Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Madrid Eats: Estado Puro

I'll admit it: I'm a sucker for style over substance. I'll be much more forgiving of a mediocre meal if I'm eating it in an impeccable environment, 'cause let's face it: a great dining experience ain't just about the food.

For example, when we sat down for a quick snack at the Rene Sofia addition, it really wasn't about the food, but about the incredible Jean Nouvel-designed room that we sat in.

Of course, it helps when you order something as brilliant as a lomo sandwich. It's pretty hard to fuck up a grilled pork chop sandwich, and I really haven't had a bad one yet. Eating it in that room just elevated it to a higher level than it probably otherwise would've been at.

When it came to Estado Puro, however, style wasn't all that there ever was. The restaurant is one gorgeous place, tucked in one of the NH Hotels a block away from the Rene Sofia, and designed by local architects James and Mau - it's a pretty fun and stunning room. But more importantly, Estado Puro is the brainchild of Paco Roncero, one of the upper echalon of Spanish chefs.

Roncero was one of Ferran Adria's El Bulli proteges from the late 90s, and probably one of the more famed non-Adria chef to come out of the renowned restaurant. Since then, Roncero has made a name for himself in Madrid, chiefly with the Casino de Madrid and NH Hotels. Estado Puro is Roncero's stab at re-thinking traditional tapas.

We sat down outside in the sidewalk patio during an intense summer afternoon, watched British tourists cut the line and steal our table and one of our adjacent tables lose a purse to a petty thief. After the drama settled, we went with the "Meat Bombs": a take on the traditional meat and potato croquettes. These weren't so brilliantly conceptualized so much as they were brilliantly executed (and plated), with there being a great balance of meat and a delicate, crispy potato exterior, miles away from mere average croquettes that end up being a mash potato nightmare.

Throughout our visit, we noticed that Russian salads were a ubiquitous option on every menu, which didn't seem overly obvious to us. As far as I can gather, the Russian salad is really all about the mayonnaise, with the rest of the contents being a toss up of egg, meats/seafood and the quality dependent on freshness and balance. I can't remember much about this version, but probably mostly because I'm not sure what the attraction of the Russian salad is to begin with.

We also got the Cantabrian anchovies with tomato and basil. Cantabrian anchovies are highly sought-after, and probably a bit politically incorrect to order as their numbers are now quite low (we didn't know until, um, today), and are cured longer, giving them a bit of a firmer, drier taste than the typical oil soaked fillet one sees in grocery store tins this side of the Atlantic. Roncero is apparently also known for his mastery of olive oil, and these simple two/three bite anchovies saw amazing compliment in the olive oil, basil and tomato that they sat on. Probably the best anchovies I've ever had.

The true star, though, was this dish: pig trotters with cuttlefish "noodles." The pig trotters were, quite simply, one of the most memorable items I have ever eaten. The meat, fat and skin of the trotters simply melted in the mouth, into an incredible mix of all-things-pork that dwelled in the outermost points of extravagance. The cuttlefish 'noodles' might seem unnecessary, but they gave a good contrasting balance to the richness of the trotters, despite being resolutely rich in themselves. This was a dish that exuded pure substance, and rendered the surrounding stylishness a non-thought.

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