Viridiana in Madrid is a fascinating restaurant, largely because of the personality of celebrated chef Abraham García, a passionate, talented, and independent-minded chef who is constantly innovating in the kitchen. Chef García is obsessive about the quality of his ingredients. Locals often see him personally shopping at area farmers markets. He enjoys hunting, and is very skilled at cooking all sorts of interesting game. He changes up the menu frequently, and is almost always at the restaurant. He makes a point of going around and chatting with all the guests.
Chef García is a movie buff, naming his restaurant after a famous 1961 Spanish film. He also collects hats, and you'll see evidence of his obsession with hats throughout the meal.
We chose to visit Viridiana because we had read great things about it. It was known to serve traditional Spanish food with a slight haut-cuisine French twist. We soon found out that this place is quite famous - everybody knows about it. It's in most English-language guidebooks, which would explain why it felt like the place had more tourists than locals (or at least it did in the lower level "basement" dining area, which is where we sat).
Nevertheless, the food was great, so we tried to ignore the fact that we could hear English spoken all over the restaurant. Instead, we just focused on enjoying Chef García's creativity and excellent cooking skills.
We started with a crazy huge amuse compliments of the house. The servers brought over a plate covered with a huge birdcage (I did not have time to capture a photo before they lifted the cage). Inside was a plate filled with all sorts of appetizers. It reminded me of an antipasti plate.
We enjoyed a Lentil Soup with some sort of salted and cured meat (reminded me of hot dog) inside. It was fragrant and extremely aromatic, full of flavors from the addition of Thai curry, lemongrass, and kaffir lime. We also enjoyed fresh figs, balls of mozzarella cheese, a baby pattypan squash, and half a tomato topped with a load of oregano and salt (yum!).
The beef carpaccio on the plate was incredible and probably my favorite item on the plate. It was deeply flavorful, as if it had been aged for some time. Everything was really good, but I was already getting a bit full.
We looked around and noticed that different guests received different free amuses depending on what they had ordered. For example, many guests got the gazpacho instead of the lentil soup. Because I had ordered the gazpacho, I got the lentil soup instead.
And then our first real course came - Poached Eggs with a white truffle and mushroom cream sauce paired with a 2012 Ribera del Duero.
The dish was fantastic, very rich, and decadent.
The next course, a blended Gazpacho, was stunning and definitely one of my favorite dishes of the whole meal. It had beautiful, intense, and bright tomato flavors that popped. The soup was delightfully smooth, creamy, and sweet. I absolutely loved it. It was one of the best gazpachos I'd ever had in my life.
Bryan ordered one of the offal dishes on the menu, Lamb Tripe with Chickpeas. It definitely had strong offal and lamb flavors, though in a very good way. The homemade hot sauce that accompanied it was "very hot!", according to Chef García, who stopped by briefly to say hi to us but couldn't speak much English, so we didn't really chat long.
I ordered the Swordfish, which came with these tiny balls of pasta that reminded me of made-from-scratch Israeli couscous. The sauce had a rich, deep tomato flavor, and the swordfish was cooked properly, being almost rare on the inside (which is what you want!). Typically, this dish is served with bluefin tuna from the market. However, because we were dining on a Sunday, there was no bluefin that day at the fish market.
We simply ordered the house made Almond Ice Cream with a berry sauce. The ice cream was surprisingly icy and not very creamy. I found the dessert to be too sweet in general. For our mignardise, we enjoyed chocolate truffles (which had a lovely, deep and rich dark chocolate flavor) and sugared pineapple skewers (which I found way too sweet!).
Consistent with the hat obsession, our bill came on another hat-shaped piece of dish ware.
The food at Viridiana was quite nice. There were definitely some standout dishes, like the gazpacho and the beef carpaccio. Other dishes were very good as well. I was impressed with how perfectly the swordfish was cooked (something so many restaurants get wrong), and I like how Chef García is bold about what he is willing to serve (lamb tripe, anyone?).
I wish I spoke a bit of Spanish, though. The experience is definitely different when you don't speak the local language. Chef García spent a lot more time chatting with Spanish-speaking customers than he did with us (for obvious reasons, of course).
Instead of personally explaining a dish to us, Chef García sent his one waiter who spoke English. This waiter tried to address the entire lower "basement" dining area at once (consisting of about 3-4 tables), describing to us the next course. It was fine, and I totally appreciate the restaurant's efforts to communicate with us. However, it didn't feel nearly as personal.
Perhaps my one experience was unusual. Maybe it's rare for so many foreigners to show up at once. Or maybe locals don't really eat out on Sunday evenings. Perhaps it was by chance or for logistical reasons that all the foreigners ended up in the basement level. In any event, the odd arrangement did slightly affect my enjoyment of the evening.
Nevertheless, I will forever remember that amazing gazpacho and would order that again in a heartbeat. There are definitely some great dishes on the menu, and I have full confidence that even if the menu were to change a lot, most everything would be pretty tasty. Chef García is clearly quite talented.
Juan de Mena 14, 28014 Madrid