Pan con Tomate con Queso Manchego, Papas Arrugadas, Pimientos de Padrón

I’ve been down for the count with a killer cough ever since the planes stopped flying over a week ago.  So, when Mrs. NH threw out a menu idea for the tapas meal listed above, I was only halfway enthusiastic.  However, a couple days passed since she floated the idea and my appetite has returned (though the annoying cough lingers).  Good thing, too because the meal we made last night could stand side-by-side with the same dishes presented at any tapas joint in the world.  All except for the pimientos, that is.

We did an experiment the last time we had pimientos.  We had brought a couple baskets home fresh from the Boqueria in Barcelona and I had to head to Washington just a couple days after we returned home to Prague.  So, we ate 1/2 of them and froze the other 1/2.  In all honesty, they weren’t terrible after they were frozen – they were certainly edible.  But the signature melt-in-mouth goodness of fresh pimientos was replaced by a tougher, slightly bitter frozen cousin.  To the uninitiated, they probably would have been fine.  But when you’ve tasted them in their prime, the frozen version are a poor substitute.

Now, the papas arrugadas were a whole other matter.  They were perfect.  Mrs. NH actually managed to find some potatoes just the right size.  She made the green mojo and a red pepper mojo a few days ago and let them really develop their flavors in the fridge for a couple days.  They were amazing.  Yes, they were better than I have had in any restaurant in “La Latina.”  (Admittedly, I’ve never been to Gran Canaria.)   She used an ancho pepper for the red pepper sauce and the couple days of mellowing brought the flavor from spicy-oily to creamy-peppery.  It was perfect.  The green mojo was just as refreshing as any I have ever tasted with the garlic and cilantro moving in a culinary tango over the tongue.  Yum.

Finally, the pan con tomate was lovingly crafted by Mrs. NH as well.  The cool, slightly acidic flavor of the tomato puree worked as the perfect foil to the manchego that was drizzled with just a few drops of grassy Spanish olive oil.  Pan con tomate is one of the simplest dishes in the world but is also one of the most brilliant.  Every time I have it, I can’t help but exclaim something profound like, “Man!”

So yeah, it was a tasty Thursday night.  It was made all the better by the fact that I was not in a hotel, or on a train, or in a line for train tickets, or watching CNN International squawk on about ash clouds or airport closings.  Yep, on Thursday night in Casa NotHemingway, the peppers were as tough as it got.

Corazón Loco – Madrid, Spain

Corazon Loco 4Perched on a corner just around the bend from Cava Baja and just up the street from Almendro 13 sits one of the most quintessential Spanish hipster wine bars that I’ve ever seen.  When I say hipster, I must make it clear that I’m not talking about Euro-hipsters – the vapid, label-wearing big sunglass bunch.  By hipster, I mean that its home to young, hip, Madrileños.  The group that congregates at Corazón Loco is a likable crowd. There’s your fair share of piercings and tattoos in the bunch but they’re a congenial lot overall and they won’t stare too hard at a couple gringos and their curly blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter on a Sunday afternoon after El Rastro.

The requisite chalkboards behind the bar advertise the wines that they have on hand and, as with Corazon Loco 6El Tempranillo, it’s best to go to the bar with a good idea of what you want to order and a good accent.  You can’t go wrong with what they’re pouring so there’s not much to fear.  But man cannot live by wine alone so Corazón Loco also has a good menu of eats on the chalkboard to the left of the bar.  The “Papas Arrugadas” are one of my favorites and are perfect for splitting with some friends while relaxing on the beer keg barstools.  The potatoes themselves are a Canary Islands specialty that come with a green and red sauce that has to be tried to be believed.  Never has a boiled, salted little potato tasted so good.  They’re served with a red “mojo” pepper sauce and a green one that, I believe, is a garlic and cilantro mix.  Everyone ends up liking one over the other but both sauces are super tasty.

Corazon Loco 1In the back of the establishment, there is more of a sit-down restaurant.  It looks cool but I’ll admit, I’ve never been back there.  The front wine bar area is where the action is and the corner location gives one a strategic view of La Latina and all of the goings on in the Costanilla San Andrés.  It’s an inviting atmosphere and one that I return to every time I’m in Madrid.

This place is the real Spain as I remember it.  The Spain before the EU, mass immigration and the Euro.  It’s the Spain that I hope never goes away.