Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sudestada - Asian in Madrid? It can't be!

Living in Madrid has been great, however it lacks one big thing, something that has been true and dear to my heart for my entire life: Asian food. Really at this point I will settle for the General Tso’s Chicken at Ollies. However there is one place that, while a tad expensive, has been one of the best meals I’ve eaten in Madrid, and bonus, it’s Asian.

While a restaurant billed as fusion Vietnamese/Thai/Chinese might scare some off, the thought of any of those three made me salivate. True it gave me reason to pause, but there was enough literature on Sudestada (roughly translated to South-East) telling me that it was the best place to get real Asian food that there was no reason not to try it. We walked in to a well-lit room, more on the modern side of things with a bar on our right and the dining room on our left. It was pretty empty and while we didn’t have reservations, we were seated immediately.

The menu was presented to us and it had a huge range of food. It was clear that when they said Vietnamese/Thai/Chinese fusion, they meant it, but they weren’t horrific Frankenstinian dishes: ingredients combined that have no business being together, all combined by a gluey, corn syrup-rich brown sauce. They brought a cold soup in a Chinese teacup. I tasted rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce, cilantro and cucumbers. It was a tasty soup and it set the tone for the rest of the meal. To start we opted for the nem (Vietnamese fried spring rolls). For our main courses we got the braised beef cheek in red curry and the stir-fried rice noodles with lobster, iberico pork, squid and chanterelles.

Actually tasted quite similar to a sauce I make at home.

Now I’ve been looking for authentic Vietnamese food since I moved to the States many, many years ago, and I have yet to find it (despite living in New York), but the nem I had at Sudestada were some of the best I’ve had. They were fried to perfection. The filling was the right combination of meat (rabbit and shrimp I think) and mushroom, giving it a very specific taste that I can only describe as the essence of nem. The best part however was what it came with: a lettuce leaf to wrap, fresh mint, cilantro, and basil, bean sprouts, pickled vegetables, and the best part of all, nuoc cham (delicious, delicious fish sauce). These things are essential to creating the perfect nem, wrap all ingredients in lettuce leaf with the nem and dip in the fish sauce. I was in pure bliss. All the flavors of Vietnam came rushing back.

This is what heaven looks like, wrapped in a lettuce leaf with a big bite taken out of it.

With Vietnam now out of the way, we turned to our respective Thai and Chinese influenced dishes. My noodles were fairly bland, but the lobster was nice and the chanterelles were earthy and delicious. The noodles could have used some more kick, some chili peppers or something to just boost all the flavors. The whole thing ate heavy, but the finish was light and I didn’t feel overly stuffed.  

Good, but needed more overall flavor.

My girlfriend got the beef cheek, taking us from Madrid to Thai in a hurry. The flavors were absolutely explosive. The heat from the strips of chilies burned in a lovely way (since Spain seems to be allergic to spiciness). The dish was rich from the coconut milk and the lemongrass and galangal (slightly spicier, more ferocious version of ginger) lent brightness and very Thai flavors to the curry. The cheek itself was braised perfectly, fork tender and done in such a way that the fat was deliciously sticky and flavorful. It was all we could do to not dive into the bowl and lick up every last drop of the amazing curry.

One of the best things I've had since being here.

Final Grade: A, €63,00, while not cheap it was completely worth the price. The noodles fell a little flat, but the nem and curry were absolute knockouts. Next visit: the chef’s tasting menu.

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