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La Taberna de la Daniela

Cocido is muy, muy Madrileño and I’ve never seen it in NYC, so passing up the regional specialty would be morally unacceptable (in my book of ethics). It's essentially every meat you can think of boiled with garbanzos and a few other vegetables. Not such a tantalizing description, sure. Luckily, the chilly weather made such heftiness seem appropriate. I don’t know that the lunchtime stew holds as much appeal when it’s sweltering.

The biggest question was where to try cocido since we’d only have one shot and it’s not something you decide on spur of the moment; most restaurants that feature it require advance reservations. Malacatin concerned me with their too mammoth portions, though I loved their logo of some kid with an ax (or maybe it’s a hoe, I’m pretty sure it’s not a bindlestiff as I initially thought). La Bola, I'm certain would've been fine, but I really wanted to get away from the tourist track  environs of our hotel.

Taberna de la daniela exterior

We chose Taberna de la Daniela, which I later discovered has three locations. We inadvertently picked one further away that we needed to in a neighborhood that ended up being near the big soccer stadium. The subdued area reminded me vaguely of the Upper East Side, and had a proliferation of children’s clothing stores in addition to a mini mall with a TGI Friday’s and Tony Roma’s. Cocidos is spelled out right on the restaurant’s yellow tiled sign lest you had any doubts.

Taberna de la daniela cocido accompaniments

Initially, you are brought what appears to be two versions of romesco. I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between the two other than that one was thicker. Long green peppers (odd, since Spaniards are notoriously spice-averse) and pearl onions accompanied the sauces. Were these appetizers meant to be nibbled on or intended to go with the main meal?

It’s times like this when I realize that I actually have more culinary knowledge about Asian obscurities, which I’ve read about and eaten more extensively. My experience with traditional Spanish fare, and European cuisine in general, is much more limited. In some ways it’s more freeing to travel in places like China or Thailand because Americans aren’t expected to speak the language or know shit about anything. The bar is low for us so it’s not as embarrassing to make mistakes. But Spain? Spanish is a common second language in the United Sates; it’s not too much to expect Americans to be capable of communicating. Not making cultural faux pas is another story. 

Taberna de la daniela cocido broth

Soup is first. This broth is neither light nor subtle. I swear it tasted like mutton but that's the one meat not present in cocdio. Must be the pork. Barely detectable beneath the orange surface are fideos, broken vermicelli. This was a lot of soup for two. I wavered between not wanting to waste and seeming unappreciative and not wanting to fill up on liquid knowing the bounty that was in store for us. I sipped two not-quite-full shallow bowls worth.

Taberna de la daniela vegetables

This cocido was listed as three courses; two and three are presented at the same time. The meatless plate was primarily garbanzos with one potato, two dumplings, bits of carrot and cabbage. I just dug in, mixing as I pleased with no idea about the proper procedure. The bib-wearing businessmen next to us ate vegetables first and mushed them down with the back of a spoon. Then one of them cut up a green pepper with a butter knife and added rounds to the meat. I don’t think this was normal.

Taberna de la daniela meat

No lamb, but just about everything else. Chorizo, morcilla, chicken, brisket, pork fat (I think that’s tocino, though I was under the impression that was more bacony), marrow bones and the cross-section of a pig’s foot. I wasn’t that excited about the chicken and pure pork fat blocks made me a little nervous, but it was hard not be impressed with the selection. There are no fireworks with cocido, everything tastes as it is, no wild seasonings. It’s peasant food that people have grown to love, kind of like corned beef and cabbage (another bland dish I enjoy) times a thousand. Though I don’t think I could eat this on a frequent basis. Once a month, no problem.

Taberna de la daniela licores

Diners are sent off with bracing, supposedly fruity but really more herbal, shots of liquor. I really wish I could work that two-hour lunch with wine and digestifs into my daily routine. The practice doesn’t seem to fly, stateside.

La Taberna de la Daniela * Calle de Gutiérrez Solana 2, Madrid, Spain

Tapas Round 2: Casa Toni, La Casa del Abuelo, La Venencia

Numerous times we ended up in another popular tapas enclave near the Puerta del Sol. I was reluctant to take chances on places I hadn't written down (or rather copied, pasted and printed) or heard of because who knows if they would suck or not. I’m not a risk-taker.

