El Cisne Azul : Mushroom lover’s heaven in Madrid’s Chueca neighborhood

cisne azul

Once in a blue moon, you come along a little slice of heaven.  This is just what happened to me and two good friends yesterday.  After a weekend full of food debauchery, sampling some of Madrid’s best tapas bars, we never thought it could end on a better note than it did.  That is El Cisne Azul, easily discarded as a shabby bar in this vibrant neighborhood full of modern and beautiful bistros.  You will be very sorry if you do, though.  A true diamond in the rough, this little bar probably hasn’t changed its appearance in many, many years.  You know what though, I am kind of glad.  I much rather they keep spending their hard-earned money on quality ingredients rather than jazzing up the place.  And this shows.  Their specialty is wild mushrooms, proudly written on the front door, “Fresh Wild Mushrooms all year round”.  You walk in, and it’s a small place, with only about 4 tables and 2 high tops, with a very large bar for standing room only.  On one end of the room is a large refrigerator/display cabinet that holds the prized bounty, only the freshest wild mushrooms and vegetables.

We were lucky to grab a table, as 10 minutes passed the place was jam-packed with people waiting to eat their delicacies.  One man was at the grill, proudly and rapidly serving up all the goodies.

The menu is quite extensive, you have your house specialties, sautéed mushrooms, Revueltos (scrambled or fried eggs) with mushrooms, Foie gras with mushrooms, and then some Chuleton.  But we came for, yup, the mushrooms.

We started our bacchanal with some beautiful house wine and a plate of sautéed Amanita Caesarea, which is known as Caesar’s Mushrooms, because it apparently was a favorite of the Roman Emperor Claudius.

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This mushroom has an orange cap and a white stem, with a slight nutty flavor.  It can be eaten raw, like a carpaccio with some oil and parmesan shavings, but we decided on the sautéed version.  Lightly salted, it was a fantastic started, since it really has a very delicate taste.  Mind you, the servers know what they are doing, because they chose the order!

Next up was Zucchini Flowers sautéed with Truffle Oil.

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This was very nice, but call me crazy.  I prefer the Italian version, where they are stuffed with cheese and fried.  Nonetheless, they were very, very good.

Our next dish was a Fried egg with Black Trumpet or Black Chanterelle mushroom.

 

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I am sure you know my love for eggs, so there is nothing more delicious than a plate of eggs with wild mushrooms.  Black Trumpets have a deeper, earthier taste.  They can also be made in stews with beef or venison, since it really handles red meats very well.  But, a risotto or pasta with them is equally delicious.

The star of the day, was the Porcini mushrooms with Torta del Casar Cheese.

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Torta del Casar is a sheep’s milk cheese from Extremadura region in Spain.  It is a nutty, slightly strong cheese, which is traditionally eaten from its rind, since it is quite creamy.  We knew this had to be good, but it was a religious experience, really.  The two combine so perfectly, and quite frankly, really balance each other out.  I could eat this every day, but then I would also have to run a half marathon every day to compensate.  I really don’t have words to describe how good this is, so I will just leave you to look at the picture and imagine it.

So, after this the server asked us if we wanted anything else, and we thought that we should leave a good thing be.  But, he told us that to finish off our meal, we should try the “Majorero” cheese from the Canary Islands, that is grilled and served with onion marmalade.  YES PLEASE!

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This cheese is similar to Manchego, sheep’s milk, and can be cured, semi-cured and soft.  I imagine this was the last variety, because of it’s ability to melt.  This reminded me so much of our queso tierno in Colombia, which we also grill to get that beautiful crispy crust and gooey center.  But props go to the boys at Cisne Azul, who paired it beautifully with the onion marmalade.  We were crazy about this.

So, then the server asks us if we wanted dessert.  We thought we had already had dessert, thinking the grilled cheese with jam was our last plate.  So, we said no, we were fine.  Then he told us that they had some house made Macarons, with Porcini cream custard filling.  What the what?  It was so odd sounding, we just had to try it.

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Upon taking the first bite, we all looked at each other with this perplexed look on our faces.  Our mind couldnt’ really process the incredibly weird combination of sweet porcini’s.  But as we kept chewing, our faces started contorting in these orgasmic expressions.  Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?  It is a spectacular flavor combination!  I can’t get enough of these, and I will order them every time I go!

