The Sobremesa

Restaurante Coque in Humanes, Madrid, today was awarded the Mejor Sobremesa (Best Sobremesa) prize by Salsa de Chiles. An intriguing award, and a fascinating concept.

How to translate sobremesa… It is a concept that barely exists in the English-speaking world. The Manuel Seco Diccionario del español actual defines it as the "tiempo inmediatamente siguiente a una comida, durante el cual los comensales permanecen reunidos y conversando." The time immediately following a meal during which the guests remain at the table and talk. It is the post-meal time marked by shared conversation. It is the time when coffee and perhaps brandy or a liquor are savored. It is institutionalized in Spain especially when meals are shared in restaurants or with invited guests at home. It means that eating and running is fine for quick lunches during the work week, but not an option when friends or family gather to eat. So revered is it in Spain that they have a prize for it!

Having recently eaten at Restaurante Coque, I heartily agree with their receiving the Best Sobremesa award. The experience at Coque is marked by the guests starting in the bodega and then moving to the kitchen, then to the dining room and finally to the Lounge for the Sobremesa. In the Lounge you are presented with dessert and the Box of Minerals. Literally a box containing 13 different small truffles and sweets with flavors ranging from Passion Fruit to Cinnamon to Candied Orange. Most notable in the Lounge is that all of the diners who earlier inhabited separate spaces in the dining room all seem to be friends in the Lounge, talking openly across tables and across the room. Barriers have come down, and no one seems in a hurry to get somewhere else, despite the fact that the meal is into its third hour. But isn't a leisurely Michelin-starred lunch in Madrid, masterfully prepared and served by Mario Sandoval and team, a pleasure to seek out, and reason enough to travel to Spain?

La Tasquita de Enfrente

La Tasquita de Enfrente was long on my radar since a couple who traveled with us in 2011 reported that they had a fantastic dinner there, highlighted in part by meeting the chef-owner Junajo. Last Wednesday as I was riding the AVE high-speed train from Barcelona to Madrid I realized that I would arrive in central Madrid in time for lunch. As soon as I arrived I had the hotel concierge call La Tasquita to book a table, and as luck would have it, there was one small table available. Bingo!

La Tasquita is located in a slightly unsavory part of Madrid just off the Gran Vía, back where the old streets intersect at odd angles. Its location means that we typically send travelers there with a guide or in a taxi because it can be tricky to find and slightly disconcerting if you can't find it right away. An unassuming place from the outside, La Tasquita is both intimate and luxurious inside. I was met and seated by Juanjo himself, who asked if I wanted him to bring me his choice of dishes. Perfect. A waiter was at the table immediately asking me what I wanted to drink. We were off to a good start.

The wine came followed in short order by a succession of courses: Anchovies from Cantabria cleaned by Juanjo himself, beautiful artichokes, Tuna Tartare, Pulpo (octopus) Ceviche, Sting Ray à la meunière with capers, and for dessert the most delicious Panna Cotta.

The quality and freshness of the products and the masterful just-right treatment of the ingredients make La Tasquita a must-go restaurant in Madrid. Chef Juanjo is considering opening a restaurant in NYC in the near future. Should we be so fortunate!

La Tasquita de Enfrente, Calle Ballesta, 6, Madrid, +34-915-325-449

No online reservations. You have to call Juanjo.