One of the many sporadic bursts of rain that punctuated the week hit while I was out trying to stroll instead of power walk. Desperate for a speedy respite, we popped into the first inoffensive, non-packed place we could find. I had wanted grilled pig ears at tiny La Oreja de Oro (on my approved list) but the tavern was prohibitively full both times I attempted a visit. 

Casa toni exterior

Casa Toni, the bar we randomly entered, advertised pig ears too, though the skeptic in me was suspicious of a sparsely populated room with an open table, no less. Too crowded? Too empty? There's just no winning. I don’t think anything was wrong with Casa Toni and we soon realized after easily getting a seat that there was an upstairs dining room people regularly headed to, potentially diffusing mobs. 

Casa tino orejas

The first thing listed on the menu is oreja a la plancha, which was my intended dish. I already knew I liked pigs' ears (as you may have noticed, I'm no grammarian, and now I'm having trouble deciding between pig ears or pigs' ears because I've seen it both ways) but you never know what you're going to get. Resto's pig ear salad is awesome but the pigs' ear salad I had in Macau was pure crunch, no chew, too garlicky and not compelling.

To my surprise, these grilled pigs' ears were the underdog hit of the entire week, even according to James who's indifferent to offal. Quite possibly my favorite thing. These rough ribbons of meat and cartilage had the perfect ratio of fat and softness to tough bits and lots of flat surfaces for maximum crispy char.

Half-way through devouring this plate like the drenched, starving beasts we’d become, we noticed two of the cooks looking at us and laughing, possibly thinking that those American gluttons must not know what they're eating. (I don't doubt that's an uncommon mistake if you couldn't read Spanish and just pointed to the first thing on the menu). Believe me, we knew what we were doing. All I could think was that if this was the ho hum version, Oreja de Oro's must be insane. 

Casa tino patatas bravas

These patatas were specifically brava, spicy (I use that descriptor loosely) sauce only. Often you see patatas bravas served with aioli too; at Casa Toni that rendition had some made up name like patatas bravaioli. Thank goodness they were crispy because I hate all-mush steak fry-type preparations. Portions of both the potatoes and ears were larger than anticipated.

Casa Toni * Calle de la Cruz 14, Madrid, Spain

Casa del abuelo exterior

Casa del Abuelo is directly across from Oreja de Oro, and both bars were perennially packed. When we spied a gap at this gambas specialist we jumped. For lunch we dared to try food court gambas al ajillo (oh so much more on that later) so for variety we had our prawns a la plancha here. 

Casa del abuelo gambas a la plancha

Saline and moist, similar to Chinese salt and pepper shrimp, these crustaceans were fun bar snacks. And there's nothing more fun (ok, I can think of a few others) than tossing heads and shells onto the floor. We were standing at a tiny marble table but the bar had a garbage trough along its front. It’s also not unusual to see cigarette butts stamped out and tossed to the ground indoors. I not only feel weird smoking inside restaurants, but ashing on the ground feels criminal. 

Casa del abuelo garbage trough

Oreja de oro coupon Apparently La Casa del Abuelo and La Oreja de Oro are more than just neighbors, they are affiliated. Upon paying the bill for our shrimp we were given a coupon for a free chato across the way. I didn’t know tapas bars gave out coupons; it was almost carnivalesque. I felt like Charlie with his golden ticket, though a tiny €1 glass of wine isn’t the grandest prize. I intended to take them up on their offer after seeing Watchmen, but at 12:30am on a Sunday night the gates were down. I never did get to taste those golden ears.

La Casa del Abuelo * Calle Victoria 12, Madrid, Spain

With dusty bottles and sawdusted floor, La Venencia is a classic sherry bar–and like much of Madrid, seemingly straight from a '20s movie set. I do like the specialization aspsect of many tapas bars. Casa Labra is another, known for things made with cod, and Las Bravas, is always teeming with patatas bravas eaters, obviously. I just don’t see a tapas bar that only served variations on the same few ingredients thriving in NYC. 