So folks, if you are in Madrid, you cannot afford to miss this place.  Good service, authentically kitsch decor, exceptional quality food.  Who could ask for anything more?

El Cisne Azul

Calle de Gravina 19,

28004, Madrid

Metro:  Chueca Line

+34 915 21 37 99

A week in Miami

Makoto Restaurant Bal Harbour

Hello my lovely blogger friends, I have been away for a long long time!  I am so sorry, it has been crazy since I returned from South Africa, navigating a new city, getting engaged, planning an upcoming wedding and then visiting my mother for a week in Miami………it has been nuts!

But, I’m back at home and finally have some time to write and post!  I wanted to write about some new and notable places I went to in Miami.  It was such a whirlwind trip, that I never really ate at home.  Catching up with family and friends in little snippets of time, it’s always bitter sweet, loving my time with them but knowing it is only a few hours or so.

Anyhow, as I mentioned, I did do a lot of eating out.  And there are three places that I thought were worth mentioning if you are ever in Miami and want to try something off the beaten track.

One of the first ones was Makoto Restaurant in Bal Harbour Shops.  Makoto is the brainchild of Makoto Okuwa, who trained from the young age of 15 in Japan, and then set his sights westward.  In Washington D.C. he trained with Chef Morimoto of Iron Chef fame, and then later became the head chef of Morimoto New York. I had never heard of it, but joined my friend Michelle Bernstein, Miami Chef Extraordinaire of Michy’s , Crumb on Parchment; host of PBS’ Check Please! and of Top Chef fame (as a judge).  Located in Miami’s ritziest shopping center, Bal Harbour Shops, it is a small but beautifully appointed space.  Since it was my first time and she knows I love my food, she let me choose.  On first inspection the menu really surprised me, it was really long!  It was divided in super simple sections such as Cold, Hot, Salads, Rice + noodles, Robata, Fish + Meat, and obviously sushi.    I was super tempted by almost the whole thing, ranging from traditional sashimi to such unique dishes, it almost felt to me that it would be things that a love child between Nobu and Ferran Adria would come up with.

I ordered a few things, and there were some dishes that were brought  out from the kitchen courtesy of the chef, since of course I was eating with another acclaimed chef.  And to tell you the truth, those were my favorites.  The Watermelon Ceviche, with Tuna, Whitefish, octopus, Squid, Serrano and Lime Ice was genius!  It was so fresh, with a little bit of dried ice to creat this mad scientist/volcano feel.  The heat from the Serrano combined with the lemon ice was ingenious.  Everything on the plate was fantastic, and the quality of the seafood was superb.  I also enjoyed the Tuna Air Bread with Caesar Foam, Red Onion and Tomato.  This was a spin on one of Ferran Adria’s dishes called Air-Bag, which is a small baguette, that is hollow on the inside.  The tuna swapped well from the original dish’s jabugo ham, and the caesar foam in this one was delicious, giving it an almost tuna fish sandwich taste.

Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures, because we were gabbing like crazy the whole night!

Another place that is worth a mention is Oak Tavern,  which just recently opened up its doors in Miami’s über trendy Design District.  The decor is simple, rustic yet elegant.  It has a beautiful courtyard that you cross to get to the main restaurant.  The menu is very similar to Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink, which is a couple of streets away from Oak Tavern.  It is composed of odd pairings of what I like to call “new american omnivore”.  Chock full of your trendy veggie staples such as beets and kale, some ’50’s throwbacks such as Deviled eggs, and foodie staples of pig galore (Bacon, Belly and Ears) this menu is the type of food I enjoy eating.  We ordered quite a few, since it seems like Spain’s tapas has reached western shores and conquered it.  There were some stellar options, and some not-so-stellar bombs.

My favorite had to be the Roast Bone Marrow with Oxtail Marmalade;

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I absolutely adore bone marrow, funny thing is the first time I tried it was at Michelle Bernstein’s Sra. Martinez restaurant, which unfortunately no longer exists.  I was totally taken aback at how amazing this oxtail marmalade was, succulent and sweet, yet savoury all at once.  The celery leaf, fennel and parsley side salad paired nicely with the richness of the dish, giving it a nice burst of acidity and crispness.

