Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Malaspina: Maybe the Best Tapas in Madrid

During my recent two-week "Spanish Residency" (in which my body told me "NO" in more physical ways than one and I learned that my Spanish is shite), I was at the mercy of my baby sister, who calls Madrid her current home and insisted that I wasn't allowed to suggest places to eat. It was just as well, because I'm not sure I would have been able to find a place that could top the traditional tapas and lively atmosphere at Malaspina
On my first visit to Malaspina I was def ready to eat after happy hour down the street and was able to persuade our group to order three separate potato-based dishes, two of which also featured ham. Welcome to Spain. And with our bottle of wine came a fourth dish of – you guessed it – potatoes, eggs and ham. But it's kind of impressive how many different ways these people can use the same ingredients. 

Potatoes dish numero uno was croquetas con jamon, but I'll tell you about those later. Above on the left, check out that huge plate of patatas braviolis, which I've only ever heard of being called patatas bravas. But apparently on some menus, bravas means there's only red sauce on top, and that just won't do. Patatas alioli means there's just alioli, and braviolis is a winning combo of the two. Brilliant. The sauces at Malaspina were really delicious – the red was tangy and had plenty of heat (surprisingly, as I'm told Spaniards don't do spicy foods), while the alioli was plenty garlicky and thick. But I found here that the potato chunks themselves were a bit too big – when cut a bit smaller, the surrounding crunch weighs better with each piece's starchy center. 

On the right is huevos estrellados, which is pretty self explanatory. French fries, jamon, three runny eggs and plenty of seasoning. It's like a diner dish from your dreams. Oh, and there were a few pimientos padrones (small green peppers fried up with plenty of flaky salt) on there too, for a tiny green kick. It's Spain: green is not a theme. 
Our second go was on my last night in Madrid, so you know that means that I was pleased on round one. This time, we went for mojitos, and though they were accompanied by a couple of the croquetas that I loved so much on my first visit, I convinced Em that we still needed an additional order. The freebie only came with two, and these croquetas are serious. Look:
I have to say, croquetas are the only dish that I didn't get sick of during my two week Spanish Residency and am still craving today, two weeks later. Croquetas are the bomb, because they're crunchy and golden outside but they're impossibly soft and indulgent within. They're formed from potatoes that are mashed with creamy bechemel, and some versions add jamon or mushrooms. Both are equally delicious, but considering all of the croquetas I ate in Madrid, Malaspina's were the best. The potato was so smooth and light – instead of being a starchy lump, these were so delicately held together. You wonder how they do it. I want them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I could never tire of croquetas. 
We also ordered stuffed tortilla, which wasn't common on the few tapas menus that I saw in the city. Tortilla is generally just served up on its own, a sort of cake of potatoes and eggs, lukewarm and kind of unimpressive. I enjoyed Malaspina's twist – the slice was cut open and turned into a sandwich with ham and cheese, HA, and it was served with another Spanish staple – pan con tomate. Bread with a fresh tomato spread. I'm not really sure how this dish was meant to be eaten, but with all the food Em and I ordered, more bread was pretty unnecessary. But even the bread at Malaspina is good! Most tabernas serve sliced bread topped with chorizo or jamon with every drink, but the bread is nothing special, usually old and or dry.
And finally, Emeline's favorite: queso de Cabrales.  It's a thick, creamy, soft blue cheese made in northern Spain's Asturias region, and at Malaspina, it's slathered heavily onto a thick slice of that good bread. The cheese was hugely flavorful, salty and decadent, but too much considering how much other food we ordered (#SpanishResidency was drawing to a close)(#YOLO)(I live my life with #noregrets).

If you're visiting Madrid and need a go-to tapas place, Malaspina's a hit. It offers the same dishes as every other tapas bar around, but takes things just a step further. Those dishes here become addictive rather than a bore. And it's cheap, like the rest of Madrid. Though there were hints of the Asian foodie crowd element on my second visit, I was the only one in Malaspina taking photos of the food, and there wasn't a selfie stick in sight. It really feels like a Spanish hangout (not in a trendy Spanish kids way, but in a traditional way), and the food and drinks don't disappoint. Play your cards right and you may even be offered a free shot with your check. It's only polite to accept.


Taberna Malaspina: Calle de Cádiz, 9, 28012 Madrid, Spain

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