Marvelous Market Cuisine in Madrid

La Tasquita de Enfrente is a must for modern Spanish cooking.

Compared to a week spent traveling the wine roads of rustic Ribera del Duero, Toro and Rueda, Madrid is like another world. And within this bustling antithesis to rural Spain we recently found ourselves at a culinary oasis called La Tasquita de Enfrente.

Located in a shady section of the Spanish capital, just off the Gran Vía, Juan José López's little restaurant is definitely not where the neighborhood's hookers, pimps and drug pushers are grabbing a boost. To the contrary, this establishment is for gourmands less interested in fancy surroundings but eager to taste modern Spanish cooking based on the best fresh ingredients available at whatever time of the year it may be.

López runs his kitchen with aplomb while his wife, Mercedes Romero, is in charge of the dining room, which seats maybe 30 when packed. For a first-rate dining experience with zero pomp and circumstance, let Romero and the restaurant's young and hip staff guide you through what's on offer, with you choosing what sounds best. Here's how our dinner went. Phase 1: deconstructed morcilla (blood sausage) was served in timbale form and sweetened with pumpkin. A series of appetizers followed, including a single poached shrimp as sweet as candy; chilled pea soup housing succulent yet slightly salty sea snails; sensational sautéed setas (Porcini mushrooms); and finally a line of baby scallops served on the half shell and topped with a sauce reduced from Madeira, Marsala or some other sweet wine (we didn't ask what wine formed the sauce because it didn't matter; it was terrific).


For our main courses, a thick slab of baked hake, and not the junk that's often mulched into fish sticks, was paired with a medley of roast peppers. Next came braised iberico pork cheeks atop potato pudding, and finally sliced venison loin served in a red-wine reduction alongside celery root slaw and bitter greens. A dessert of texturally perfect panna cotta topped in a black truffle sauce was sublime.


And the wines here are quite good, with the list going international here and there. At our table, a Juvé y Camps cava flowed into Château de Sancerre, and then a Chapoutier Châteauneuf-du-Pape and finally a bottle of Alvaro Palacios' Les Terrasses from Priorat. For about 100 euros a person, including wine, you won't do better.


La Tasquita de Enfrente, Calle Ballesta, 6; Madrid. Tel. (34) 91.532.5449. Open Monday-Wednesday for lunch; open Thursday-Saturday for dinner. Closed Sunday.

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