If you're of the foodie persuasion, you're probably familiar with Washington's elegant, perennially renowned, much-awarded Spanish restaurant Taberna del Alabardero (18th and I streets NW, 202-429- 2200). You may not know that owner Luis Lezama operates several restaurants (and a cooking school) in Spain, where many D.C. kitchen and restaurant staff are trained. During a recent trip, we visited two of the homeland antecedents:

Taberna del Alabardero, Madrid (6 Calle de Felipe V). Being familiar with the high-toned continental dining room of D.C.'s Taberna, I was unprepared to find the Madrid original from which it sprang to be a loud and busy bistro. Located near the Teatro Real opera house and Palacio Real, the modest stucco storefront opens into a bustling tapas bar, clearly a favorite neighborhood hang for Madrid's smart crowd. The room is redolent with fish and olive oil and garlic, and the few stools are occupied and surrounded by clusters of people standing and tasting. The crowd seemed a mix of dressed-up Madrileno empty-nest couples out for a fine meal and yuppie couples, along with just a few of us tourist passers-through. The service is knowing and fast.

The menu mixes rustic fare and continental nouvelle with some of the best bread we had in Spain. I had a bean and beef stew, my wife shrimp in garlic and wine. It's all well-prepared and fresh and shows a good hand in the kitchen. But for a bistro meal, it's pricey: about $70 for two, with a glass of wine each and a pair of appropriately theatrical chocolate desserts. If you'd like to linger, plan a visit that avoids the before- or after-theater crowds.

Taberna del Alabardero, Seville (20 Zaragoza). Located on a narrow street near the city's Plaza Nueva, this is more what a D.C. Taberna fan might expect. The renovated former home of a 19th-century poet features a seven-room inn along with the quietly elegant restaurant. (The only awkwardness deriving from the inn-and- restaurant mix is the clear plexiglas panels surrounding the dining room's second-floor balcony, to shield the guest rooms ringing the balcony from the noise downstairs.) The dining room itself--dark woods, brooding family portraits, huge potted plants--is staffed with waiters wearing crisp burgundy jackets; one handles drinks, another table prep, another the order, another the food presentation. The service is not fast or well-coordinated, but it's lavish and plentiful.

The food is extraordinary. To start, a delicate fish pate, a plate of asparagus with lagostino (Spain's tiny, spiny lobsterettes) and fried red peppers stuffed with spinach and prawns. The duck entree is a creation: rare breast thinly sliced and fanned around the plate's rim, with a big fatty drumstick, a long flat cut of liver and fried sweetbreads in the circle. The seafood special is Corvado, fished only off the Spanish coast (the waiter says)--meaty, juicy, almost steaklike, and topped with a tomato confit. We pass on the dessert, but there's a sweet "of the house": a fried, crunchy wafer and two dense orbs of chocolate. The whole meal is about $65, and one of the better dining values I've enjoyed.

We hear there's another Taberna in Marbella. We didn't get to try it this time. Another good excuse, if one is needed, to plan a return visit to Spain.

--Craig Stoltz


Cruising Greece; Skiing Colorado

* Renaissance Cruises is known for affordably priced cruise/land/air packages to the Iberian peninsula and Greek Isles--but Moment's Notice, a discount membership club specializing in last-minute travel deals, is offering a deal on several voyages that's even better than usual. Space is available on Greek Isles trips--which include two nights in an Athens hotel, a five-night cruise, a two-night stay in Istanbul and air fare from New York--on March 3 and 8 for $699 (inside cabin) to $799 (outside). Typically, this cruise is priced at $1,299 per person during cool-weather months. Renaissance's March 5 and 8 Iberian Peninsula cruises are also budget-priced, with fares ranging from $724 to $799. All prices are per person, double occupancy. Add $249 per person for port taxes, $25 for Moment's Notice's annual fee and about $110 for air fare to New York; passengers on the Greek itinerary also must obtain a Turkish visa ($45 from the embassy, $99 from Renaissance). Even with the add-ons, the Moment's Notice Greek Isles deal starts at $1,128, compared with $1,683 ordinarily. Moment's Notice, 1-877-260-6368,

* Ski buffs eager to test the Colorado slopes at usually high-priced Aspen and Snowmass may be tempted to head west for spring break. The Aspen Skiing Co. is offering a special that lops as much as $36 a day off the window rate for a multiday lift ticket. Tickets are valid April 7-23 and must be purchased by March 15. Sample savings: Six or more days are $19 a day (usually $55 a day); five days, $21 a day (usually $57); three days, $25 a day (usually $59). Information: 1-877-754-7277,


Lose the Jewelry

PROBLEM: Having to pack, match and avoid losing costume jewelry to match each travel outfit.

SOLUTION: Leave it at home. "This gives me a little more room in my suitcase, and a lot less anxiety about losing or misplacing a favorite piece of jewelry," reports reader L. McDonely. "It is also about one less decision per day--and to me, that is what a vacation is all about. It also gives me a guilt-free excuse to purchase 'souvenir' jewelry items to take home!"

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