Evening dinner restaurant review
Food: Tasty and unique
Service: Prompt and friendly
Wendi and myself are long-time fans of tapas. A little bite of this, a small taste of that, tapas is great for the indecisive. For those of you unaware, tapas are small plates of food ideal for sharing with your dining companions. There are only a handful of places in SLC that serve food tapas-style, indeed a few have closed over the past 18 months, Zola and Panache to name two. Yet even these restaurants aren’t “true” tapas in the original Spanish sense. To my knowledge Cafe Madrid is the only place in SLC that offers a comprehensive menu of authentic Spanish-style tapas.
With our combined love of small plates and Spanish flavors, Cafe Madrid has long been on our list of places to try. The only issue we had in visiting was that I had heard weekends were extremely busy and reservations were definitely required. As a result, we never quite managed a trip. On a recent weekday evening, the restaurant popped into our heads and we headed over. Upon arriving quite early, around 6:00 p.m., to be on the safe side, we were the first diners in the restaurant.
As we entered and were greeted, we were asked if we would like to dine inside or outside. Cafe Madrid has a lovely little patio area set back sufficiently from the adjacent 3900 South. The weather being a little too warm, we declined and were led into the dining space. I could immediately see why weekends might get busy here, the room is somewhat small and cosy. Booths line two edges whilst tables fill the floor. The decor is homey and inviting with a definite Spanish influence. Wendi particularly enjoyed the Spanish (or perhaps just Spanish-influenced) art and sculpture throughout the room.
Cafe Madrid features a full bar and what appeared to be quite an extensive selection of Spanish wines. At our waiter’s suggestion, I opted for a glass of the Arrocal Tempranillo ($9.00) whilst Wendi went with a chilled glass of Sangria ($6.00). The wine proved to be a great choice. Wendi, not a regular sangria consumer, was a little disappointed. She described it as light and summery, but not an ideal match for the food we ordered.
As we perused the menu, freshly baked warm bread was brought to the table. The menu was comprised of three main sections, cold tapas, hot tapas, and an entrees section. With the unique nature of the food, we decided to order exclusively from the tapas menu. Our waiter was happy to explain that for two people, 4-5 tapas plates would probably suffice.
When I see a charcuterie plate on a French menu my eyes light up, so when I saw the Entremeses ($16.50) on offer, I had to dive in:
The plate included Serrano Ham, Lomo, Chorizo, Manchego Cheese and a small bunch of red grapes. I should have asked the waiter to tell me which meat was which, but I as did not, I will just say that I found the deep red circular salami-esque meat the most enjoyable. The other two meats were not especially rewarding, indeed one had a slightly odd flavour I couldn’t quite place. Wendi especially enjoyed the cheese and grapes. Between the two of us, we nearly cleaned the plate. For the cost of the entremeses, we both would have enjoyed a little more variety.
I am also a huge fan of Pate, so again as soon I saw the Pate de Pescado ($8.50), I had to try this as well:
The menu described the pate as “delicate white fish pate, served with an exclusive Spanish pink sauce”. The pate was also accompanied by a large portion of toasted bread. The pate was indeed delicate, sporting a very subtle and mild flavour. The pink sauce added a nice element of creaminess. My only complaint was that the toasted bread, for the thickness at which it had been cut, was exceedingly over toasted, and thus very hard and crunchy (almost painfully so). As a result we used our baked bread from earlier as the ideal vehicle for the delicious pate and sauce.
Next up was the Butifarritas con Brevas ($11.50):
Imported Spanish sausage were grilled and accompanied by a Black Mission fig sauce. A few fig pieces were also thrown in for good measure. I was a huge fan of this dish. The figs and sauce were a beautiful sweet and fruity foil for the rich sausage. Top notch.
Our final plate of tapas was one of that day’s specials. I heard our waiter mention “deep fried, baby eels” and immediately nodded my head, forgetting anything else he said. The Gulas ($10.50) came to the table in a bowl of red hot, bubbling oil:
Also in the bowl were peppers and copious amounts of garlic. More of the baked warm bread from earlier was also served with the dish. The restaurants host kindly explained the idea was to mop up the eels with the bread. While a little messy, this was another enjoyable and unique dish.
Before this dish I had only tasted eel in sushi restaurants, where the pieces are much larger. The baby eels here were a marked contrast. These were literally hundreds of little eels sauteed in the garlic-infused oil. This dish was unusual and quite addictive once we got the hang of scooping the little guys up with our crusty bread. Definitely not a dish I have seen on an SLC menu before, and one I would also happily eat again.
Our waiter’s suggestion of five plates seemed to be spot on. Four would have left us a little hungry, and on a hungrier night, six might just do the trick. Plus, the more variety and new dishes to try, the happier we are. For dessert we chose Fresas Maceradas a la Pimienta Verde con Helado de Vanillia ($6):
Strawberries with peppercorns, a little balsamic vinegar and vanilla ice cream, we were already fans of this combination from other restaurants. Wendi particularly enjoyed this version. They didn’t hold back on the peppercorns or the balsamic, which provided an intriguing mix of flavors with the richness of the ice cream. Wendi also had a rich cafe con leche ($3.00) with dessert.
Service was prompt throughout the meal, although the restaurant was largely empty for our visit. The staff were clearly versed in the menu and were only too happy to help us with pronunciation, clarify menu items, and provide additional details as needed. Although we failed to try any of the entrees, diners at other tables seemed to be enjoying theirs immensely and they did look delicious.
Whilst there were a few misses, our meal was mostly hits. Without a doubt, Wendi and I will return to Cafe Madrid during the summer. I’m also looking forward to taking friends and family to Cafe Madrid. If they don’t like one of the dishes, hey, try another! The more the merrier. I think a larger group willing to go on a tasting adventure and experiment a little would lend itself perfectly to the ultimate enjoyment of Cafe Madrid.
Hi, I’m Stuart, nice to meet you! I’m the founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC and The Utah Review; I’m also a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune. I’ve worked extensively with other local publications from Utah Stories through to Salt Lake Magazine and Visit Salt Lake. I’m a multiple-award winning journalist and have covered the Utah dining scene for more than a decade. I’m largely fueled by a critical obsession with rice, alliteration and the use of too many big words I don’t understand. What they’re saying about me: “Not inaccurate”, “I thought he was older”, “I don’t share his feelings”.
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