Mercado de San Miguel felt familiar. Located near Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, the market bore an uncanny resemblance to San Francisco’s Ferry Building. Rather than serving as a traditional market, Mercado de San Miguel is a gourmet tapas market with vendors selling boquerones, cured meats, seafood, and an assortment of sweets.
Boquerones in particular are aplenty at this market, and we kept going back for this one in particular: pickled peppers, anchovies, and the briniest olives you can imagine. Perfection.
Afterwards we strolled through Plaza Mayor and made our way to Chocolateria San Gines for yet another plate of churros con chocolate. Chocolateria San Gines has been around since 1894 so they know a thing or two about chocolate, but you know what? Nothing compared to our experience at Granja Viader in Barcelona. But I’m being unfair. These are two completely different cities. Apples and oranges, I guess.
We walked off all the sugar by passing through the bustling Puerta del Sol en route to the Royal Palace of Madrid. The palace is on the site of a 9th-century Alcazar, first constructed as an outpost by Muhammad I of Cordoba and inherited after 1036 by the independent Moorish Taifa of Toledo. Today, the palace is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, but is only used for state ceremonies.
Nishan and I took the rest of the day easy to prepare for the day’s big event: dinner at the two Michelin starred La Terraza del Casino. Initially overseen by the legendary Ferran Adria, it’s now led by Paco Roncero and the tasting menu draws heavily from El Bulli.
After beginning with cherry and yuzu cocktails, we were presented with “olive oil butter,” a playful spin on spherification. This was followed with “goat cheese and quince moshi,” but really, this was more like a tiny green salad served alongside a mini toothpaste tube of, well, more solid olive oil.
Next came the “chocolate and foie gras Filipino.” I don’t know what the Filipino part of this was all about, but this was basically melt-in-your-mouth foie gras encased in white chocolate. Nishan loved this. Me? Not so much.
After a simple but delicious take on tuna tartare served sushi hand roll style, we were served “guacamole and herring.” This was a more sophisticated version of so many of the herring tapas I’d seen around Madrid. The creamy avocado was a perfect foil for the vinegared fish.
Next came a perfectly glazed and simple plating of Peking duck followed by the “fried quail egg and potato.” I’ve never eaten off of a clothesline before, and while I loved the playful presentation, I wished for more flavor.
After my “shrimp omelet” (or rather, transparently thin disc of crisped egg with baby shrimp) came the “frozen tomato rock.” Yet another take on spherification, and I enjoyed this one a lot. The icy exterior gave way to a liquid tomato center. So much concentrated tomato goodness!
Next came my favorite dish of the evening: fresh almonds and caviar. Just give me all the caviar, please. I enjoyed this immensely. Even the almonds were perfect. They reminded me of the freshly peeled raw almonds that are so common as a snack in Iranian cuisine.
I’d lost count of our course at this point, and we were next presented with “moluscada,” a delicious plate of mussels and clams in a light broth. So good. This was followed by gnocchi with pesto and baby cuttlefish. The gnocchi were ethereal.
But here’s where things began to go wrong. Our next course was the “vegetable garden.” The presentation was very cool: a mini vegetable garden, wooden box and all, alongside a pair of shearing scissors with which to harvest our salad with. But beneath the salad’s breadcrumb “soil” laid gobs and gobs of mayonnaise. SO MUCH MAYONNAISE. What is it with Spain and aioli overload? I couldn’t stomach this.
Things got back on track with the umami-laden olive oil paella. Then came the sole a la meuneire. I wished this had more flavor, but them’s the breaks with white fish. The last savory course of the evening was the Iberian pork with yucca and dates. This wasn’t my vibe, but that’s okay. I was saving room for dessert anyway.
The first dessert course was named “Versailles,” which was basically a rose with what seemed like dyed fruit slices enveloped inside as petals. Were we being punked? Aptly enough I felt the same way when I went to the actual Versailles and saw how long the ticket lines were. The next dessert course, called “strawberries and cream,” was a plate of strawberry ice cream garnished with tufts of spongy cake.
The last course of the evening was “unique origins chocolate bonbons,” or what I like to call, “thirty-six pieces of chocolate when you’re too full to touch even one.” Is La Terraza trolling the world? We’ll never know, but kudos to the team for gorgeous plating, fantastic service, and a playful spin on so many Spanish classics.