Postcard From Tom: Madrid
The chefs of Spain are blazing heady trails for their peers around the world, as I discovered on recent dining tours of the country. Some of the role models in Madrid include these three venues:
LA BROCHE (Miguel Angel 29, 011-34-91-3993-437)
Dining in this stark, all-white, fashion-conscious restaurant means a stool for your purse, a choice of luxe olive oils and salts for your bread, and petit fours that would look at home at a circus. An acolyte of Spanish cooking wizard Ferran Adria, chef Sergi Arola combines novelty with good taste. Hazelnut foam with asparagus jelly, for instance, translates into a "salad" of distinction. Entrees $25-$55.
NEO (Quintana 30, 011-34-91-5400-498)
As with La Broche, a coolly spare setting at the relatively new Neo means diners can focus on the art on their plates: Coins of butterfish on couscous with minced pickled vegetables and duck ravioli garnished with green apple and a sauce of honey and vinegar are dishes you'll remember long after you've left. Pinpoints of light in the ceiling suggest a starry night sky in chef Ivan Sanchez's smart bi-level dining room. Eight-course tasting menu $50.
SACHA (Juan Hurtado de Mendoza 11, 011-34-91-3455-952)
Ask for the pony-tailed owner, Sacha Hormaechea, and put your order in his hands at this cozy neighborhood retreat (hidden behind its printed address, in the rear of the building). What follows is a lusty tour of regional Spanish cooking. From the kitchen streams cockles tickled with lime, fresh anchovies atop tomato-rubbed bread, sublime garlic soup, sea urchin swaddled in sheer pasta and -- why stop there? -- succulent pork lavished with shaved truffles and fried artichokes. Entrees $12-$29.