for the photo above, I'd probably not remember having it at all.

So this meal started off amazing but ended on a low note. It's a fun experience and worth going, but do expect some oddities on the table that may not suit your palette. The risotto however is entirely worth the price of entry.

Jollemanhof 9
1019 GW Amsterdam
+31 900-343-8336

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(the street name of Jollemanhof doesn't show up on this map, but it does on others. It's right around here)

rating: 4 feet, with reservations… but I would go again
verdict: go for the rissoto

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

what's in a name

In Madrid now, with reviews and photos to post of the last few restaurants in Amsterdam, but first I have to share these street signs near my hostel in Madrid.

Oh for the love of god…

Wait, this is the street my hostel is on?!?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Casa di David

Ah, Casa di David – Italian food. One of my favorite restaurants in Amsterdam. Always stellar quality, creative and fresh ingredients and always, always a pleasure. I've never had a bad meal here. A couple of highlights…

This pasta dish (above) had a black pasta that was to-die-for. We thought perhaps made withs squid ink, but the waiter said seaweed. Whatever it was, it was amazing. I'm sure it helped tremendously that it was cooked perfectly, and everyone was stealing bites from the plate. Simply divine.

Grilled lamb chops, delicious. Cooked nice and rare, as I like them. Naturally I had to pick them up with my fingers and gnaw on the bones… not very European, but whatever. Too good not to.

(apologies for the crap photos… I forgot my camera and these are low-light iPhone shots)

Casa di David
Singel 426
1017 AV Amsterdam
+31 20-624-5093

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rating: 5 feet
verdict: make a reservation and go!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Feduzzi, Mercato Italiano

This little Italian deli is one of my favorite treasures in Amsterdam. The quality is phenomenal, the deli counter gorgeous to look at, and the prices are more than fair.

Just a few Euro for a panini that will melt your mind. Lovely, lovely food. Their mozzarella waltzes across your tongue in bedroom slippers, the picante salami tango's in stiletto heels.

Feduzi, Mercato Italiano
Scheldestraat 63
1078 GH Amsterdam
+31 20-664-6365

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rating: 5 feet
verdict: sell your children to get there if you have to

Puri Mas

Went to a big group dinner for Indonesian Rijsttafel (Reistafel; Rice Table) at a place called Puri Mas. It was good enough, but nothing stellar. It's off the Leidseplein, which is a heavily touristed area, so it's pretty much expected that anything around there will be only mediocre. I wouldn't go out of my way to go there again, and having been there before would prefer to see out something else. But if dragged there again, I wouldn't kick and scream too loud.

Puri Mas
Indonesian Restaurant
Lange Leidsedwarsstraat 37-41 (first floor)
1017 NG Amsterdam

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rating: 2 feet
verdict: go only if asked