The meals shown below weren't eaten in the context of tapas bar hopping in the traditional sense. These dishes were eaten at a vacation-appropriate leisurely pace, some more quickly than others, but all were special for their straightforwardness and quality. The small plates trend followers in the U.S. still have a lot to learn from their muses and counterparts in Spain.
Ah, the classic tortilla espanola served for breakfast with the tomato-rubbed bread found around Barcelona. This one at the Bar Central in la Boqueria was among the better of the bunch we tasted.
Taller de Tapas is a popular spot with a couple locations. The El Born Taller is fairly slick and pretty good. Croquetas were dense but not too much of a gut-bomb, and any fried artichoke is always an exciting thing. These were thin, wispy and not entirely edible.
Cal Pep is super popular among the food-savvy tourist set. Some think it's overhyped. Fortunately it's a favorite of our friends who we visited and not far from where they live, so I was happy it gets at least one local stamp of approval.
We started off with a plate of fried sardines, which are amazing to watch the cooks dust in flour and deep fry. Other goodies followed, yet I'm still kicking myself for not treating myself to their version of fried baby artichokes.
While no microwaves were involved in heating this freshly made tortilla with Cal Pep's special chorizo, leeks, garlic, and aioli, it wouldn't be my first choice if slammed with a hankering the Spanish staple. But bites of it pair very nicely with the succulent almejas with the terra cotta reddish shells.
Cal Pep's crema catalana is considered among the best, so I must not like it very much in general. The runny texture and lemony flavor don't sit well with me. That is, until we get to Comer 24 and experience its foam interpretation...
La Trucha stands out among some of the touristed restaurants near Santa Ana. (Yes, I'm aware I'm part of the problem.) No sauteed setas (wild mushrooms) were available that Sunday, but the stuffed regular button mushrooms cooked with chunks of ham and topped with a dollop of mayo were tasty. The pimientos de guernica popped right off their stems to melt in the mouth.
La Trucha gets bonus points for showing a little love for Chipiona, la tierra of my husband and brother-in-law, who loves this restaurant. A late Sunday return via Metro from the Plaza de Toros in Getafe meant getting rejected from Casa Lucio and Botin.
Wandering along Cava Baja brought us to La Camarilla, a twenty-first century joint with traditional enough food and a "Menu tapeo". Camarilla also has the best bathrooms in Madrid, which are practically set within the excavated ruins visible behind plexiglass partitions. The decor ranks as among the more successful blends of old and contemporary I've seen. They also understand the importance of lighting, an element that seems to be disregarded at many of the places we eat and drink in Spain. Everyone looks good in the diffused incandescent light -- gotta love that. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of the evening's meal.
Comer 24 sets the bar highest for design plus food plus atmosphere, i.e. their formula made for our best meal of the trip. The tapas spread for the first course of the tasting menu took a clear departure from traditional fare. All of these inventions were successful -- rice and seaweed chips, the cauliflower with raspberries, macadamia nuts dusted with copper, plain ol' olives -- except for the most Adria-like element: olive foam for dipping homemade thick potato chips. No gracias. More to come later about this gem.