Thursday, March 28, 2013

A l'Asturiana

Hotel Zurbano, Madrid, March 28, 2013—

IN YEARS PAST, here in Madrid, we've liked La Fuencisla, on the Calle San Mateo, no. 4. Naturally I looked it up yesterday, our first day here, only to find it was in some question, with only a one reference on the Internet — dated July 4, 2007. The glowing description corresponded with what I remembered of the place, but was followed by three troubling and enigmatic comments:
Gerardo, 12:34 pm: There was a time I wanted to reserve, but no one answered the telephone. Is it still open?
Anonymous, 1:21 am: It's closed Señora Teresa died and it closes
Anonymous, 12:53 pm: She isn't dead and functions perfectly
Now that last entry is ambiguous, No esta muerta could conceivably refer to either Señora Teresa or the establishment itself, if you stretch a grammatical point. So today we simply stopped by to see for ourselves.

Well, not so simply; I had described the location imperfectly in my book Mostly Spain, which I was ill-advisedly using as a source. Down one street and across to another we went, asking in at shops and apartment-house doorways, finally closing in on the location, where we found a hot-dog-and-hamburger joint-cum-cocktail-lounge, where a young man was perched on a ladder at the front door, washing the transom.

Is this La Fuencisla, I asked, doubtfully. Yes and no, he answered, La Fuencisla was here, but it changed four years ago. It changed, I said, did it change a lot?

Go in and have a look, he said, it's not the same. I peered inside. No, it was not the same at all. No old men playing cards at dusty tables, a bottle of wine at the elbow; no promising dining room beyond. No Señora Teresa of the delicious eponymous soup. Oh well: there was a perfectly acceptable place not far away, at the Center for Asturian Culture…

There we found the capacious and rather sleek dining rooms completely booked — no surprise; this is a holiday, Holy Thursday. We were given a nice table in the bar, though, with a plate of soft blue sheep's-milk Cabrale already at the center for us to dip hunks from a nicely-textured couronne of bread into.

We consulted the quirky English-language menu, featuring such things as mixted salad and seaworthy clams, and then compared it with the Spanish original, and ordered: a mixted salad, the house tortilla; a couple of ham tortillas, a bowl of soup for Mel, and — since I was hungry — ventresca, tuna belly. And expeditiously everything was brought at once, family-style, the tuna last, after we'd had a chance to do justice to the rest.

The Spanish tortilla is nothing like the Mexican one: it is an omelet. The house tortilla, though, was something else again: a huge wedge of what looked rather like a pink somewhat grainy angel cake: raw tomato purée folded into the beaten eggs, which are then cooked slowly, I'd guess, covered, in a casserole. The result is surprisingly delicate.

Mel's soup arrived in a big tureen, and the mixted salad was easily enough for the four of us, some of us twice. The ham tortillas were apparently quite good; I didn't get a taste. And my tuna was delicious: poached, perhaps, in olive oil; innocent of lemon or parsley or any such distraction; moist and succulent, and accompanied only by a few pleasant French fries.

We skipped dessert, but I had a very good espresso with my limoncello-like licor. Not quite up to La Fuencisla, but we live in the present…

Albariño, Mar de Frades, 2011: soft, present, nice finish—
• Casa Hortensia, C/Farmacia 2, 2a Planta, Madrid; 915 390 000

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