26 November 2010
It's hard being a walk-in party of ten on a Friday night. You might as well all wear matching signs that say "Sucker." The fact is, any restaurant worth sitting down at will be booked solid on a Saturday night; the ones that are not are the strugglers and failers, whose general sad desperation is reliably reflected in that of the waitstaff, who will rob you blind without blinking.
But in Madrid that is the situation we found ourselves in. My friend D and I had a few tip-offs for chaotic tapas bars, but everyone (notably his wife / my friend E, the reason we were all in Madrid in the first place) preferred to sit down after a hard days' museum viewing. For twenty minutes all ten of us ricocheted around Calle Cava Baja, rejecting restaurant after restaurant for being either too slammed or too disturbingly calm. Finally D made an admirable well-intentioned capital-dee Decision and convinced everyone to wait still longer for a half-promised table at a what was quite plainly a sinister rip-off joint for old-school geezers.*
Everyone but me. Immune to shame, I told everyone I'd return when the table was ready and I popped off solo to revisit one of the recommended manic tapas bars we'd passed earlier, Taberna Tempranillo.
I was tired too, but bad restaurants, even when calm and empty, dice my nerves into bacon bits. Conversely, when I enter a place like Taberna Tempranillo - which on a Friday night at 10:30pm was fire-hazardously packed, a melée of shoulders and elbows - I nod approvingly at the all-Spanish wine list and the whole room becomes a cushion (- for this idea I support, that wine and cuisine and dining are cultural expressions, not just fuel and depressants and social transactions you pay for). So the two glasses of wine I splashed down there among crowing strangers were extremely restorative, for me.
Only one was any good, admittedly. My Spanish is nil, so I was unable to ascertain before ordering whether a 2009 Enrique Mendoza Moscatel listed along with the dry whites glasses was off-dry, as I'd hoped, or flabby and cloying, as was the reality. I had better luck with the first glass, a 2009 Rafael Palacios Valdeorras "Louro do Bolo," steel-fermented old-vine Godello.
Despite some overchilling on the Taberna's part, the wine struck a very nice cucumber / mineral / white pepper accord. While I was drinking it, three ladies beside me attempted to communicate something to me; they kept saying "La Mancha" - from which I presumed they wanted me to drink wines from La Mancha, Spain. Either that, or it was some kind of slang that I do not know. (La Mancha? La Mancha. Poison? La Mancha.) The "Louro do Bolo" was from Galicia, northern Spain, not La Mancha. I was happy when the three ladies left; they were weirding me out.
I chewed on some of the very nice evenly-fatted cured meats Taberna Tempranillo gives you with each wine glass, I crunched down some of those little oyster-crackery picos, and after a few sips of the aforementioned disappointing Moscatel, I left to rejoin my friends, who in their general excellence were not, you know, really annoyed with me for wandering off.
*I spent a year living in Boston's North End and can spot these places a mile-off. Thick wood siding, waiters in frayed ties, the red eyes of the manager in the white blazer who brings you the oversized wine list... These places are someone's uncle's favorite hangout; they have a picture of the former mayor on the wall; they attract minor sports stars for some reason.
38 Calle Cava Baja
Metro: La Latina
Tel: +34 913 64 15 32
N.D.P. in Madrid: Txakolina in La Latina
N.D.P. in Madrid: Hangover cuisine at Almendro 13
N.D.P. in Madrid: La Venencia, a masterpiece of a sherry bar
A blurb on Taberna Tempranillo @ Catavino
A suspiciously adulatory profile of Rafael Palacios @ WinesFromSpain