La venencia interior

The back room was fairly empty because it was near to closing time, if I'm correct either 1am or 1:30am. Despite what people say about Madrid being a late night city, that didn't seem to be the case. We've encountered this phenomenon countless times on vacation. We're still bright-eyed at 3am and nothing's open. Sleeping till noon is the downside to not being tired in the middle of the night. I think it balances out; it just means that I rarely eat breakfast in foreign countries. 

La venencia olives & manzanilla

I didn’t experiment, only sipping a single glass of dry manzanilla and picking at some olives. I'm no olive connoisseur but every single type we were offered, and we were given many in every shade of green and brown, tasted different. So many olives. These were salty and richer than ones I'm used to in the U.S. or maybe the sherry was enhancing the olives’ flavor.

La venencia manchego

No skimping on the Manchego here.

La Venencia * Calle Echegaray 7, Madrid, Spain

Water St. Banh Mi Cart Update

I've had a few people ask about the status of the Financial District's (sorry for the Twitter FiDi usage but I'm horrible texter and need all lame abbreviations at my disposal) once-mobbed banh mi cart. Well, as of 1:30pm this afternoon, it appeared to be a no show.

Don't these guys know about the banh mi boomlet sweeping the city? They are seriously missing their opportunity to cash in five-bucks-a-pop on the trend.

But more importantly, I was deprived of the lunch I had been thinking about all morning. Maybe the growing Baoguette empire will hear my cries and expand way downtown.

Tapas Round 1: Cañas y Tapas, Txirimiri, Casa Lucas

If people only know one thing about Spanish food, it's tapas. (At least I thought so until the person who sits six feet from me at work stared blankly when I uttered the mysterious word in response to his "What did you eat in Spain?" question. I'm a speed talker/mumbler so I thought I wasn't enunciating properly and repeated "you know, tapas.” Then again for good measure, “tapas?” Uh, no.  I thought that was the easy answer, not wanting to get into pig ears, percebes or 12 miniature courses employing, yes, a little foam.) Or maybe paella, damn, I should've just said paella.

I have mixed feelings on Spanish tapas. I love the concept of lots of little things spread out over an evening yet I’m crowd-phobic and don’t enjoy eating while standing (or walking, for that matter). But it must be done. I can concede that our American style of tapaing (I also love that tapear, to eat tapas, is a verb) with full table settings is a mild aberration yet still be ok with it.

We ended up in the thick of two tapas hubs (at least for tourists, and I will always wonder how Europeans are already drunk by 11pm and chanting what I imagine must be sports anthems outside in large groups) on our first two nights.

Ok, I'm not ashamed to admit that our first stop, hours off the plane, was a chain. I love franchises, so there. Sure Cañas y Tapas is tourist friendly, positioned right on the Gran Via, but I wouldn’t call it a trap and Spanish speakers were in the majority (not that all Spanish-speakers in Madrid live there. I don't imagine many of the English-speakers I see every day taking photos with the Financial District bull live in NYC) even at the early hour of 9pm (where it's still jarringly light out in Madrid, for contrast the sun set at 7:35pm in NYC on April 15).

This is where I acclimated to being enshrouded in cigarette smoke, how to maneuver and finagle spots at the counter and the level of assertiveness needed to get served and pay the bill. Not that anyone is rude, eh, some are brusque, but mostly they are just inattentive. If we were in the Applebee’s of Spanish food, I was none the wiser because the food was far from crappy. Then again, I’ve eaten a few riblets in my day.

Canas y tapas morcilla & croquetas

Morcilla de Burgos isn't the intense sweetish blood sausage that I'm used to. This was crumbly and contained a good amount of rice. I think a blood sausage hater would like this if you didn't mention the word blood when serving it to them. Madrileños seem to enjoy dry crackery things, and all sorts of them turn up in breadbaskets along with non-dried out slices of bread. Simple ham croquetas are hiding in the background.

