Sunday Night in La Latina: El Tempranillo Tapas

8 10 2011

The barrio of La Latina is the oldest area of the city, and it bustles most furiously on Sundays. El Rastro flea market during the day brings in scores of secondhand seekers; the night brims over with bubbly and tapas, particularly concentrated in calle Cava Baja.

El Tempranillo is my second favorite wine bar in La Latina. One glance at the decor leaves no doubt as to their priorities. As per the usual, I request a recommendation of Rioja – the bartender’s expertise definitely trumps my own. He rambles off a name and I agree immediately, resulting in two long-stemmed glasses of deep red diamonds, rich with the promise of warm complexity.

Such liquid treasure must be accompanied by equally superb edibles. Grilled chipirones on a bed of creamy caramelized onions are sweetly reminiscent of the sea without distracting from the Riojana star.

The bacalao accented with crunchy slivers of bell pepper atop a garlicky tomato sauce is an elegant presentation of a classic, but the showstopper is, rather unbelievably, the smoked salmon with banana. That’s right. There never was a happier marriage of fish and fruit than this salty-sweet symphony, drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction; the steady turning of the world comes to a screeching halt as we experience an entirely new and extraordinarily successful flavor combination.

My companion, eyes glazed over in pleasure, proclaims,

This. This is the best thing in Spain.

“Tapas” Nite in La Latina – fotopost

19 09 2010

Couchsurfing El Grito Fiesta

17 09 2010

I awake from my siesta – I don’t think I will ever stop deriving enormous pleasure from spending 6-7:30 PM deep in dreamland – to find the piso transformed.

I’m far from a good Hippiehamite; it never occurs to me to decorate with a few candles. The soft flicker they cast on the kitchen is is gorgeous, though, and a marvelous way to ease towards full wakefulness.

I tell Fausto I love them, and he proceeds to get quite bashful (“ah lo que pasa es que no suelo usarlas, que no son nada, asegurate que las apagas cuando salgas,” etcetera etcetera). They’re so classy-grunge. I love my stylin’ piso.

Tonight I’ve done my research on the Couchsurfing Madrid message boards; there is a fiesta going down tonight in La Latina in celebration of El Grito, Mexican Independence Day! I’ve told Alice about it, and then Emily, and then Sam and Leah and Charleen, and then Jaselyn, and soon enough there is a whole troop of Fulbright ladies hankering for a Mexi-style get-down. I explain what Couchsurfing is, but I get the sense that it’s tricky to understand the vibe of it without experiencing an event for yourself – so plunging ahead blindly it is. Fingers crossed that the Madrid group is as warmly inclusive as the Bangkok bunch.

We convene in La Latina, bustling tapas-central of Madrid (still need to do this! weekend plans, anyone?), and head down Calle Cava Baja towards the deceptively named Chez LouLou, which turns out to be an itty-bitty bar/restaurant completely overflowing with chatty revelers. I approach decisively, stowing my trepidation and boldly introducing myself and my compatriots to some eccentric-looking tall man with a frizzy afro.

A beat passes – then – “Eres de Couchsurfing?”
“Uh. Me investigaste?”

I guess I invited it when I posted on the event listing that I was going to arrive with a plenitude of amigas. Oh Couchsurfing, always toying with that fun little line between informative and creeptastic.

Luckily for all involved, no one else attending is quite THAT well-versed in who I am, although there are a handful of others who recognize my face from the board (“Eres la con las gafas!!“). The atmosphere is totally bumpin’, both in terms of energy and running into other bodies attempting to occupy the same sweaty space, and I quickly move outside with my cool Coronita.

Couchsurfing events are unlike any others I’ve ever experienced; everyone is looking to meet you but (normally) sans flirtatious overtones. There’s a general appreciation of working together to have the best time possible, rather than each-man-for-himself, and just about everyone wants to know your story. Plus, because we’re all connected on this network of references, anyone who makes a bit of a cabron@ out of him/herself is then subject to nothing but the truth the following morning.

As a group of seven attractive chicas (Sam’s brought along a British newbie to Madrid), we are quickly invited out for drinks/dancing following the fiesta. None of us has anything slated for the morrow, so we accept and march our way towards the center.

It is ladies’ night at Dreams, which means the mere presence of your twin mammary glands nets you a free drink every fifteen minutes. None of us go quite that hog wild, but the emphatic booty-shakin’ definitely revs up as the night wears on. Interestingly, the tradition here seems to be that the men dance in front of the womenfolk, showing off their finest groovy maneuvers. For the most part, everyone cycles around the group, trying out different style combinations to the familiar American beats (“heyy! must be the monayy!“).

We duck out around 2:30 AM or so, quite early by Spain standards, but it feels sufficient tonight. The metro’s closed by now, but the 20-minute walk back to Calle de Las Delicias isn’t so bad – although Em and I are certainly enthusiastic about kicking off our heels once happily back in the piso.

El Rasto/Lavaplatos

13 09 2010

Em and I took it easy during Noche en Blanco so we could wake up in time to take full advantage of El Rastro, Madrid’s own open-air flea market, happening each and every Sunday in a barrio near you (in this case, La Latina). We’ve been daydreaming about picking up some house goodies – rugs, storage devices, a clock for my room – and el Rastro seems like it might be the place to find it all, akin to Chatuchak in Bangkok.

