Back in Madrid after a full day touring to El Escurial and Segovia and a large lunch again, we decided to try a very well known Catalan tapa bar not too far from our hotel in downtown Madrid facing the Retiro Park.
Arzabal was just what we wanted so Samuel could have his Steak Tartare and Albondigas de Solomillo de vaca or tenderloin meat balls.
There was a big metal tin on the table with breadsticks and delicious French bread as well as some olives and we had to laugh hysterically when the server brought over a 5 kilo vat of French butter and plopped down on the table as we dug in.
We started with a plate of Jamon Iberico de Bellota split between the two types they offered: D.O. Salamanca (Arturo Sanchez) and D.O. Extremadura (Esencia Pura). This was the beginning of education of this amazing Spanish ham where the pigs are fed by specific acorns and the production is monitored and starred somewhat akin to wines by region. Actually it's most interesting to note that only the hind legs of the animal are allowed for this, then of course while there a many different varieties each person that cuts the jamon can vary the slicing techniques which makes monstrous differences in how it tastes and chews.
At first we felt that the Salamanca version with softer get to your any Extremadura version was crisper and more flavorful with seasoning. As we progressed through the plate however some of it got chewier and some softer and more delicate. This is truly an educational experience.
Will and I also split a steak tartar which I can't say was very good or flavorful.
The Boquerones or white anchovies from the north coast were like butter and perhaps the best we have ever had.
While we weren't that hungry Will and I thought 2 or 3 tapas besides the ham and anchovies would be just right, but here a tapa plate is a huge portion, which we discovered when the Laminado de Tomate con Ventresca de Bonito Ortiz arrived, which was a monstrous plate of at least three huge tomatoes sliced super thinly and laid over with some of the most wonderful tuna belly from Ortiz. Fried artichokes were absolute heaven as we have discovered at virtually every restaurant in Spain.
We were all stuffed and headed home and rolled into bed in our suite at the Ritz Mandarin Oriental after an amazingly fabulous weekend.