Cañas y Tapas * Calle Gran Via 71, Madrid, Spain

We moved onto La Latina, three metro stops away, and as we accidentally discovered later, less than a 20-minute walk from our hotel. Madrid was surprisingly compact. Barely walking the distance from Houston to 14th Street puts you into a totally different neighborhood. We kept ending up in La Latina without even meaning to. Cava Baja is the main tapas strip in the area, and the side streets are equally plentiful.

I was torn on Txirimiri. The front bar was jammed predominantly with under-30s drinking cañas, smoking and not really eating any of the pintxos (as a Basque place it's all about things on bread and lots of K’s and X’s) displayed in cases while the restaurant in back was sparsely populated with over 40s. Who to emulate? Was it stodgy to eat a real meal? Instead, I blindly picked two pintxos and found open space on a ledge to house my plates.

Txirimiri tortilla pintxo

Despite being told what this was, I couldn't tell you exactly what it as called. I think it's a tortilla sandwich. Served room temperature, it contained potato but as you can see, also ham and crumbles of cheese. Caramelized onions were also tucked in. It might not have been my first choice, it’s simply what caught my eye immediately and I was reluctant to ask about every last thing on the counter in my so-so Spanish. This ended up being a minor problem the whole week. I read Spanish, particularly food Spanish, very well but if I’m only verbally told what's available it garbles in my brain. Luckily, there isn't anything (other than melon) that I won't eat so I don't mind being surprised with what I end up with.

Txirimiri pintxo

This was a jamon-wrapped nugget of goat cheese topped with mushrooms and garnished with basil oil. A lot of flavor is packed into these little bites. I would've tried a few more offerings but we needed to explore more. I vowed to return for proper dinner another night but that never happened; we ended up at Kulto al Plato, another creative Basque tapas place instead. So many regrets.

Txirimiri * Calle del Humilladero 6, Madrid, Spain

Small and boxy Casa Lucas felt more traditional, with an amicable older counterman and a quieter vibe. It's not a scruffy taberna. We had a few glasses of red wine. I couldn't tell you what because I don’t always pay the same attention to what I’m drinking as to what I’m eating (though I’m trying to be more astute). But this definitely wasn't a cheap house wine place—there was a thought out list written on the chalkboard and best of all, nothing was over 3 euros (ok, so that’s cheap). I'm accustomed to spending as much, if not more on alcohol than on food, so it was a pleasant surprise to find perfectly nice glasses of wine for $3.25 rather than $10 for a change.

Casa lucas freebie

What added to my notion that this was a more traditional or at least genteel tapas bar is the fact that this was the only place we encountered the entire week that gave us a freebie with our drinks, as I think is more commonplace in locals type places. I won't say no to salchichon.

Casa lucas ventresca

We shared ventresca, tuna belly atop roasted red and green peppers. Tuna, and canned seafood in general, is huge in Madrid. I didn't take a photo but entire grocery store aisles are devoted to clams, mussels, anchovies and what seems like every iteration of tuna imaginable. This was lively, vinegared in an escabeche style. So much better than water-packed Chicken of the Sea.

Casa Lucas * Calle Cava Baja 30, Madrid, Spain

Love is Hell

Hell's kitchen proposal

Hell’s Kitchen is good for something after all. First the fat dude who calls women fat got karmic payback when his heart started giving out. That would’ve been enough, but holy crap, a “spontaneous” dessert-based marriage proposal too?!

No truer words have been spoken than doomed contestant Ben’s upon witnessing the world’s most unique and romantic gesture, “It’s like being stuck in prison, then being able to look out the window and see a rainbow.”

Marco Polo Ristorante

It’s hard to believe that I’ve lived in Carroll Gardens for five years. That’s a mighty long time for a neighborhood you’re not in love with. One of the first places I noticed after settling in was Marco Polo. Brick-clad, with white stone accents and a sunroom on the side, the corner building seemed styled from an undecipherable era. They also touted valet parking, an unusual touch around these parts. The multi-story restaurant never seemed full yet appeared to be thriving. It scared me a bit, not so much for the mobby vibes emanating (lest you dub me a baseless stereotyper—there was truth in this presumption) but because rampant red saucing makes me want to sob and it would be hard to even justify the novelty factor with entrees in the $20s. I clearly wasn’t their target market.

