Madrid Eats: Juana la Loca
I wrote in my last post that Sala de Despiece in Madrid was perhaps my favorite restaurant in Spain for innovative tapas, but that I hadn't seen much change in the menu over the course of a year so haven't been back in a while.
On my last trip to Madrid, I found a new place to rave about: Juana la Loca. Both Sala de Despiece and Juana la Loca are brilliant and innovative, hands down. But where the former is showy and cheeky with tapas made in front of you and names like "Rolex," the latter is more solemn and buttoned-up, with tapas artfully arranged and presented on hand-glazed crockery.
I had actually not expected Juana la Loca to be so refined. I came across it when I was looking at "best tortillas of Madrid" lists, and Juana la Loca was a name that kept coming back. I was perhaps thinking that it would be more of a typical neighborhood bar, so was quite surprised when I saw that they even had a doorman (or bouncer?) at the door! He was very friendly, as were all of the staff I encountered.
I arrived just after 1pm when they opened to snag a table. Though I scored one in a busy area by the entrance, I considered myself super lucky because it seemed like the whole dining room was reserved!
The extensive menu is divided more or less into different categories according to size, with the first category "pintxos con prisa" or "pintxos in a hurry" being the pre-made ones in the display case.
True to word, the two we ordered from the "pintxos in a hurry" category came out right away: their famous tortilla de patatas and "The incredible truffed egg" (El increíble huevo confitado trufado). These were pintxos in the traditional sense, in that they were served on top of bread, like a little snack. The tortilla was justly highly regarded, well-seasoned and pretty "rare," although not cooked so little that it was totally runny. It wasn't my very most favorite tortilla de patatas, because I like the middle to be a more homogeneously gooey mix of potato and egg, whereas this version seemed to have all of the liquid egg escape somewhere, leaving slices of egg-coated potato behind.
The truffled egg was a poached egg on top of a truffled mushroom-covered coast. Simple and delicious, it seems like something I should try to make for breakfast!
This next "pintxo" was my very most favorite of the lunch; it was just totally eye-opening. This was the "Milhoja de anguila ahumada y patata con bacon ibérico y crema de avellana al carbón," or "Smoked eel and hazelnut gratin millefeuilles with Iberic bacon." I had no idea what to expect, but my friend thought it sounded good. It turned out to be amazing: basically the bacon was the millefeuilles, layered in paper-thin, slightly crunchy sheets on the bottom, with the smoked eel on top. And the upper-most layer, the hazelnut cream was so amazingly creamy, with the gratineed top giving an extra dimension of flavor. I wanted another order of this!
I had the highest hopes for the following dish, from the "platos generosos" section. It was the "Confit de pato desmigado, miel, pepino y cebolleta, envuelto en crepe de soja," or "shredded duck confit with honey, cucumber, spring onion in soy crepe," obviously their take on Peking duck. For me it was unfortunately the biggest let down of the meal, the duck was too wet (more like pulled pork) and the sauce was overwhelmingly sweet.
We also had an order of blistered piparra peppers, a welcome hit of vegetables.
The croquetas de jamón (ham croquettes) were good, but nothing out of the world.
The lunch picked back up when we decided to order a couple more dishes, starting with the "Alcachofas en láminas a la plancha, lascas de parmesano y ajos confitados," or "Grilled artichokes, shaved parmesan & confit garlic cloves on tender bread." This was absolutely delicious: you can't see it in the photo, but beneath the layer of baby artichokes is a spread of that confit garlic, providing a luxuriously creamy and deep oomph.
Our last savory dish was the "Sashimi de pez mantequilla trufado, con muselina de espárragos," or "Butter fish sashimi, shaved black truffle & asparagus muslin." Okay, what the heck is asparagus muslin? What is muslin, if it's not referring to cloth? I checked this up online, and it turns out that "muselina" which they translated as "muslin" (and it is, if you're talking about the fabric), also describes what we would call Hollandaise sauce: an emulsion of butter, egg, and lemon.
What the menu didn't describe was that the butter fish was wrapped around bundles of rice noodles. This dish was quite mild, almost refreshing, compared to the others.
Finally, we had our dessert: "Volcán de dulce de leche con helado de plátano," or Dulce de leche volcano with banana ice cream. You have to order this at the beginning because of the time it takes to prepare it, and it indeed is quite good. It is exactly as the name sounds, and an indulgent end
I mentioned at the beginning that the staff were all friendly, and it's worth saying it again, and also to call out that our waiter in particular was excellent. I started off speaking to him in Spanish, but since my friend didn't speak Spanish he transitioned to perfect English. He was knowledgeable about what he was serving, and kept an eye out to see whether my friend and I were engaged in conversation, in which case he wouldn't interrupt us. I appreciate touches like this.
Do note that Juana la Loca isn't cheap: with a couple of waters we paid 40€ per person. But the quality and creativity in (most of) the dishes was certainly worth it. Do they change up the menu to keep regulars surprised when they come back? I'm not sure, since I've only been here this one time, but their offerings were extensive enough that I could have ordered an entire other meal from the exact same menu and still been excited to try all of the dishes. I can't wait for my next chance to visit!
Juana la Loca
Plaza Puerta de Moros, 4