Stop and Savour Violas!

Retiro Park arr“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…” Irrespective of title, Juliette was right to hold intrinsic value in matters of true substance – her Romeo. Agreeably, beauty can be identified anywhere and at any given moment.

La Violeta Exterior arrRoses in full bloom, how can one pass on inhaling nature’s potpourri? At Parque del Buen Retiro, I did just that – stroll and sniff – in a not-so-secret garden. Ethereally intoxicated – ‘love’ at first scent – my senses were showered by this madrileño park’s euphoric blend of floral sweetness. One balmy splash, ‘al fresco,’ and I wanted more of Mother Nature’s offerings. People consume herbs, I pondered, why not flowers? Seriously! Skepticism aside, consider the following: tarragon, rose water, and perfume; we’ve all either tried, heard or spritzed one of the aforementioned blossom-rich contents.La Violeta Candies arr

Amazingly, having formerly asked, I did receive sought-after aromatic nectar at La Violeta – a greenhouse of violet hard candy. Located in Plaza de Canalejas, this confectionary boutique specializes in sophisticated bonbons that leaves ‘green thumbs’ in the know for something wonderful – what doesn’t grow together can still go together. Creatively pairing the edible purple flower with melted sugar, potent essence is used to ultimately cultivate a new species of fragrant ‘caramelos’ (candy). La Violeta Tin arr

At this candy orchard, a little – shrunken violet – goes a long way. Lovely in look and smell, the solid state of these concentrated indulgences leave odds in your favour for requited and enduring taste – to the last frosted petal! Both an edible bouquet and ideal souvenir, ‘caramelos’ are highly enjoyable and come attractively packaged in motif boxes, tins, and glass or porcelain containers of varying sizes and price points. With my very own capsulated bunch of ‘eau de violette,’ parting Madrid allows for a continuum of such sweet ‘blue’ nostalgia.

Copyright © DISHFUL, 2013.

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Cheer Up, Buttercup!

Capellanes Exterior arr“We love our bread, we love our butter” and, I believe Madeline would agree, yeast-leavened dough can be made better – with chocolate! Typical of ‘viennoiseries’ (baked goods), folded layers of butter and flour produce light, flaky, and versatile goodness, known as ‘croissant.’ Adopting an affinity for sweet rolls, variations don’t stop at ‘pain au chocolat’ or in France.

Capellanes Pastries arrAt Viena Capellanes, one learns Spaniards also enjoy finding a Kinder-like surprise in the center of their wheat treats. Taking a dynamic approach to the stuff/roll technique, this madrileño artisan bakery replaces solid cocoa shavings with one of three irresistible fillings: ‘nata,’ ‘crema,’ and ‘trufa.’ Highly luxurious – inside and out – take your pick of amplified hand-sized crescents that are sliced, then liberally coated with freshly whipped natural cream, custard or truffle.

Capellanes Croissant arrA taste on the lips, and it became evident that my plump ‘trufa’ croissant lives up to the common cook’s ideology – richness evokes flavour. Agreeably so, I wouldn’t want my dessert to skimp on authenticity. Visibly loaded, this heavily piped truffle spread is velvety smooth in consistency and overwhelmingly full of chocolate essence. Clearly using quality ingredients, the only guessing game is one’s manner of consumption. Whether you choose to tear, strip or break into this pastry, it will be devoured – down to the last buttery flake!

Copyright © DISHFUL, 2013.

“Whatever Floats Your Boat”

Puerta del Sol arrMadrid has got me hook, line and sinker – for sumptuous seafood! Gone fishing, in Puerta del Sol, La Mallorquina caught my attention. Established in 1894, this ‘pastelería-cafetería’ (pastry-cafeteria) skillfully prepares hand-made edible bites of history. Amid a sea of pastries, I found two main encased rows dividing the sweet from the savoury. East Side-West Side? A flavour battle had begun! Standing in the middle of an open aisle, I had to determine which direction to coast. In the mood for something hearty, my decision was clear. The right display case, decidedly, was the right choice for a delectable lunch treat – ‘empanada de atún’ (tuna turnover). Generally speaking, ‘empanada’ refers to a fried or baked filled bread/pastry.

Mallorquina Sweets arrIt’s all in the way it’s made! Justly seasoned and using fresh ingredients – over the sea – you can taste the degree of excellence in a quality ‘empanada.’ Consisting of succulent chunks of tuna fish, and sautéed aromatic vegetables – onions, tomatoes, red and green bell peppers – the prepared mixture was enveloped into a puff pastry shell, and baked to flaky perfection. Indisputably delightful, this appetizing fish pocket is a meaty snack that will leave all Ariels – at heart – attempting to sing a few octaves.

Empanadilla arrNavigating for more seafood, I didn’t have to travel far – or many nautical miles – to find my second catch. Modern elegance, by design, the best in tradition and Mediterranean cuisine permeates through the restaurant space, at La Finca de Susana. No reservation? No problem – their “casa es su casa!” Treated like family, surprise guests are openly welcome to join the dinner party of clients, seated among one of the many white linen covered tables.

