Tuesday, June 3, 2008

An unfortunate dining experience in Madrid: Kamala

There's nothing worse than a disappointing menu del día. Perhaps the average person in Spain wouldn't be too upset by a less-than-spectacular lunch. But English teachers rarely have the opportunity to enjoy a good menu, either because they always have classes at lunchtime or they don't have the money to afford one. Last week was one of those rare occasions when my blogging buddy and I were both free at lunchtime in Madrid and both had the money to afford a menu del día in a nice restaurant.

We thought long and hard about where to go -- who knew when we would next have the opportunity to enjoy a long lunch together? In the end, we decided on Kamala, a small, minimalist restaurant near the Goya metro stop. The place serves typical Spanish cuisine with a modern touch. At 12,95 a head for the menu del día, it seemed like a good deal. Unfortunately, it was not.

First off, the starters. My friend ordered couscous with wild mushrooms. The blob of couscous in the middle of the plate was cold and dry, and the mushrooms were bordering on tepid. But at least his dish had some sort of substance. My tomato salad was nothing more than tomatoes with olive oil and oregano. Had the tomatoes been particularly good tomatoes, I might not have been too upset. But a plate full of chunks of half-ripe tomatoes drowned in cheap olive oil should not be served at a restaurant that charges 12,95 for a menu. Not to mention the fact that two Spanish diners sitting next to me had also ordered tomato salads -- and theirs came with tuna and onions.

The main courses were pretty good. I had gnocchi with cabrales (Asturian blue cheese) sauce that arrived almost warm. My lunchmate had a chicken skewer with curry sauce that was probably the highlight of the meal.

Then came dessert. We were offered tarta de manzana (apple pie), tarta de queso (cheesecake), brownies, or ice cream. We asked for tarta de manzana. The waitress called up front, where the cakes and pies are displayed, to ask for it. The response: No more apple pie. So we asked for cheesecake. Again, the waitress called in the order and got the response: No more cheesecake.

When we went up to pay the bill, I took a look at the desserts on display. Lo and behold, there was a nice big cheesecake with about 7 or 8 slices left. My friend -- playing dumb -- asked the waitress up front, "¿Qué es esto?" while pointing at the cheesecake. "Es tarta de queso," she replied, not realizing we were the diners who were denied cheesecake just five minutes earlier. Our only guess is that they were saving their cheesecake for the merienda (afternoon snack), when they could charge 4,50 per slice instead of giving it away at rock-bottom prices with their set lunch menu. If that's their policy, they shouldn't have offered it to us in the first place.

So, another disappointing experience in a Madrid restaurant. Fortunately, we've had more good dining experiences than bad ones, but Kamala is one place I definitely won't be going back to.


Scott said...

Hello, I appreciate your blog, it is very interesting and highly entertaining!

You have documented well the various pitfalls of private language schools in Madrid and elsewhere. Would you make the same comments regarding teaching English at a grade school or a high school?

eslhell said...

Hi Scott,

Thanks for your comment!

Unfortunately, I've never experienced life at a grade school or high school -- nor do I know anyone who has! In order to teach at a Spanish school (not counting private bilingual grade schools), you have to get your teaching degree convalidated, pass the exams in Spain to be a teacher, etc... A real pain...

However, I have known a few legal teachers in Madrid who got jobs as "teaching assistants" at private bilingual schools. In reality, they are teachers, but because of the regulations on becoming a "real" teacher in Spain, they are labeled "assistants". In general, they all LOVE their jobs (particularly those who have previously worked at private academies). The obvious benefits are not having to run around in the metro all day, not having to deal with cancellations or class changes, and having a better support system behind you.

Of course, it wouldn't be a good job for someone who doesn't like children... The flip side is that with academy classes, you often teach adults. Some people prefer that...