For at least the past six months while attempting shoulder presses on the second floor of the gym directly across the street, I’ve been regaled with a banner strewn across their façade declaring a 25th anniversary special for 25 days. I don’t think it’s ever coming down. Maybe they’re like me where five years passes like nothing. Twenty-five days could easily turn into 365.

But I have been intrigued, I’ll admit. I’m also curious about the wine bar currently under construction two storefronts down, next to Marco Polo To Go, that still bears Joe’s Restaurant signage in the Marco Polo To Go space.  Not that Carroll Gardens is suffering from a lack of small plates.

I wasn’t doing anything remarkable on Easter, no plans to speak of until around 5pm when it was decided that something festive needed to be done for dinner. James suggested Chestnut. Wildly, Marco Polo popped out of my mouth. I didn’t need to say that twice since I’ve been putting the kibosh on his urge to try the place for practically half a decade. He was instantly on the phone making reservations against my better judgment (seriously, it wasn’t going to be packed and certainly not at 8pm on a Sunday). 

Marco polo mural

There were a few other tables finishing up their $34.95 prix fixes as we arrived. I went in cautiously, not expecting anything remarkable. And no, the food isn’t memorable but I would recommend going once just for the experience. Um, and for the murals (detail above). Isn’t supporting a local business supposed to be better than patronizing an Olive Garden (not that such a chain would stand a chance in South Brooklyn)?  

Marco polo antipasto

First course of warm antipasto was certainly a bready, saucy hodgepodge. There appeared to be shrimp, baked clams, stuffed mushrooms, eggplant rollatini and a fat triangle of mozzarella that looked like French toast. Ok, I do love fried cheese. 

Marco polo lamb

The lamb chops (at least I thought those were chops but it looks like ribs and who knows what else on that plate) were generously portioned and I was glad that the potatoes had a little color around the edges instead of simply being boiled. The meat might’ve been too fatty for some tastes, but I wasn’t put off. 

Marco polo cannoli

For dessert I chose a cannoli, a perfectly nice specimen. Despite rarely eating them, desserts based on sweetened ricotta never let me down. 

Marco polo interior

There are what feels like millions (maybe only really a handful) of Italian-American restaurants cut from a similar red-and-white checked tablecloth (ok, these were white) still thriving in the neighborhood. Maybe I’ll get around to trying a few of them eventually, too.

Marco Polo Ristorante * 345 Court St., Brooklyn, NY

The Rain in Spain

Once again, humans and sights are distressingly absent from my vacation photos. At this point I've given up on even trying to be well-rounded. (I've also discovered that I take abysmal outdoor photos, I'm still working on that.)

Comic Relief. There is only one constant on all vacations: a Robin Williams movie will inevitably play on the plane. Thankfully, there were 20 to choose from (I tried watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid but can never sit through movies on planes. A rousing game of Bookworm did keep me occupied for a while) so Dead Poet’s Society wasn’t forced on me. Later in the week I had a strange brief dream, more romantic than sexual, involving Robert Sean Leonard (who was in Dead Poet’s Society and who I’ve never given much thought to ever) but he was supposed to be some indie comic, if I can type such a phrase straight-faced. Also, had a dream that Oliver Schwaner-Albright, a New York Times dining section writer that I no absolutely nothing about, called me. On the the line was a gay man claiming that my father was a relative in common and he knew this because he was working on a documentary with Ken Burns. I kept insisting there was no way we were related but he wouldn’t believe me.

Tortoises vs. Hares. When I saw a Spanish thirtysomething couple saying "adelante" and mocking a fast walker, exaggeratedly pumping their arms up and down, I knew I was in upside-down town. No matter how hard I try to ease up, I cannot stroll. I enjoy barreling past people and storming around; that's why I wear flats. (Just yesterday I got suckered into taking one of those Facebook quizzes about my inner nationality and very unsurprisingly I got German. I've never been pegged so accurately: "You are precise yet romantic, efficient yet dreamy, friendly yet somewhat suspicious of others…you are easily annoyed by the slowness and/or stupidity of others.") But Spain, like much of the world outside NYC is composed of slow movers. Abnormally slow movers, like the motion of their feet is a visual trick like that Russian Futurist dog painting (who knew it was housed in Buffalo?). It looks like they are putting in a lot of effort yet they're moving at what I'd estimate to be 60% of a normal gait. For fun, I tried to match everyone else's strides but it was physiologically and psychologically damaging. I don't necessarily enjoy being in a hurry but I find it insufferable to get stuck behind someone on a sidewalk or staircase and not be able to pass.

