oldie but goodie

Restaurant Botín doesn’t just claim to be the oldest restaurant in the world, it’s got the Guinness World Book of Records seal to back it up.  Ordinarily such a boast would have me charging in the opposite direction quicker than you could say toro but I have been reading Hemingway in Madrid and the final scene of The Sun Also Rises takes place over a suckling pig at Botín.  Something about the sudden confluence made dinner a much more authentic prospect than previously imagined.  And an appealing one, too, despite having to dine at the unfashionably early hour – by Madrileño standards anyway – of 8PM. Any mention of the establishment, from literary to culinary, takes pains to highlight the cochinillo, or roast suckling pig, and you’d be a fool not to try it.  Cooked in wood-fired ovens in the vaulted cellar it’s yet one more elegant Spanish ode to the tastiness of the pig.


la gastroteca

Lest you think Madrid has little more to offer in the way of gastronomic delights than tapas, cod balls, and the House of Ham, remember, please, that the Spanish are responsible for the whole molecular gastronomy craze.  The city has its fair share of fine – and experimental – dining; it’s just that – to a New Yorker anyway – it’s not nearly as engaging as Spanish comfort food. In the open kitchen of Córdoba-born chef Juan Carlos Ramos, however, those two concepts enjoy a felicitous liaison. La Gastroteca de Santiago deploys the freshest ingredients in homage to traditional Spanish cooking with experimental twists and international influences along the way. It’s an exemplary combination served up in an intimate and bijoux designer space on the Plaza de Santiago: pate with warm toast and olive oil, seafood paella, roast suckling pig, chocolate mousse.  Plus, you can make it a relative bargain and bypass the pricey a la carte blackboard specials in favor of the equally adventurous prix fixe.


st. april of the breslin

Chef April Bloomfield’s nose-to-tail gastro pub, The Breslin, is so achingly cool, so painfully hip, that even on a Friday at 5:30pm the dining room is buzzing with nerd glasses, beards and skinny ties as far as the eye can wander.  The hype surrounding this place – and the Ace Hotel in which it is housed – has come fast and furious, turning a characterless stretch of midtown into the new downtown, and the hosannas heaped upon Bloomfield’s cooking have been near constant since her arrival at The Spotted Pig a few years back.  Naturally the New Yorker in me was fully prepared to be non-plussed – even a little bit pissed off – by it all.  Then out came the golden pig.

The Breslin notoriously doesn’t take reservations unless you order one of their two special feasts:  lamb or pig.  Unwilling to wait for an hour in the crowded bar of hipsters, I gathered eight adventurous friends willing to engage their inner cannibal and ordered the chef’s table suckling pig dinner.   Even at this ungodly early hour I must confess it was a minor miracle of piggy goodness worth scheduling your day around.  Something happens in the brain when an intact beast is ritually placed before you.  You go hog wild, pardon the pun, tearing into it with gusto:  the butt, the bacon, the rump, the loin, and sweet Jesus, those crispy cracklings!  When the waiter came back to crack open the head there was almost a fight for the cheeks.  The tongue, the brains – one adventurous lady even went straight for the eyes, bless her soul.  It was a true pig-a-palooza of porcine indulgence unlike anything I’d ever experienced before.  Oh, and there were side dishes, too:  Caesar salad, broccoli rabe, roasted fennel, and duck fat roasted potatoes that will forever infect my dreams. To counteract the meat-sweats, a bittersweet chocolate pie arrived for dessert – flecked with just enough sea salt to take the edge off.  St. April, forgive me my trespasses:  by all that is holy, I believe in the one true pig.


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