Equally crisp and clean is the fish-list selection on the menu. To be tried and ordered, ‘bacalao’ (cod fish). Transformed to a state of moist deliciousness, adequately rehydrated cod is unlike its preservation method of drying and salting. Naturally mild-tasting, my cod fish plate was tender, delicate, and dressed with a light foam sauce. ‘Bacalao’ – resurrected – wows! Luckily, there’s plenty of fish to be reeled in and shared – so long as the ocean doesn’t call!

Copyright © DISHFUL, 2013.

The ‘Cure’

Salt is a pantry favourite and cooking staple that evokes the essence of any dish. Used as a preserving agent, its multi-purposes encourage the aging, curing and pickling process for countless meat and relish recipes. You can’t escape salt! This mineral is everywhere! Find it in the sea, salt dunes and even on your kitchen table next to its friend, pepper – in a salt shaker. For salt lovers, there’s a prized ‘cure’ that will make you say “¡Olé!” Museo J Store Exterior arr

Along the street of Calle Mayor, in Madrid, you’ll locate an atypical museum that is home to a revered delicacy – ‘Jamón serrano’ and ‘Jamón ibérico’ (ham). Not to be missed, the ‘Museo del Jamón’ (museum of ham) offers bustling crowds sliced and shaved portions of numerous encased meats. Adequately seasoned and dissolving like butter, jamón remains to be the Spanish favourite. In fact, popularity for jamón will lead one to believe the only ‘white meat’ of choice, here, is hock-inspired. Far from being salt-happy, I still wanted to visit this madrileño delicatessen that literally hams up the capital.

Museo J Deli Counter arrOpen to the public, this ‘museum’ feeds patrons’ mind and appetite. Supplied in abundance, these meat sculptures are noticeably hanging around for those whose Achilles heel is ham. “The trend is your friend,” as the saying goes, and you can easily engage in friendly conversation with locals where the topic of conversation is one in the same – everyone sees and thinks pink! And, if you can’t wait to taste a slice of melt-in-your-mouth jamón, do yourself a favour – ‘por favor’ – and ask for a ‘bocadillo’ (sandwich); it’s made at lightning speed and for immediate consumption.

Museo J Menu Poster arrDon’t dig pig – no worries! This eatery dually runs a deli counter and tapas bar, under the same establishment. Should you stay or should you go? It all depends on you, and your basic need – to eat! You can comfortably find yourself ordering chorizo or regional cheeses to take home, or retreat to the bar for a ‘cerveza’ (beer). The menu selection is vast and pricing reasonable. Delight in familiar options like prepared hamburgers and rotisserie chicken or try something with a Spanish flair, like paella. Adventurous or not, in your food selection, keep in mind that the meat museum gets busy. No surprise here, though, as this ‘charcutería’ (deli) has a “leg up” – with jamón – on the other guys. Finally, a place where eating like a…I meant to say, etiquettely ingesting is welcomed!

Copyright © DISHFUL, 2013.

¿Chocolate? ¡Vale, vale, vale!

Madrid Fountain arrStepping off the train and onto the Chamartín platform, I had arrived in Madrid. The delicate and warm breeze stirred a sweet memory. My thoughts specifically trailed back to a professor, who once mentioned an authentic Spanish drink – ‘chocolate a la taza.’ Compared to American hot chocolate, she likened the Spanish equivalent to pudding. Given the direct translation, ‘chocolate in a cup,’ the Spanish version demands a high ratio of chocolate content. And, who wouldn’t want more chocolate?

El Rastro arrFor the love of chocolate, I was happy to try this specialty drink. After an afternoon trip to ‘El Rastro,’ Madrid’s popular open-air flea market, I retreated to a nearby family restaurant. Feeling peckish, I reviewed the menu and was delighted to notice my sought-after treat – ‘chocolate a la taza.’ Mission accomplished! Not only was the drink available, it was made-to-order and served promptly; all of which left me satisfied. Success tasted sweeter upon receiving a plate of fried strips of dough, ‘churros,’ which I had not expected. In the presence of chocolate, I must say, the grass is greener.

ChocTazaChurros arrFamiliar though slightly different, which do you try first – the hot chocolate or crispy fried curlers? Decisions, decisions… Luckily, most people think and eat alike. Two words: Dunkin Donuts. That’s how you treat this duo; dunk the strips into your beverage and allow its ridges to soak up all the chocolaty goodness. Rebel with a cause, I preferred to taste ‘chocolate a la taza’ in its purest form – straight up!

Is it a chocolate drink or dessert? Distinct tastes will yield differences of opinion. As such, categorizing ‘chocolate a la taza’ is up for debate. With respect to flavour and consistency, I would judge Spanish hot chocolate to be richer, and unmistakeably thicker than the American variety. Close to but not an exact replica of pudding, I deem this liquid ganache to be divine on its own, and more heavenly when paired with ‘churros.’ Food or drink, ‘chocolate a la taza’ is unquestionably from the Gods.

Copyright © DISHFUL, 2013.