Mad Props. Which brings me to the matter of the pervasiveness of canes and crutches and not just among the elderly. James even commented on this and he's not one to notice such things. Why do so many people in Madrid need walking aides? I've also wondered why I see more people with vitiligo in NYC than anywhere else on earth, so maybe it's just one of those things.

Aw, Nuts. I’m a sugar limiter but I’ll make exceptions for extraordinary sweets. Unfortunately (for me, not my health) most of what I saw displayed in Madrid bakeries was frankly, kind of resistible. Everything seemed brown, tan, beige, crumbly, hard, dense and dry—the anti-Demel. Soft, moist and colorful is where it’s at. I didn’t take any photos; you’ll just have to believe me. When I started seeing Frutos Secos advertised on the windows and awnings of their equivalent to a corner deli, it reinforced my impression of their odd palate. Dried fruit as a calling card? It only now occurred to me to look up frutos secos and as it turns out the phrase isn’t literal: it means nuts of all types and dehydrated legumes and garbanzos. Still shrivelly and dried out, though.

Black Lungs. I know Europe still clings to cigarettes more strongly than the US but even France has banned indoor smoking. Not so, Spain (I don't recall Barcelona being so nicotine-crazed). The only other places I've been where smoking was still semi-tolerated indoors were China and Macau (not Hong Kong) but that's nothing compared to Madrid, and besides, in Asia the behavior is kind of a men-only thing where Spain is equal opportunity. Not only is smoking rampant in most public spaces, smoking sections are nearly nonexistent and yet no one seems to have a problem with this. If you even light up while outside in the US, you are certain to get at least one dirty look or pathetic scolding cough from a passerby. I smoked through half of my teens, all of my twenties and a bit of my thirties, though I haven't smoked seriously in six years, meaning I don't buy packs but might have a cigarette at a party, equaling no more than two-three cigarettes a month I would guess. I only smoke when I drink and only rarely then. Yet, I love smoking. It's not a nasty habit to me and I was sad to give it up (if I didn't have high blood pressure and get gross-feeling and raspy, I would probably not stop). I always cave on vacation just as I eat as I please when not in NYC. Luckily, I can turn it off in a (rapidly failing) heartbeat. I can smoke like a locomotive for a week and then not touch a cigarette for months. It's a gift. Unlike sugary and fried foods where once I start, I can't stop eating junk and that's all I want to eat. I'm still trying to get back on track with a semi-healthy eating regimen. Last night it was homemade fried chicken but today it is oatmeal, sashimi and jogging (is it '80s to use the word jogging? At least I didn't mention aerobics. I hardly move fast enough to qualify as full-fledged running).

Strange Brew. Beer is the drink of choice, not wine, cider or sherry (yes, sherry's a wine). I think outsiders equate Spain with wine but as my Madrileño Spanish teacher pointed out, "ir de caña" going for beer is a common phrase where no one says "ir de vino." Even at high end restaurants, men, women, young and old had cañas on the table while perusing the menu, though a bottle of wine might eventually be ordered to accompany a sit-down meal. More oddly to me were the Lilliputian portions. Everyone seems to drink juice glass-sized beers these s-called cañas or equally tiny glasses of wine dubbed chatos. They're cheap, like 1.50 euros and intended to accompany a single tapa. My concern was that these bars are so intimidatingly crowded that getting another drink was barely worth the hassle. Perhaps that is why a one-drink/one-tapa crawl is standard procedure.