Another big surprise for me was Neiman Marcus’s Mariposa restaurant in The Village of Merrick Park.  My mother and I decided to eat there only because she was shopping around for a dress for my wedding.  I had never been there, and frankly, was not expecting much.  The first thing that really pleased me was their menu; clear, concise calorie counts on every dish, and lots of vegetarian, low calorie and organic options.  The feel of the place was obviously laid back elegance, with neutral tones throughout the dining room.  I decided on one of the low cal options, which was quickly made null and void by the giant popover that was placed in front of me!

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Placed beside it was a teeny little plate of strawberry compound butter and an espresso cup of consome,

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It was absolutely divine.  The consome was perfect, since it was quite chilly that day, (for Miami that is) and the strawberry butter and the popover….melt in your mouth goodness.

My main dish was the mahi mahi tacos with avocados and ancho chile dressing, loaded with a cabbage slaw and fresh cilantro.

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At 405 calories, this was pure ecstasy!  The fish was perfectly cooked, super flavorful.  The contrast of the creamy avocado and the crisp salad made this dish a perfectly satisfying lunch.  And, I skipped dinner that night too, it was really filling!

So, all in all, my trip to Miami was wonderful, spending time with the family and friends, discovering new and old places I had never been too.  Who says American’s don’t know how to eat well?

Not little old me, of course!

Kiosko Universal: Fresh fish in Barcelona’s Boqueria Market

For about seven years now, I have treated myself to a few lunches at Kiosko Universal.  Back then, it was full of people who worked at the market who knew that the time that you spent waiting was well worth it.  But, as Barcelona’s tourist boom hasn’t stopped, it is now filled with hungry tourists who visit the market and have been tipped off by someone that knows this is THE place to get a quick bite of some extra fresh grilled fish.

There’s nothing fancy, no molecular cuisine, no Michelin stars, just plain old great grilled seafood.  The restaurant is on the left side of the market, at the entrance.  A very large bar and some 7 tall tables make up the seating area.  You have to give your name at the bar, and the number in your party.  Then some 15 minutes later, your name will be called and you will be seated.

Around the bar is the best place to sit, because you can see all the fresh fish that you can just point to and they will grill it for you, with just a touch of parsley and garlic oil.  Always cooked to perfection, it comes with some very homey french fries, like the ones your mother used to make, kind of soggy, but always good.  The menu is large, but simple.  Starters are mainly mixed grilled veggies, mixed grilled wild mushrooms, some Pimientos del Padron, or a salad.  Then you have your 10 different types of fish, from Swordfish, Yellowfin Tuna, Sole, Sea Bream, Hake…..the list goes on.  There is beef also for those of you who don’t like fish.  Then, there’s also the selection of grilled squid, razor clams, mussels, clams, cockles, shrimp, scampi…..it doesn’t get better than this!

Yesterday I met up with a couple of my girlfriends, and we ordered our mixed wild mushrooms, since they are in season now.

With the parsley garlic oil and a touch of Maldon Sea Salt…..they were absolutely delicious!

Then, I decided to try something different from my usual, yesterday they had a special, it was a Cuttlefish and Pea stew, in a gorgeous tomato sauce.

I loved it.  You definitely tasted the mild brininess of the cuttlefish, but the sauce was meant for sopping up with some fresh, crusty bread.  I would never have thought to make a dish like this, so it was a real treat for me.  And since the weather is cooling down a bit, every bite kept me nice and warm.

The girls shared a mixed seafood platter.  This is the house specialty.

Beautiful Scampi, with some hefty shrimp, over a couple of razor clams, and mussels, clams and cockles.  This is practically on everyone’s placemat when you go there.

The great part is that you don’t pay a hefty price either.  You can eat there for 25 euros, including wine, and your tummy will thank you profusely.  I always recommend it to out-of-town guests, because it’s great to eat in the hustle and bustle of the market, and you know the fish is fresh…..brought to you from only a couple of stalls away!

So, next time you’re in Barcelona, and you make the pilgrimage to Boqueria, you must have a bite to eat at Kiosko Universal.  You won’t regret it!

Carla

Kiosko Universal

Boqueria Market

93 317 82 86