The weather hadn’t improved when dinner time rolled around. We left our place and combed the neighborhood for somewhere to eat, but the menus just weren’t thrilling and it was only 8:30 and all the places were empty. Even though it was raining cats and dogs, I just couldn’t bear the shame of being the first couple in the place. So we left our barrio and crossed the street into the tourist land at Plaza Mayor.
While the outside tables were set up, and covered with umbrellas, there were no patrons – it was just too cold. As we walked around the outer portico checking menus, a short waiter tried to get us into his place, but it looked like the worst diner on the worst day of the year so we went on. We stopped at the first main gate and read the menu for a place halfway down a set of slippery stairs. I told My Lovely Wife to wait at the top – no reason to climb if the menus stunk. I liked to looks of one of them but when I got to the bottom of the stairs, they were not yet open. But I noticed another, with the really unappealing name of “Kitchen Stories.” They had a “best sellers” list written on a chalkboard out front and one of their specials was Duck Cannelloni. Now how could a place with anything Duck be bad? I motioned to My Lovely Wife to come down the stairs. She wasn’t sold but I applied what was left of my rain-soaked charm and she consented. We went in and grabbed a table.
What resulted of that soggy decision was the best meal I’ve had in Spain. She monopolized the Cannelloni and I went with the Magret de Pato, a Madrileño riff on that tapa I’d left behind in Sevilla so many days ago. Rare duck breast with sauteed vegetables and a little pile of caramelized onions – who could ask for more?
A couple of glasses of wine, a superb dinner, a nice conversation with the owner about the various aspects of New Mexico chiles and we had the best possible last night dinner imaginable. Given the weather, the nature of the places we had to choose from, nothing suggested that we’d end up wishing our meal would never end. The owner topped us off with a couple of flutes of some sort of red Ouzo and we were on our way back into the rain after double cheek kissing her on the way out the door.
Much like our trip to the gardens and the wonder of vegetables, tonight’s dinner was one of those grand experiences you don’t expect. We might have had just another set of boring tapas with a tourist hating waiter. Instead we had a wonderful meal, some great conversation and the best end to a great trip.
Throughout these last two weeks, we’ve toasted each dinner with the same words “El Viaje es la Cosa.” The Journey is the Thing. And it is, undoubtedly.