Underground. We rode the subway numerous times per day and not only was it never crowded (once it did approach NYC levels of uncomfortable closeness) we never waited more than four minutes, which was easy to gauge since they have those nice arrival time boards hanging on the platform. I love efficiency (uh, oh, that inner German is getting excited)! They even have a Bibliometro, a.k.a. a staffed library kiosk in the middle of some stations…and riders were actually checking out books. What did weird me out was that the subway doors do not open automatically. This was not immediately apparent to me on my first day trying to disembark and I panicked. A passenger getting off or on has to either push a button or pull a lever (depending on train style) and the trains are so uncrowded that at stops many doors simply stayed shut. Is this an energy-saving tactic? It made me nervous that a door might malfunction and I would be stuck on the subway car.

You Kin't Do It. Dunkin' Donuts is Dunkin' Coffee in Madrid. Maybe they don't know what donuts (or even doughnuts) are because the chain calls them rosquillas, which from my observation of traditional bakery windows seemed denser and hefty than yeasty frosted American donuts, which is what Dunkin' Coffee were selling. I'm not a donut person and forgot to peek at what flavors were on offer. While at Alcampo an awesomely enormous modern supermarket (with a department store on the second floor) in the Vaguada Mall, there was a guy dressed up like a donut and handing out chocolate-iced samples in individually packed plastic shells. The container just said Donut, so maybe it's a new marketing push. To spare his dignity, I did not snap a photo.

Stay Seated. Just as in Buenos Aires, movie theaters have assigned seating. I like this (perhaps it's that inner German in me). I often see a movie I would never watch in NYC while on vacation (Madrid: Watchmen; Mexico City: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End; Buenos Aires: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; Penang: Red Eye). After purchasing a ticket, you can show up late as you'd like knowing you have a seat waiting for you. None of that annoying NYC up-and-down, hovering, maneuvering, squeezing into empty spots at the last second in the dark. Or maybe that's just my issue because I tend to go to movies early and get a good seat, then have to stand up to let people in and out for the next 20 minutes.

One Last Thing. No one has ever questioned me about my last name in NYC (eh, in the early 21st century a Puerto Rican girl who signed me up at the world's most demoralizing Lucille Roberts on the Bushwick/Ridgewood border suspiciously asked me if I was "Spanish") or the few big cities I've visited in Latin America. They have no reason to since Garcia is the eighth most common surname in the United States. Might as well be Smith or Williams.  But both the woman who checked me in to my hotel and the woman who checked me in for my flight home seemed unusually curious about my last name and made a point of mentioning how Spanish it was. The older airport woman simply asked if I could speak Spanish while the younger hipper girl at the hotel scolded me playfully. My only authority on Madrid-ness, Pablo the teacher, said, "They think all Americans have names like Jackson." For the record, Jackson is at 18th place in surname popularity.

And by the way, it rained all six days I was in Spain. Like a mold, I thrive on chilly dampness, though.

Borderline Offensive

I just saw this supposedly controversial Burger King ad for the Texican Whopper while in Madrid (yes, I watch lots of TV on vacation just like in real life, but Rock Star and Ghost Whisperer are learning experiences when en español) and didn't realize is was specifically a Spanish product. I assumed it was a silly American-made commercial. It's not terribly offensive unless I'm missing something, though I've never been the most culturally sensitive person. I'm certainly not alone; read a real Texican's perspective on Guanabee.

I'm not sure about the Texican Whopper but if time had permitted, we would've tried the "gourmet" ciabatta-based McDonald's burger being advertised like crazy (but not so advertised that I can remember the product name). Cheddar and emmental? Nuts.

On the fast food track, I was shocked and excited by the presence of Guatemalan fried chicken chain, Pollo Campero, in Madrid. We planned to stop by after seeing Watchmen (really not my thing but it surely beat Hotel Para Perros) but post-midnight on a Sunday is slim pickings (I still don't get Madrid's reputation for being a night city—bars close at 2am) and the gates were already down. Instead, we opted for Vips, the only nearby eatery still serving, and I ordered a strangely charred yet not fully cooked quesadilla with salsa so mild it verged on tomato puree. That was sort of Texican-inspired, now that I think about it.

I swear we had a chain along the Oregon Coast in the '80s called Vips that had a rabbit mascot. Could it possibly be the same company?

