by Cathy Adams
Chef "Pepe" Guttierrez, co-owner of the Cafe Madrid in Fells Point, is boastful of all things rom Spain, especially it's "good oil, and good wines." He is more than a little insulted that most Americans don't seem to know that Spain is on the Mediterranean Sea. And he is highly irritated when people expect to find Mexican or Central American food at his very traditional European restaurant.
Chef Pepe and his partner, Antonio Aybar, opened Cafe Madrid late in 1997. They were looking for a "small, cozy place" and bought the restaurant after M. Gettier moved out to the suburbs. Chef Pepe, who says he has been cooking for more years than he can remember is one of seven Master Chefs in Maryland. Antonio, the front of the house manager, worked at Boccocia's for many years.
Cafe Madrid features classic Spanish cuisine, using of course Spanish olive oil, sherry, saffron and wines. The Tapas (appetizers) combination plate is the traditional Madrid way to enjoy "five to six little dishes; something cold, something hot, a little seafood, a little meat," said Antonio. Selections might include Caracoles Paisano (snails sauteed with olive oil, garlic and sherry); Chorizo Toledano (sausage sauteed with garlic, sherry and tomatoes) or Fondos De Alcachofas Murcia (artichokes with Serrano ham, onion and white wine) or Mejillones Barcelona (mussels in a tomato-saffron sauce).
Paella is one of Spain's most well known rice dishes. Saffron-scented rice is cooked with a combination of ingredients, generally seafood, chicken, chorizo, onions, peppers and served in a special wide and shallow pan.
Zaruela a la Placido Domingo is described on the menu as a "delicious seafood symphony." Chef Pepe explained that Zaruela is the traditional opera style from Madrid and his dish features seafood sauteed in a rich lobster sauce finished with brandy, is a tribute to Placido Domingo.
Another of Chef Pepe's specialties is Mollejas Adobadas Toledana (broiled sweetbreads served with a fresh herb and garlic sauce with mushrooms. Cafe Madrid makes a specialty of old-fashioned, flamboyant tableside service.
"People like the flames and the show," said Antonio. The Rack of Lamb Casa Botin is flambeed and carved at the table and served with a fresh mint and garlic sauce. Fillet Mignon a la Antonio (Steak Diane) and special Flambe Coffee (with espresso, Cognac, Licor 43 and Tia Maria) are also prepared in the dining room.
For dessert there is Flan (caramel custard), Natillas Madrilenas, (a light, whipped custard) and Pudin de Pan y Narabja a la Pepe, (bread pudding with oranges and Grand Marnier). For a more European finish to the meal, there is a cheese and fruit platter, featuring Manchego, a mild, semi-soft sheep's milk cheese imported from Spain.
Cafe Madrid offers several types of sherry: fino (delicate and dry) which Antonio suggests to pair with tapas; pinta (dry); amontidillo (medium dry) and cream (nutty). Sangria, a refreshing blend of white, red or sparkling wine blended with brandy, Triple Sec and seasonal fresh fruit is available by the pitcher.
The wine list offers a good opportunity to taste Spanish wines not generally well known, with ten whites in the $17-54 range and fifteen reds from $18 to $46. Cava (Spain Spanish sparkling wine) is $20 a bottle. There are also some very special wines not on the wine, that Antonio will graciously describe.
The dining room is reminiscent of the best restaurant in a small European town. It is not flashy, but rather designed for leisurely and comfortable dining, which is something the Spanish understand well.
Sopa de Ajos
Spanish Garlic Soup from Madrid
makes 6-8 servings
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