Sunday, September 20, 2015

My Favorite Bar in Madrid, No Bull

Earlier this year, multiple people asked me if I would be attending a bullfight while in Spain. "Of course not!" I'd say, vehemently against the barbaric killing of animals for sport. So color me surprised when I fell in love with La Torre del Oro, a bullfighting bar in Plaza Mayor, Madrid. This bar did not have live bullfights at the bar, as that would have been muy peligroso, but was rather a place where people who love bullfights could gather. I fell in love with this bar so much that my family and I visited on three separate occasions over the three days we were in Madrid. We even took our Flytographer photographer inside for a few minutes of our family photoshoot, before I got the hang of looking natural in front of the camera.

It certainly helped that our hotel was right off of Plaza Mayor and that it rained the entire weekend, so we were frequently looking for shelter. While the bar was indeed convenient for us, the joy I felt in there was due to the overwhelming feeling when inside that this place could only exist in Madrid. Every inch of the walls are covered in bullfighting paraphernalia - including photos, capes, and bull heads. In that way, it reminded me of McSorley's, if McSorley's had a central theme. It also reminded me of McSorley's because of the immediate feeling that I belonged.

The bartenders are friendly and loud. When we mentioned we were from Nueva Jersey, one of them pointed to the wall and said, "Oh! New Jersey, my friend, the Boss, el jefe, Bruce Springsteen! Mi amigo mejor!" The bartender showed off all the pictures of the Americans who had visited, including Bruce, Mickey Rourke, and Jimmy Carter. Each time our family went in thereafter, the bartenders would rejoice in waves of "Nueva Jersey!" They told us about *their* Boss, a Spanish artist who is loved like Bruce is loved. They put on his album for us, which sounded *nothing* like Bruce but sounded *everything* like Spain. I told them it sounded el mismo anyway.

If you're ever in Madrid, please make your way to La Torre del Oro and say hola to my amigos - the bartenders, Bruce Springsteen, and the bulls - though I hope they won't be adding any more bull heads to the walls in the future. Also try the sangria, which is one of the best I've had in Spain, and that's no bull.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Global Bites without the Flights: Spanish Paella at Socarrat

When the spring came this year, I was missing two things: Spain & my friend Kat. In order to kill two birds with one stone, Kat and I got together one night to eat paella at Socarrat. We'd been talking about this restaurant for years and though she'd been without me, this was my first experience. There are three locations in Manhattan - Chelsea, Nolita, and Midtown East. Kat and I met up at the Midtown East restaurant on 2nd Ave between 50th & 51st and were seated on the upstairs balcony which made for a pleasant environment to enjoy our dinners - my ninth official entry in my Global Bites without the Flights series.

When my family had been in Spain, everywhere we ordered a drink we received free tapas, so in order for me to enjoy my sangria this night, I needed said tapas - although these were not free. We ordered the Datiles (bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with valdean cheese, almonds, and roasted apple puree) and the Alcachofas fritas (fried artichokes with lemon caper remoulade). While these two choices may not be the most traditionally Spanish on the menu, they were still incredible.

Socarrat has many varieties of paella, most with more than one type of meat, though vegetarian is available. Valencian paella is thought to be the original recipe, and the Valenciana Paella at Socarrat has pork ribs, rabbit, snails, asparagus, and scallops in it. I've never had two of those ingredients before (guess which two), so I thought maybe I'd save that for another time. Because we knew we'd like it, we ordered the Pescados y Mariscos (Fish & Shellfish) with shrimp, scallops, squid, mussels, cockles, white fish, and English peas.

We made the right choice with the seafood paella. I thought my favorite part about the dish would be the clams, mussels, and shrimp, since I love all kinds of shellfish. My actual favorite part was all the rice that stuck to the pan after it had been sitting for a little on our table. I later learned that this has a name, and that name is SOCARRAT! Who would've thought?! Socarrat's website explains this a little more glamorously than I did, as the "seductive carmelization of the bottom layer of a perfect paella when the liquid is absorbed and the rice is done."

When I return to Socarrat I'd like to go with a group so that I can sample a few other types of paella - perhaps even the traditional Valenciana Paella. And several more tapas. And much more of the "seductive carmelization of the bottom layer." YUM.

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