Good Italian Food in Spain: I’ve become a food critic…ora pro nobis again

Now that I am on to wine I might as well move to food to make the experience that much more complete.  Why not?  In addition to being a frustrated would-be solo guitarist for Lynyrd Skynnyrd, a daydreamer who fantacizes with owning his own vineyards in the countryside, a life-time aspiring hiker and owner of my own Zamboni to clean ice rinks, I’d also like to own a nice restaurant too.  I wouldn’t even mind being a good fine cuisine critic if I could stand stand writing about restaurants with all that language that makes no sense to me.  The same thing happens with wine tasting experts.  Their flowery wording can drive anyone to drink.  So, I think I am doomed in this endeavor.

        Which doesn’t mean I won’t try, because I have a tendency to run my head into the wall in these matters. 

        Anyway,  I finally got out of the neighborhood to meet a friend for lunch in another part of town.  When you live and work in the same three-hundred yard radius, getting in a taxi and saying “Take me to the Plaza de Colón” has a ring of liberation to it, and whenever that is the case, I realize that I have to get out more often.   

          I wasn’t going to the Plaza de Colón, but just a little further, this time over in the Chamberí area, which is a classic Madrid neighborhood just north of the center of town.  It’s what they call a real castizo barrio, which means typically Madrilanian. 

          We met at a new Italian restaurant (sort of – it opened last year) called Mercato Ballaró, which was a young project by the owner’s of the once mythical Taverna Siciliana.  Madrid boasts lots of Italian restaurants, just like any city, many are just run-of-the-mill establishments, but this one is a step above the average.    The Mercato is on Santa Engracia 24 street, which is just a few blocks above the Alonso Martínez Square.  If you have never been to Madrid, obviously this means nothing to you, but let’s say that it is fairly centrally located.  It has a modern feel to it which warns of high prices, the way they tend to, so I sat down expecting the worst.  The restaurant offers two menus which eature similar dishes at different sizes. We stuck to the half-size portion.  Here’s what we had and bear with me:

         SHARED Flake-pastry with natural tomato, black olives, olive oil and a fried egg from some whose name I can’t recall in English.  All I know is that it wasn’t a hen, or an ostrich.  Ok, I made the effort to look it up.  It was a quail egg, but from a very big quail judging by the size of the yolk.  My guess is was a hen.  But it was good anyway.  Excellent.

        SHARED  Salad made up of fresh orange, fennel, and a bunch of other things which I can’t recall right now.  The orange was a nice change of flavor, but the overall dish didn’t do much for me.

        ME: Busiati pasta mixed with ragu sauce and rib meat from Iberian pork.  Iberian pork is top quality meat in Spain.  Tasty Pasta dish. 

        MY FRIEND:  Fusilli pasta which I did not try but got good reviews.

        DESSERT: Shared a large tiramisu, which, true of most tiramisu, I got tired of after about three bites.  It was fine, but I think it doesn’t quite get the creamy part down.  They almost never do.  I just keep thinking that out there there is a tirmisu for me. 

        DRINK: Four glasses of white wine, two per (forgive me but I forgot to check what it was, but it worked), and two expresso coffees. 

        PRICE: 42€  (21 per)  As far as Madrid restaurant prices go, in my opinion, a good deal.  I read a home review online by some guy bitching about what  rip-off it was and such and how the check went for 60€ per person.   In addition to sounding more like a disgruntled waiter who just got fired from the place, if we assume he was a real diner, then he sounded like a total idiot.  And yes I am using the masculine because it sounded like a man.   And for paying that much at a place like that…a stupid one too.

        VERDICT: Go for it.

       Well, there you have it…a review.  

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