Pork Belly and Chocolate-Dipped Churros: Steve McHugh’s Guide to Barcelona, Granada and Madrid
10 days eating and drinking around the Iberian Peninsula.
“I’ve always been intrigued by the notion of Spain, that distant and romantic land where so much of our adopted home of San Antonio has its roots,” says Steve McHugh, the chef and co-owner of the charcuterie-centered restaurant Cured. “And of course, they’ve been curing ham there since time began, and I wanted to see and taste that at the source.”
So this past spring, McHugh and Sylvia, his wife and restaurant co-owner, skipped over to Spain for a ten-day R&D trip filled with lots of gin & tonics, tapas made of pristine canned fish and more. Here’s where went:
Chocolatería San Ginés
“This Centro neighborhood spot has been serving churros and cups of thick, rich chocolate since the late 19th century. We followed that house specialty with Viennese coffee topped with dollops of whipped cream. Seated outside at the marble café and attended by friendly, white-coated waiters, it was a decadent introduction to the capital city.”
Botillería Y Fogón Sacha
“Chef José Andrés and writer John T. Edge told us not to miss this restaurant in Chamartín, and it was amazing. Rustic, simple and intimate, the blue and white dining room is packed with porcelains, paintings and mostly locals. Chef Sasha Hormaechea presented us with eleven perfect courses, but the standout ws a simple asparagus with peppery olive oil.”
The Jungle Jazz Club
“Madrid is a late-night town, and the locals are gracious and hospitable. After service, chef Sacha invited us to this elegant basement lounge in Barrio de Salamanca. It’s inspired by Duke Ellington’s ‘Jungle Style,’ and the night we were there, a local band was giving the Duke a run for his money. Our favorite cocktail was The Cloud, a gin-powered, off-the-menu drink.”
“In the wee hours, we found ourselves at this lounge that’s been around forever in Chueca. It used to be the haunt of Elizabeth Taylor, and we don’t know if she was a serious cocktail aficionada, but the team there now has a great undersanding of mixology.”
“This restaurant in La Latina is a second-generation institution, frequented by celebrities, politicians and royalty and now run by the children of Lucio Blaquez. The old-world tavern setting with exposed brick walls and lots of dark wood is the perfect backdrop for traditional Madrileno dishes. In between the great Spanish delicacy jamón ibérico and the sublime grilled langostinos, we were in heaven.”
“A southbound train took us as far as Malaga, then we drove two hours to the ancient capital of Andalusia in the foothills of the snow-capped Sierra Nevadas. We wish we had more time to develop a ritual of going to this restaurant. With every cocktail or glass of wine, they give you a plate of tapas, which is a fairly standard practice, but here they get progressively better with each drink. First, it was a piece of toasted bread with tomato, next was pork belly.”
Carmen Los Tomasas
"After traveling up the mountain to Zambra La Canastera to see flamenco performances, we discovered another spot on the way down. Here, we enjoyed—you guessed it: more cocktails!—as well as a breathtaking view of the Alhambra illuminated."
“Flying back for the final leg of our adventure, we hit up the Michelin-starred restaurant in Eixample from the chefs formerly of El Bulli. It was very modern, molecular and impressive: We got 26 courses paired with drinks and along, this unbelievable parade, our eyes were tricked by what looked like an olive but melted in our mouths, a raspberry that was actually lychee and fresh fig roll filled with caviar and crème fraîche.”
"On Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s grand tourist boulevard, we had a great lunch at this Michelin-starred restaurant from chef Carles Abellan. We loved the tiny bikini sandwiches with ham, cheese and truffle, but the true standout was dessert: a chocolate mousse sprinkled with good olive oil and sea salt."
Quimet y Quimet
"On the recommendation of José Andrés and chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois of Blue Smoke in New York City, we headed to this Poblesec bar that is maybe 300 square feet and packed. Behind the bar, the owner, his daughter and a woman who’s clearly been at it for decades server guests drinks and tapas made from nothing but canned products! Because of all the preserving and canning we do at Cured, I’m probably their ideal audience, but these are really good. We went back a second night because I couldn’t live with the thought that I might never taste these again.”