shday6: august in madrid.

I did a lot of research for Madrid, because, well, traveling through Spain with a vegetarian who doesn't really love eggs usually means that your faces are a study in contrasts with every new menu you're handed. Your eyes light up with possibilities while theirs dull into the familiar resignation of having to choose from the same 5 options every day: bread with cheese, tomato, or olive oil: croquetas of cheese, mushroom or spinach; fried eggplant, mushrooms or peppers; the dreaded goat cheese salad; or a "vegetarian special" of risotto or lasagna.

Depending on how hungry you are as you read this, that might not sound too terrible, but believe me after a few days you'd be presenting with a similar lack of hope in your facial features when walking into a new restaurant. Madrid, being the EU's third largest city and the capital of Spain, seemed like the one place in this country where you might reasonably expect to find vegetarian tapas that weren't those same old five things.

Wellllllll...yes-a and-a no-a. There are vegan and vegetarian tapas bars here, but yeah, the menus all just looked like backstage food for a politically correct punk band. As soon as I see hummus or the word "wok" on a restaurant menu, I kind of judgmentally dismiss the whole enterprise, an approach which left us approximately 5 restaurants in town to choose from on a Monday night.

Unfortunately, it's Spain, and also it's August. Sooooo, the first three vegetarian places on my list for tonight were closed for vacation, "see you in a couple weeks!" Madrid is a big, hot city, and after shuffling our way with decreasing ardor through a soulless big-city shopping district and then a run-down bordello 'hood to the third shuttered address I just said fuck it and we took a (cheap, cheap) cab back across town to a place that TripAdvisor had just done told me about during a desperate last-minute search before I left the hotel called Taberna El Sur.

It kind of saved everything. An efficient but laid-back and jovial bartender; Nelson ordered what was easily one of the best quiches I've ever had, even better because you just don't expect anything from a quiche anymore do you. This was spinach and maybe manchego and nearly unrecognizable cooked-to-disintegration raisins, and probably a good bit of butter, om nom nom nom nom. There was one glass each of literally award-winning red and white sangria.

And there was a horrible-looking, monstrous grilled octopus tentacle that I almost didn't order but Nelson talked me into it, the octopus was already in the kitchen, dead or at least very unhappy, plus she has a macabre fascination with my omnivorousness...that second horror show picture is her work. In the end it was worth breaking my no-octopus rule, just perfectly grilled, smoky and tender, like a good steak, eyes closed you'd have never known what it was other than "chomp". Oh and there were mushroom croquetas too, also better than average, but kind of irrelevant amidst the other excitement.

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