Following my recent food frenzy in Sicily, and the longing I began to feel for another brush with deliciousness, particularly a foreign one, I got to thinking–one of the things I love best about traveling is eating. When I’m home, my meals are often simply sustenance; I eat a very boring salad at my desk for lunch, an incredibly dull frozen meal for dinner, and once or twice a week order in from one of several equally unexciting takeout places, when I just can’t stand the thought of another Lean Cuisine.
When traveling, tasting the food is like tasting the heart and soul of the destination. A crepe in Paris is not just a crepe; a waffle in Brussels is no ordinary waffle. The foods of a city are as much a part of that city as are its museums, its churches, its people.
That being said, last week, I was able to take a direct flight to Madrid, by way of West 52nd St. I went for lunch at the ’21’ Club, one of my favorite NY restaurants and one I love to go to to escape from it all, and was treated to an absolutely magnificent culinary experience. Instead of dining on ’21’s’ usual menu, I enjoyed three courses, with wine pairings, of inventive, contemporary Spanish cuisine prepared by the renowned chef Jorge González of the extraordinary Hotel Ritz in Madrid (another Orient-Express property. Yes, I’m a bit obsessed with them). Everything, from the red shrimp carpaccio with roe oil, to the sensational hake loin in a bread crust with green pepper nectar and Iberian ham vinaigrette, to the saffron scented chocolate duet, was simply outstanding, but even more enjoyable, for me, was how much of a taste of Madrid it gave me. I felt I was there, dining at the iconic, historic, remarkable Hotel Ritz, and it’s no wonder–they brought their kitchen staff over to prepare food for diners at ’21’ for almost a week. It wasn’t quite as good as being there at the hotel (I MUST get there), but it was darn close. They even sent me home with a homemade Spanish tortilla, helping to extend my culinary journey into dinnertime.
It was so much fun to pretend, for one afternoon, that I had left NYC and gone straight to Madrid’s best hotel, to experience the food that helps makes this property as special as it is. After all, Madrid is truly one of my favorite food cities, and Hotel Ritz Madrid is one of the reasons for that (the hotel actually transformed the city upon its opening in 1910, and has welcomed every type of celebrity, aristocrat, dignitary, and type of royalty since then). But since I couldn’t find time to go to Madrid last Tuesday, Madrid came to me, and for a moment I was right back there in that beautiful, colorful, absolutely delicious city.
Now if only the Ritz Madrid could bring the rest of their hotel right here to me.