The following statement might sound somewhat counterintuitive, but it’s something I’ve learned to be true. Part of the lure, or maybe the advantage, that comes with being an avid traveler is actually the freedom you begin to feel that you’ve earned the right to start repeating places in which you are visiting.
Sure, I still constantly feel the urge to keep racking up my country count. With every number it goes up I continue to have a major sense of pride and excitement. I love going to new places, and that is never going to change.
On the flipside, going somewhere that you’ve already been does have several positives, and there can definitely be something kind of nice about it. For one, pressure’s off. Chances are on your first go-around you hit all the “it would be embarrassing to admit you visited ___ and didn’t see ___” spots, and now you don’t have to. That leaves more time to explore like a local, avoiding the big hitting ticket items that can often take up time you might not necessarily have to give. Second, having been there before you likely already have your bearings and some sense of what your destination is all about. It tends to take at least a couple of days to really start to “get” a new place , but since you’ve been before you don’t have to worry about that. Now you can dive right in, and go even deeper.
I went to Madrid for the third time recently, and was really excited to do so. I didn’t plan a ton in advance, I wandered around for hours on end, and I focused on what’s truly most important when traveling- eating.
Here are some of the standouts:
Sala de Despiece
Sala de Despiece is located on the now gastronomically bustling Calle de Ponzano in the quaint but interesting Chamberi section of Madrid. The name, which translates to Cutting Room, is exactly that. The space is small and narrow and set up to prepare your mostly uncooked food in a somewhat live setting, pulling out blowtorches when needed and calling your name to grab a wax paper lined metal tray when your order is up. Sala De Despiece has a casual air to it but is one of the most precise and professional culinary experiences I’ve ever had, and was my favorite of the visit. The DIY tuna tartare, redder than red tomatoes, insane mouthwatering burrata and dulce de leche dessert were all next level.
Olivia te Cuida
This is the most lovely dinner party there ever was brought to you personally, courtesy of sisters Esther and Marian Campoy. Step into Olivia te Cuida (“Olivia takes care of you”) and settle into a afternoon of comfort and coziness, with two dozen options worth of vegetables, salads and grains that will rock your taste buds and jolt you right into the life of a relaxed and happy Spaniard.
Ten con Ten
If you want to experience the see and be seen side of Madrid, and are looking for a dinner that feels larger and grander than the rest, head straight to Ten con Ten. There is a distinguished, animated, cosmopolitan atmosphere here, where you’ll feel like you’ve truly stepped into the not so hidden world of upscale Madrilenos. The food, though style wise might not have been my favorite of the trip, was undeniably top notch and mostly very impressive. Afterwards roll straight into an evening of gin and tonics, fine wines and cigars, if that’s your fancy; you certainly won’t be alone.
Mercado de San Ildefonso
Dropping by the rooftop of Mercado de San Ildefonso was a fun local twist in the midst of a busy night out. Stomachs full of the excessively popular g&t’s, this time from Macera cocktail bar, a quick stop here at midnight was exactly what we needed. My plate of choice was straight up pulpo; so simple, so good.
Federal Cafe Madrid
Yes, this place is Australian, yes, they have avocado toast there, and yes, even though I was in Spain, I ordered it. Every state/country/continent, whatever, seems to have an extra ingredient to make avocado toast “theirs.” Federal adds a creamy feta and drops it all atop their delicious grainy bread- can’t say no to that, can I?
Juana La Loca
This was the surprise hit of the week. Determined to spend a Sunday afternoon as traditional Madrilenos do, we headed straight for La Latina, a vibrant and captivating area swarming with smiling young people with tapas on their plates and cold beers in their hands. We opted to duck into Juana La Loca in hopes of an elevated tapas experience, rather than the great, albeit more simple one that was happening in the half dozen plazas around us. What was found was one of the best dishes either one of us have ever had, anywhere. The off the menu thickly sliced sea bass carpaccio with scallions, pepper and truffle oil was beyond normal human comprehension; this was one for the books, and one I will absolutely not soon forget.
Triciclo was the closing meal to a couple of days of eating that were truly impressive, and it did not at all disappoint. As soon as I walked in I knew I liked it. The decor was charming with a huge attention to detail; lemons, flowers, gorgeous plates, beautiful tables and remnants of its trademark tricycle scattered thoughtfully about. The food was excellent, ranging from a distinctive twist on gazpacho, a ceviche packed full of flavor to an interesting pea, seaweed and monkfish dish. I’d go back here again in a heartbeat.