Café Madrid | Restaurant Reviews | Salt Lake City Weekly

Café Madrid 

Back to Madrid: Like an old pair of Levis, Café Madrid provides comfort with class

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One drawback to being a restaurant critic (and there aren’t many) is that I don’t get enough opportunities to dine at my favorite restaurants. That might seem like an odd and illogical statement. But, in the pursuit of the new and the fashionable, we critics often must bypass the tried and true—the comfy, worn-pair-of- Levis-type restaurants that bring consistent joy to our pusses and our palates.

For me, Café Madrid is one of those restaurants. So, I decided that, come hell or high water, this summer, I would return to Madrid to see how the place is fairing.

Even on a Monday evening, the indoor dining room is filled and bustling with energy and high spirits. But on such a lovely night, we are drawn to the pretty patio, which is accented with paintings and metal tables painted by the artist J.C. Pino, who is also brother of Café Madrid’s owner, Gabrielle McAfee. He’s planted grapevines, which are beginning to wind their way along the walls of the patio and deck.

Always the perfect host, after a warm welcome, Pino takes us through the featured nightly specials. On Mondays and Wednesdays, Café Madrid offers a select menu of $6 tapas, which on this night includes fish, spinach and mussel croquettes, gambas (shrimp) wrapped in bacon, grilled calamari, seafood “lasagna,” and others. You can also order a glass of homemade sangria for $3 or a carafe for $10. No wonder the place is packed.

We are joined by our friends—a couple from France—who tell us of their first visit to Café Madrid. “He’s not just nice to you because he knows you, and you’re a restaurant critic,” says Frederick about Pino. “The first time we came here, he didn’t know us at all and yet he kept saying, ‘Our home is your home’ and was really, really warm and friendly.” It’s nice to know that everyone, not just a critic, gets the royal treatment at Madrid. It’s one reason a loyal customer from California comes to Café Madrid every single Monday night for dinner. If he’s late, they’ll keep the restaurant open, knowing he’ll arrive.

I’ve written before about the cozy, yet classy ambiance of Café Madrid—classy, yes, but most of all comfortable. Customers really do feel like members of the McAfee and Pino family when they dine here. It’s not unusual at all to plan on staying for an hour but lingering for three.

A mass of tapas arrives, and Pino instructs us to “get messy,” encouraging the use of fresh rolls for sopping up all the luscious sauces and mixing and matching various croquettes with those accompanying sauces. Small, tender black mussels in a rich, roasted red pepper and tomato sauce ($11.50) are superb, and we follow Pino’s advice, soaking up the extra savory sauce with the ping-pong-ball-size fried croquettes and rolls.

Seafood “lasagna” is wonderful: Layers of tilapia and shrimp snuggled between sheets of pasta with a light, creamy tomato sauce comes to the table in the small pan in which it was baked. One of my longtime favorite hot tapas at Café Madrid is the plate of piquillo peppers stuffed with minced seafood ($12.50); it’s every bit as delicious as I’d remembered. And, an absolute must is butifarritas con brevas ($12.50): imported sausage from Spain bathed in a simultaneously sweet and tart Black Mission fig sauce. Pino reminds us to use our bread, mix and match, and—most importantly— enjoy. I’ve been advised to “Enjoy!” by a thousand different restaurant servers in my day but, coming from J.C. Pino, “enjoy” sounds natural and authentic. He means it.

With wine flowing—including a gorgeous bottle of Coma Vella ($72) from Spain’s Priorat region—we meander our way through a fresh, spicy Andalusian-style gazpacho and a light chicken soup (if a soup brimming with butter and cream can be called “light”), teaming with fresh veggies, corn, onion, tarragon, thin noodles and potato. It’s a wintertime soup that tastes surprisingly refreshing on the patio in July.

More wine, more food, more warm visits from Pino and servers like Skyler, and I’m beginning to feel like we’ve made a mistake: The entrees we ordered have yet to arrive, and I’m beginning to feel like Mr. Creosote, the Monty Python character in The Meaning of Life who explodes after a huge meal and a fatal “one thin mint.” But, I’m a professional, and so I forge on, which is unexpectedly simple to do when a plate of medium-rare grilled beef tenderloin ($29) topped with a Spanish bleu cheese—similar to Roquefort cheese—appears in front of me.

As we pass even more plates around, enthusiastically sharing the tantalizing flavors of Café Madrid, I eventually get my lips around the luscious grilled duck breast ($29), which is served with a fragrant apple and honey sauce and grilled asparagus. Stuffed to Creosote capacity, I still manage to regret passing up Café Madrid’s osso buco, which has been braising for more than six hours.

We can barely put a dent into the desserts, although I put forth my best effort where Café Madrid’s perfect flan is concerned. And as we wander, satiated, into the night, I peek into the restaurant to find the place empty. We’ve managed to close it down and, somehow, four hours has passed seeming like 40 minutes. It’s proof that time really flies when dining in exceptional eateries like Café Madrid.

2080 E. 3900 South

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