Guess who’s back, back again … (I’ve started my tournament in Navalmoral, but I probably won’t post on how that’s going (or rather, gone) until after the event is over)
El Estragón Vegetariano – This restaurant was about a 15-minute walk away from where I was staying near the Puerta del Sol square in the center of Madrid, but it was well worth it. They have a set menu for lunch and dinner, along with an a la carte menu. The set menu from lunch to dinner changes from 10 to 25 Euros.
Every course here was well done. The potato and leek soup with garlic was served hot and definitely hit the spot on a freezing cold day. For the main course, I went with “Arroz Integral a la Cubana,” (Cuban-style brown rice) which had brown rice and tomato sauce along with a fried banana and two fried eggs. I think the first time I had this dish was in Andorra in 2001 when it was a staple for my brother and me at the hotel restaurant, but I hadn’t had it since then. It’s a pretty simple dish, but that’s not a bad thing in itself and I had no complaints. For dessert, I went with the fried pineapple in molasses.
I’m pretty sure I ate here in 2006, but I don’t remember what I had. It only dawned on me that I had been there before when I was walking around the area and recognized a couple buildings. I’m not sure if that means it wasn’t very memorable then, but it was pretty good this time around.
Artemisa Integral – This was my third time at Artemisa, as after first finding it in 2006, I’ve made it a point to eat there once on every trip to Madrid. It’s a mostly vegetarian restaurant and they have some vegan items on the menu.
Unlike the other two other restaurants mentioned in this post, they don’t have a set menu for lunch or dinner – everything is a la carte. Compared to the other two restaurants, it’s also the only one with a couple non-vegetarian items on the menu. It’s tucked away at the bottom of the last page, but they have made an effort to make sure to satisfy those meat-eaters who might have a vegetarian friend or two.
I’ve been happy with everything I’ve ordered here. This time, I went with “Espinacas a la Catalana” (Catalan-style Spinach) and then a Vegetable Paella. The spinach dish was really good – it’s lightly creamed spinach with apple slices, pine nuts, and raisins. It’s a starter dish, but it’s really quite big, which is standard for this restaurant. The salads are all pretty hefty, as are most of the “primeros” on the menu. The paella was pretty good, and that’s despite the fact that I’m not a huge fan of the brown rice they used in this dish.
The meals here are a little more expensive than the other two if you put together a full 3 course meal with a drink, but it’s not a rip off. I’m not a fan of them putting bread on the table and then charging you a Euro if you take a piece (without specifically telling you beforehand), but there are a number of restaurants across Europe that do that, so I guess it’s more acceptable here. The consistent and high quality portions are also pretty big, so chances are that you’ll be stuffed with a couple courses.
La Biotika – This can be a one-stop shop for the macrobiotic nut – in addition to a small restaurant, they have a small shop in the front selling all sorts of health-food items. This was my first time there, and they have a set menu for both lunch and dinner (the price goes up a couple Euros to about 12 Euros for dinner). The set menu has 5 courses: soup (choice of 2), salad, main dish (choice of 3 possible combinations), dessert, and tea.
On paper, this was an excellent deal, but I was pretty underwhelmed by the food. The starter soup was decent, but it wasn’t as piping hot as I would have liked. It was also a little small. After a few spoonfuls, I realized I was almost finished.
The salad was quite forgettable. It was a few greens, along with some shredded carrots and a tomato. Unfortunately, it was the size and quality of an airline salad. And not first class – this was definitely coach. There was one guy in there who clearly was a regular and I noticed that when he ordered, he specifically asked for a double portion of soup rather than the soup and salad. Sadly, this was already after I was more than halfway into my meal.
The main dish was definitely the best part. They have a macrobiotic option (3 items), a vegetarian option (3 times), and then a sampler of all 6 items. I went with the vegetarian option, which included a small veggie pizza, a polenta dish, and then some steamed vegetables (mostly succotash beans and carrots). The vegetarian pizza was reasonable, but the polenta was the star of the plate. With some raisins and a light tomato-based sauce, it tasted quite good.
After this high point, the meal went back downhill. The fruit tart that I went with made no sense to me whatsoever. I ended up picking up all the fruit pieces and leaving the rest of it behind. Maybe it would have been better if it hadn’t just been taken out of the fridge? The tea was also a bit disappointing – rather than serve the tea in a little pot with boiling water, it had clearly been sitting around and wasn’t anything close to hot.
Eating here was also interesting because it’s the only place with more than a couple patrons that I’ve been to where everybody was a single diner! El Estragón had two couples and a group of nine when I was there, while Artemisa had one other single diner, five couples, and a group of four. I’m not sure if that means that Madrileños aren’t really a big fan of La Biotika, but I strongly doubt I’ll be going back there. There are simply too many better restaurants in Madrid in my experience.