As Spanish as Apple Pie


In the past, whenever Spaniards mocked American food as being all hamburgers and hotdogs, I used to take them to Cornucopia. (Not that there’s anything wrong with hamburgers and hotdogs—it’s just hard to get good ones in Spain, which probably has something to do with why Spaniards are so quick to mock them.) But Cornucopia was a lovely place, a rambling old apartment-turned-restaurant, with worn wooden floors and big windows. The food was what you’d get in a good American bistro: nothing too complicated, but everything fresh and flavorful, with the occasional sophisticated surprise. The Spaniards would be amazed: seared tuna? Crisp-skinned chicken? Vegetables? This is American? It was a sad day in Madrid when the chef, Deborah, and her Spanish husband left to open what last I heard was a tapas restaurant in Boston.

Last week, I found another place to fight the good fight. Memento is the creation of Karen Bell and while it doesn’t have the ramshackle elegance that made Cornucopia such a special place, the menu reaches nicely from an upmarket version of corn chowder to grilled prawns fanned around a pepper-studded mound of fried rice. Not everything is a success: The pesto that surrounded what tasted like hand-ground polenta was oddly sweet. But there are more hits than misses, including an even better version of those curry-steamed mussels.

On a Tuesday lunch, Karen herself ran around, answering the phone, taking orders, and occasionally jumping behind the line to plate a dish. The restaurant was full, and except for my friend and me, every single one of the people eating contentedly was Spanish. With nary a hotdog in sight.

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