Our piso is in Arganzuela, just south of Atocha station, and, checking the map, we estimate the walk at 10-15 minutes. We easily find our way – mapless! – to la Ronda de Embajadores, and then shoot north on Calle de Embajadores towards center city. We talk of beautiful days, small dogs, and getting our city legs.

After about the third time I attempt to convince myself that I see it in the distance (“Is that a stall?! … damn, another Tabacos”), it is apparent that we have manage to arrive at an entirely different zone of the city. A map-check and a metro stop declare that we are in Legazpi, very much south of our destination. Ah. The city legs thing, she’s a long-term process. We sheepishly hop on the metro and zip up to La Latina.

The hustle! The bustle! Everything leather you could possibly dream up is here en masse, plus cheap tchotchkes of all variety. Piles of dusty old books, pirated DVDs, antiques galore, paintings and rusty frames, hippie clothing, tacky keyrings, and an owl wallet that I absolutely need, right this second.

We sink our way through the crowd back to Embajadores, but haven’t quite had our fill, so metro it back to Tirso de Molina.

A couple icy-sweet zumos later, we are recharged, in charge, and charging forth. Tirso de Molina Plaza is has a decidedly alterna-vibe to it; most of the booths here offer anarchist/resistance materials. One plays Spanish punk.

This street trio is totally excellent, and the accordionist’s handlebar ‘stache is befittingly bitchin’.

The stalls peter out before too long, but near the end of our explorations a ticking antiques booth catches our fancy. Clocks galore! We haggle for a bargain involving a silver analog beauty with oversize numbers plus the most adorable teacup set you ever did see.

A good deal leaves smiles in its wake, and we make tracks homeward on the metro.

On our way, we spy a massive line curling out of an intriguing takeaway Spanish restaurant, which does intrigue – but not enough tear our tastebuds away from the promise of chilaquiles awaiting back in casa. After cooking one final lunch on questionable kitchenware, it is finally time: we wash every single plate, cup, pan, utensil, and miniature-metal-spatula in the place. The kitchen is wanting for clean towels, so we use the striped beast I recently purchased from El Corte Inglés (it was a bargain dammit).

Emily is totally pro at plates. We tucker out afterward, however, and guiltlessly snooze the late afternoon away.

Piso Hunting, Round One

9 09 2010

I am absolutely determined to make piso-hunting fun, not stressful. I’m thinking the worst part was yesterday, when I sat in a jazzy cafe in Lavapiés for hours calling folks I found through Idealista – it seems it doesn’t occur to many to take their ads down once the room has been occupied! However, I managed to slate five appointments spaced out over the course of today and another three for tomorrow, plus I saw one with Sam last night. Surely at least one among the nine is already waiting for me to waltz in and make myself at home.

In fact, I am currently in a small cafe-bar in Huertas, properly caffeinated and a mere twenty minutes from my first appointment of the day. All my potential places are in the south bits of central Madrid. This one is the most northern, there’s a couple right next to Atocha train station (where I need to leave for work in the mornings), a few smack-dab in the middle of Lavapiés, and a selection in La Latina to the West as well. It’s so obvious now that of course I want to live in Madrid proper – and it shouldn’t end up being altogether too much for a place, even this close to the center; the ones I’ve been looking at run no more than 400 euro/month including utilities/internet.

Saw this unexpectedly last night with Sam; I had scheduled my appointment for today but then it turned out Sam was heading to the exact same place yesterday, so we went together. It didn’t jive with her, but I loved it – the kitchen was incredible, and it looked like light would stream in from all over the place during the day. See also: HUGE ARMOIRE. I’d be living with one other chica, from Serbia I believe but speaks perfect Spanish. They are supposedly going to call and let me know tonight what they’ve decided.

Just one woman here, Maria, perhaps 30 years old, an affable and very fast-talking Spaniard. The place is cute (and purple!) and the price is right, but the kitchen is approximately one square meter in area – not gonna work for a die-hard foodie. The neighborhood is adorable – I spotted a Cuban place, and the cafe that I waited in across the street was marvelously Spanish – but it’s not honestly that near to where I need to be. Scratching this one off my list.

Adore it. Also only one compañero de piso, a charming woman named Leticia in her late 20s. She’s painted the common spaces yellow and green, and loads of light flow in from big windows everywhere. The kitchen isn’t huge but it’s fully equipped, and I think I’ll be able to fully turn around in it. The location is great – five minutes walking from Embajadores, in which I can connect to Cercanias (and thus Tres Cantos). Leticia mentioned that she loved how close both Lavapies and La Latina proper were to the house, and that she loved taking advantage of many of the plentiful arty/cultural events to be found in Madrid. We definitely hit it off – but, of course, she’s also interviewing many potentials, so we’ll see what happens. I would absolutely love to live here.

The location of this one couldn’t be more convenient – it’s right next to Atocha, to which all the RenFe lines connect. It’s also quite close to Lavapiés, and a 100 Montaditos!!! However, I didn’t really dig the vibe of the place – very dorm-like, with three other girls, and I would have the smallest room. It doesn’t seem like there would be adequate space for my luggage, let alone my expanded wardrobe… so this one gets crossed off too.

Uh. The guy showing me this one was suuuper nervous for some reason, plus much older than me. Also the place was ugly and the neighborhood dull. No thanks.