When I first moved to England I was surprised by the enthusiasm evoked by the English folk when they spoke about Spain. I quickly learned that Spain to Britons is like Florida to Americans. We use Florida as a dumping ground. We fly down from the North East, or wherever, and bake in the sun all day long, at night we go out and do things we wouldn't dream of doing in our home towns. Getting wildly drunk in the streets of Miami and hurling vulgar language on the natives. But, the English are so polite and reserved, you say. Not in Spain, they're not.
When I visited Madrid in April I regretted not checking the football schedule. I happened to arrive on the same day that Real Madrid was playing Tottenham. And what I witnessed will be seared into my memory forever. Beer soaked, drunken, pasty, Englishmen yelling at their mates from across the Plaza Mayor, singing "England... England..." at the top of their lungs on the Calle Mayor, outside the bars. The Spanish on the other hand, were drinking wine and chain smoking, seemingly unaffected. They were so amused actually, that they were taking photos and videos of the slovenly Englishmen on their phones.
But this is a food and restaurant review, so my commentary on English behavior in Spain shall now come to a close. Now onto the food.
I do now understand why the English speak so highly of Spain. The weather is, when I went in April anyway, perfect. It reminds me of San Diego, California, where I was born. The food is simple, but prepared in a way defies all logic. I found myself stopping mid-bite and saying aloud, "But I don't understand, this is just a piece of meat on a plate. How can it taste so good?" and "Wait, this is nothing more than shrimp in an orange bowl. It looks like piss and throw up, but tastes like little fairies dropped it from heaven." Yes, my best meal in Spain was Gambas Pil Pil, in a little hole in the wall joint that we called, Cardigan's, because the owner wore the same grey cardigan every day we were there and we couldn't remember the restaurant's actual name.
Casa Alberto was no different than anywhere else we ate in Spain. And that is what makes it so brilliant. It is the oldest taberna in Madrid, but isn't any better than Mr. Cardigan's. When we entered Casa Alberto, we were immediately attacked by a fiery Spanish waiter. He clearly recognized us as American and spoke to us in broken English, telling us what we'd like as we clearly had no palate for proper Spanish food. And I'm eternally grateful that he did. He brought us out a selection of tapas that makes my mouth water and my stomach gurgle every time I look at the images from that meal.
Calamares Plancha con Cebolla Confitada (Grilled Squid with Candied Onions), Cod with a gorgeous Red Pepper sauce, Albondigas (Beef Meatballs), yum, yum, drool, drool, Pork Scratchings, a Mixed Salad and swarthy, mysteriously dark Olives. A perfect end to our over 1,000 mile road trip across the South of Spain. The food at Casa Alberto cannot fully be appreciated unless you eat there. The flavors are so simple, yet so fresh. They are so perfect in fact, it feels like a higher power ordained them to be married in that particular dish. There is no other explanation.
Is Spanish food my favorite? No. I still prefer the complex dishes that the French are so good at. But, I have to admit, Spain is a close second. And Casa Alberto is a wonderful introduction to tapas and life in Spain.