On the Trail

SFO to LAX to MAD to XRZ

Joe Manekin

The wine road beckons yet again, so here I am, reporting from the surprisingly well appointed business hotel in Madrid's Barajas neighborhood, a short distance from Madrid Barajas aiport. This morning I fly to Jerez to settle in for Vinoble 2016, the city's bi-annual wine fair devoted primarily to the region's most famous cultural and vinous export: Sherry.

I cannot wait to get there, but first let's back track and catch up on yesterday's activities. It was primarily a travel day, and a direct flight to Europe from California day at that so no huge discoveries or particularly significant leaps made. Well, except perhaps for this guy in LAX. The flight was delayed an hour or so for some reason (my Castellano is rusty, so I cannot say why). No matter, simply know that a 6:15 PM out of LAX will land you in Madrid sometime between 3-4 PM the following day. Add a long line at passport control and some time to check in to your hotel, freshen up (no naps, claro que no!), and then you're out for your afternoon "paseo" by around 6-7 PM. Hey, the Prado is free from 6-8 PM, I hear that museum is alright. Time to get re-acquainted.

The Prado is simply one of the most impressive museums, particularly of works by the great masters, in the world. You could spend an entire afternoon if you wanted. While I typically reach peak bandwidth by around two hours, only having thirty minutes (I arrived at 7:25 PM, museum closes at 8 PM) is tough. That said I will take thirty minutes of Prado over no Prado any day. Initially, the deluge of huge, impressive canvasses overwhelmed me. It was as if you had a line-up of the best 20th century vintages of the best Bordeaux, and only thirty minutes to taste. Where do you begin? I stopped for a moment, focused, and remembered that the Prado always requires a plan. Then, approaching the Goya collection, I realized that this would be a fine place to focus my energy. Goya, who I recall reading is inviting much renewed scholarly interest of late, was such a huge talent and way ahead of his time. There are few artists I can think of who conjure images as raw, frightening and at times even macabre, as Francisco Goya. It is one thing to see famous pieces such as Saturn Eating His Young, or The Third of May 1812, online or in a book, but an entirely different experience to see the original works on exhibit. Goya excels at showing the whites of his subjects' eyes, the anguished expressions on their faces. After admiring the Goya and viewing a few great pieces from Fortuny, it was closing time.

Outside a crowd was forming around this man.

I picked up a customized bull fighting poster for a friend and headed off for cervezas and tapas. There are so many great restaurants in Madrid, but for some reason I found myself at a loss when trying to think of solid, old-time bars for a cold beer, chorizo, and jamon near Buen Retiro (if you know 'em, please remind me where they are!). In no mood to research online or reach out to someone, I decided to wing it. I started at a spot near the Prado called Morica 17. Cold beer, a tasty foie (Spaniards love foie gras at least as much as the French) and caramelized onion over toast, and a small tapa of jamon with an over easy quayle egg over potato matchsticks. A decent snack, but it was past 9 PM and I hadn't had a meal since the paltry pasta dinner on the plan the night before. I needed sustenance.

Not much in the mood for a sit down restaurant type meal, I continued my stroll. I stopped at an anonymous spot for another beer, and was served some free soggy potatoes alongside it. Sort of a weak sauce version of the famed patatas bravas, but like I said these came with the beer, so I'll take 'em! The edge taken off, I headed up Diagonal towards more familiar territory. I was jet lagged and not able to find what I was looking for. That's when I went into a non-descript looking spot, with pictures of the various menu options and hams hanging on the wall.

This place was just what I needed. A "media racion" of jamon iberico, glistening with fat, and exploding on the tongue with sweet, tangy and nutty, gloriously hammy flavors. There was also chorizo, salchichon, and two impressively large anchoas over bread. We do not have anything like these huge, salty, umami richCantabrian anchovies easily available in the States. These are not the puny tin packed anchovies, that are passed off as gourmet product back home. Between the salt cured jamon and the briny anchovies, I feel like not only had a satisfying tapas meal but spent the better part of an hour licking salt! For under $25, though, it is hard to eat as well as I did last night.

-Joe Manekin