Familia Fare | Wine | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Familia Fare 

Under Chef Nacho, Café Madrid brings the spice of Spain to Utah.

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It seems appropriate that Gabriela and Todd McAfee should be running Café Madrid. She’s Spanish by way of Venezuela and he’s a Utah guy. You might recall that Café Madrid was originally owned by Spaniard Encina Arias and her husband Paul, another Utah guy.

Well, the McAfees took over Café Madrid in December, and if you haven’t been there in a while, you should definitely call in a reservation. Décor and menu makeovers at Madrid make the restaurant as appealing as ever.

The story behind the “new” Café Madrid is an interesting one. The restaurant has always been a family affair. I remember Encina proudly serving me cured meats from Spain that her sister would mail her, probably circumventing the food cops at the FDA. And husband Paul lent his extensive knowledge of Spanish wines to Café Madrid customers looking for something to pair with their tapas, while Encina patrolled the kitchen, the dining room, the patio and everyplace in between.

If anything, Café Madrid is now even more of a family affair. Todd serves as restaurant host, warmly greeting customers at the door, while wife Gabriela charms customers at tableside. Gabriela’s artist brother J.C. Pino waits on tables with his uniquely flamboyant style and “Gaby’s” daughter Andrea also helps out in the dining room. By the way, those gorgeous paintings on the walls of Café Madrid are the work of J.C. He’s a painter who recently relocated from Atlanta to Salt Lake City to help out the family with Café Madrid. And then there’s the extended Café Madrid family, not the least of which is Spanish chef Nacho Basurto.

Chef Basurto isn’t directly related to Gabriela, but he worked with her in Spain for many years. So when the McAfees decided to purchase Café Madrid, they brought Basurto in for an extensive menu makeover. For such a young chef, Basurto has accumulated an impressive collection of awards. Among them are National Grand Champion Head Chef in Madrid, Best Young Chef, Best Restaurant in Spain and Third Place European Head Chef in the Taittinger competition in Paris. Chef Basurto designed the new Café Madrid menu and trained the kitchen staff to execute it. He frequently visits Salt Lake City to check on things and wow customers with his superb cooking. And he told me he loves the natural beauty of Utah and its friendly people, so who knows? Maybe he’ll relocate permanently to Zion someday.

Tapas at Café Madrid run the gamut from very simple—a plate of marinated green olives or cured Spanish meats and cheeses—to quite complex. The menu features both cold and hot tapas, and you could easily make an entire meal just from assorted tapas. They’re especially good to share, Spanish style, with a group of friends over a bottle of wine. Most of Café Madrid’s tapas run from $6-$9. Having tasted many of them, my personal favorites include a plate of sardine filets topped with onion, drizzled with vinaigrette and served on toasted baguette slices with tomato and olive oil. The traditional shrimp rolled in bacon with cream sauce is also very good. But the roasted “piquillo” peppers with a seafood stuffing and red sauce was just out of this world. The white Catalan style sausages called “butifarra” with Black Mission figs is another great option.

Entrees at Café Madrid come with a choice of fried potatoes, baby red potatoes or rice. And you’d be nuts not to choose the rice: light, fluffy and seasoned with pine nuts and raisins. Whereas tapas at Café Madrid tend toward the traditional, the entrees demonstrate Chef Basurto’s fondness for more contemporary flavors—grilled duck breast with asparagus served in an apple and honey sauce, for example. Or poached salmon with mushrooms, thyme and green peppercorn sauce, which is simply delicious. The wonderful grilled pork tenderloin with apple and raspberry sauce is another Basurto nod to “nouvelle.” But his dishes also stray from the traditional in the sense that they are bold and beautiful, artistically presented, and as appealing to the eye as to the palate. That’s not typical of your “padre’s” Spanish cooking.

There’s a lot to like about Café Madrid these days. The patio will soon open. The service is professional, yet very warm and friendly. The wines are reasonably priced and you can now bring in your own— something Encina would never allow. The restaurant seems brighter and livelier, with white lace curtains on the windows to match the white tablecloths. Booths have been beautifully upholstered and the entire place just looks “bonita”!

All of this has coalesced in a type of buzz I rarely see at Salt Lake City restaurants. On a recent Friday night, virtually every table had bottles of wine on it and the jovial, noisy atmosphere reminded me of cafés in Barcelona or Seville. No one is rushed, and most of the parties I saw lingered for at least a couple of hours over rounds of tapas, wine and warm welcomes. I happened to have a 7:30 dinner reservation, and it was well past 10 before I could pull myself away from our table. Looking back on it, I suppose what made me want to stay even longer at Café Madrid was that, for one night, I felt like part of the family.

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More by Ted Scheffler

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