Hasta La Vista

Bullfight I will be out of town for next week and I don't usually blog while on vacation, though I suspect I will Twitter a bit (I don't travel with a cell phone, though, so it's all semi-guilty laptop use when I should be outside touring).

After joking earlier about no NYC-style "Spanish" food in Madrid, I did read about a Dominican restaurant so I might just find mofongo in the Spanish capital, after all. Not that I should be eating rice and beans when I should be sampling jamon and gambas.

Strange, I just noticed that my Twitter widget thing stopped displaying in the sidebar. If you feel compelled, follow me at I don't blame you if you don't.

Velvet bullfighting painting from Official Bad Art Museum of Art

Fatty Crab Uptown

I don't know if the relatively new uptown Fatty Crab needs a new entry here, as the food is pretty much the same as at the original location. The main differences being that the UWS branch is larger and is on Open Table (an important distinction to me since I had a $20 rewards check burning a hole in my pocket and now thanks to the recession I feel less like a rube using a coupon).

But not being a mental multitasker, I feel compelled to post these photos and impressions so I can shift my thinking to from Malaysian food to spice-averse Madrid where I'll be in less than 24 hours.

I enjoy the food at Fatty Crab, always more than I expect that I will. No, it's not wholly traditional but the flavors are strong, funky and not tamed for Americans. My only quibbles are that the service is dudely, they overexplain everything (I do realize that Malaysian food isn't as familiar as Thai or Vietnamese to most New Yorkers and from my observations diners do ask lots of questions) and upsell on top of it, the pacing is random; things come out willy nilly and there can be ten-minute gaps between dishes. And, well, I would feel better if $3-$5 were shaved off the prices across the board (quality ingredients and labor intensive prep, acknowledged). Sounds like a lot of caveats, but I really like the food.

Fatty crab sliders

We went cross-cultural with small plates. First up the sliders: spicy, juicy, slightly fishy little meat blobs dressed with thick pickles and aioli. These were cute and packed a lot of punch into a small toasted package.

Fatty crab fatty dog

Because I am a weirdo who doesn't like hot dogs, I was wary of the Fatty Dog, but as soon as I realized it contained a house-made sausage and not a boiled wiener I was more excited. The pork sausage contains belachan, pickled garlic and XO sauce, not wiener-y at all. Combined with pickled chiles, garlic, radish, cilantro and cucumbers and spread out on a potato roll, it's more of an open-faced sandwich than finger food.

Fatty crab hokkien noodles

Thick and chewy hokkien noodles were so hefty they bent my wooden chopsticks. The dark sauce is sweet from kecap manis and tarted up with a bit of black vinegar. Small strips of beef, shrimp and little clams are the main ingredients, though I was impressed with the traditional addition of tiny crispy lard cubes. In Malaysia some health-minded hawkers have been moving away from using extra pork fat, and it would be a shame to omit that much needed touch here.

Fatty crab kang kong

Kang kong, a.k.a. water spinach was appropriately shrimp pastey and chile hot. There's a lot more here than one would think. We were actually going to do without a vegetable side but our server made it sound like we'd suffer miserably if we didn't order a $9 bowl of greens.

Fatty crab short rib rendang

We were totally full by the time the short rib rendang came out; I could only eat a small chunk. Both the meat and rice are saturated with coconut milk, so it was a bit rich as the final plate of food. Thankfully, the braised dish keeps well and improves with age. Combined with leftover kang kong, it was enough for a full dinner the following night. And I just happened to have some toasted coconut lying around from a Thai pomelo salad I'd made (with grapefruit from the huge unwelcome sack I've been trying use) earlier in the week to spruce the rendang up.

Fatty crab whiskey sour

After cobbling together two dinners from our food on top of using the $20 voucher, I felt less reluctant to order a $12 Fatty Sour. It was a well-made cocktail, less sour and more herbal than a typical whisky sour, my drink of choice. The inclusion of Pedro Ximenez Sherry and real maraschino cherries rather than a slice of citrus, was welcome.

Fatty Crab Uptown * 2170 Broadway, New York, NY