I recently returned from a short trip to Madrid, which spanned over New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.
Madrid is Spain’s capital as well as the political, economic and cultural center of Spain. The city is easily navigable by foot, places a huge emphasis on the fine arts and boasts beautiful architecture as well as a vibrant nightlife. Madrid has also undergone a recent gastronomic revolution. I spent three full days wandering around, exploring and eating.
Must see landmarks include the Royal Palace of Madrid, Retiro Park, the Reina Sofia Museum (which houses Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí collections), Mercado de San Miguel, Plaza de Cibeles, Plaza Sol and Plaza Mayor.
As for eating, I’ll limit myself to three recommendations, so I don't bore you...
1) The Guinness Book of Records calls Casa Botin the world's oldest restaurant and Ernest Hemingway called it the best. I don’t necessarily agree with the latter, but the space is quaint and the food edible. If you want to say you dined at the oldest restaurant in the world, then it’s worth a visit. If you don’t care about that claim to fame, than skip it.
2) Ten Con Ten is a casual option, with a posh clientele. I would recommend it as a lunch option. The wine list was plentiful and the starters were delicious. Be sure to get the risotto (which is more like an orzo) with black truffles and also the goat cheese salad with fresh herbs and fruit over thinly sliced zucchini.
3) Do not leave Madrid without dining at Sala de Despiece. It’s far from fancy, but might be the best food I ate in 2014. They don’t take reservations, so go earlier than the typical Spanish dinnertime. The cooks are in white lab coats and orders are taken via iPad. As the dishes are ready, they shout out your name and pass you trays of food over the counter. You may or may not get a seat but the staff is friendly and will do what they can to help you find a spot. They will also help walk you through the menu. The food is innovative and imaginative. The quality of the ingredients is top-notch. Most dishes are smaller and meant for sharing. The carpaccio with crushed tomato, truffles sauce and sea salt is absolutely to die for. The lomo de vaca is another must. It’s a cube of raw meat, served on salt blocks, with a side of raspberries and peppers. They cook the meat in front of you, with a crème brulee torch. You should definitely order the goat cheese as well. It’s grilled until it has a golden crust and then served with wafers and a touch of molasses.
4) New Year’s eve was spent at Casa Corolo. For €60, we had a five-course meal, which included unlimited wine/cava and grapes at midnight. People in Spain typically celebrate New Year’s with their families, at home, so the restaurant wasn’t too packed, which was actually quite nice. At the stroke of midnight, Spaniards have a tradition of eating 12 grapes, one in each of the first 12 seconds of the New Year. This symbolizes good luck for each of the upcoming 12 months. It’s not as easy as you might imagine, let me tell you. I think I only ate about six before the 12 seconds was up. And I was starting to look a bit like a chipmunk as I couldn’t chew them fast enough (and the grapes had seeds). If I were a superstitious woman, I’d be a little worried about July through December this year.