Tuesday November 20, 2012
With only a full day thus far in Madrid, we probably should have stayed central on Tuesday. However, it was tough to turn down the opportunity to see the hanging houses of Cuenca and swing by Valencia for some world class architecture and a taste of their prized paella. We caught an early hour long train to Cuenca and took a 10 minute cab to the city center. Although there was a language barrier, the driver was kind enough to provide a map and point out a few of the sights.
(Train to Cuenca from Madrid, Spain)
A frigid hour later, we saw our morning sites and were ready to head back to the train station. With no taxis in site, we went inside a nearby hotel and asked them if they could call a cab for us. He asked if we were staying at the hotel and we said no. He called nonetheless and muttered “Free service” then snickered at us.We didn’t realize what an inconvenience we were causing him. If I think about it logically, in the US you would have to press seven numbers to get a cab. In Spain, it’s only six digits. It really shouldn’t have been that big a deal for those stressed fingers. It left a pretty sour taste in our mouth and at that point we felt dependent using their heating system, so we just waited outside.
Once we were at the train station, it was another hour into Valencia for the rest of the day. We wasted no time taking in the architecture by heading straight to Plaza del Ayuntamiento
After an extremely disappointing experience at Madrid’s Market of San Miguel, we were off to our second market. Mercado Central dwarfed Madrid’s market in size and in overall experience. There were hundreds of vendors, each offering one thing to another. From seafood, produce, charcuterie, rabbit, pork, seafood, spices, juice, potato chips, cookies, and more seafood. It took over an hour just to walk the full market and decide what we wanted to buy. We opted for some potato chips, orange juice, bamba rice for paella, and several packages of 100 grams of sealed charcuterie to take back to Los Angeles. We left them in the fridge for a month and they were great when we finally decided to eat them. The batch included several jamons, morcilla, lomo and chorizo. It was cheaper and better than most of the charcuterie we had at restaurants on our trip.
Horchateria de Santa Catalina
Plaza de Santa Catalina, 6
One of the many specialties of Valencia is horchata. In comparison to the Mexican version made with rice and cinnamon, the Spanish version is typically made with tigernut. It’s more dense and less sweet than the Mexican version we were use to having. I like both, but I’d have to give the edge to the one we had at Horchateria de Santa Catalina. Contrary to common belief among Spaniards, the tigernut doesn’t actually come from tigers.
During our research, Jen had found that Valencia was well known for its street art. We had it on our to-do list to circle back and find areas in Valencia that had graffiti, but we never got around to doing the research. It turns out you don’t have to look far, the streets are prevalent with spray paint from floor to ceiling.
Jen’s sister asked us to bring back some gummy candy that Spain is apparently known for. It took us a few days, but we found a place in Valencia and grabbed a few bags to take back with us. We couldn’t resist and started eating into her gift on the train later that night. It’s a lot better than the gummy candy we have in the U.S. Generally, Spain’s version was softer and more flavorful. The only thing I could point to was maybe the Spanish don’t use corn syrup in their recipe. Corn syrup always seems to cheapen the flavor of anything it touches.
Avd. Maestro Rodrigo, esquina Avda. Manuel de Falla
Obviously, we had to try a version of paella while in town. If we had more time, we would have tried a few versions at a couple restaurants. But, we had to choose one place and we went with Jose Andres’ recommendation over L’estimat. There are several versions when it comes to the dish. Two of the more common are the seafood and squid ink. We opted for the traditional Valenciana made with rabbit, chicken, beans and snails (if you call in advance). Both of us found the paella bland, perhaps L’estimat would have had a better version. If we had to do it again, we would have gone to Valencia for a couple days and reserved at Ricard Camarena and one of Quique Dacosta’s restaurants. Then taken the hour trek to Denia for Dacosta’s recently crowned three star Michelin restaurant.
After a late lunch, we were off to the City of Arts and Sciences. A modern architectural marvel that was completed in 1998. It consists of a planetarium, a science museum, a landscaped walk with plant species indigenous to Valencia, an oceanographic park, an opera house and a concert hall. If you have a full day, it would be ideal to spend an hour or two at each facility. We did not, so we paid $80 for us to get into all the attractions, but really just walked around taking photos for an hour. L’Oceanogràfic is the only attraction you can’t get a good photo of without a ticket.
We wrapped up our Valencia visit with a quick five minute walk to Gulliver Park. From the City of Arts and Sciences just pass through Jardín del Turia Park and you’re there. At this point, we hailed a cab to the train station and it was back to Madrid for dinner. Although, I would have liked to spend more time in Madrid, I’m glad we were able to squeeze in Valencia. We still want to experience La Tomatina festival and eat at Quique Dacosta, so we could easily see ourselves in Valencia again.
(Cab in Valencia, Spain)
Once we were back at the hotel we both needed a little R&R, so we laid down for a seven minute power nap. Once rested, we popped in the shower and got suited and booted for our second Michelin dinner in Madrid.
Calle de Claudio Coello 67
28001 Madrid, Spain
Tonight was Ramon Freixa, a place favored by Jen. If I had my way, we would have been at Club Allard. But, I gradually shut up once we started eating. There are three tasting menus and al a carte options. We went all out and got the Grand Frx, even against the strong caution handed down from our server that it was a lot of food. It included an “Introduction” of about nine dishes, two starters, one fish, one meat, a composed cheese course and a “Big” Dessert. He’s known to send dishes out in trios, so it was hard to keep track, but I counted more like 25 dishes. Our server was right, it was a lot of food. Overall, this is a great place to choose among the high-end restaurants in Madrid. I value the food more than anything in a restaurant experience, but the service and ambiance stood out for me. The staff was professional, yet comfortable and something about the mural aerial view of Madrid generates an energy throughout the dining room. The savory dishes were better than the sweets. The bread basket, baked fresh daily by his father, was one of the best we have ever had. The cheese courses were more of an acquired taste, to say the least, with the Stilton croquete with chocolate easily bring the worst dish of the trip.