We went mad for MAD.
Welcome back, fizzies! (Can we call you that? It felt better than forkies or forkers, but to each their own.) We are so grateful for the time we got to spend soaking in the holidays with our loved ones and eating our favorite recipes (link), but also so excited to get right back to trying and sharing new foods in the new year. 2021 has taken long enough to get here, and we are so grateful to finally be ringing it in tomorrow!
This week we’re going to take you back to the night of one of our favorite experiences of 2020, although it certainly didn’t start out like that. After an almost-missed reservation and a truly harrowing Uber ride we won’t go into here, we arrived at MAD Houston feeling exactly that…mad. We stepped through the neon doors and into the front vestibule with a flurry of apologies and what just happeneds. To be honest, we knew MAD was an upscale restaurant, and we half expected a snobby reception. We were late, after all, and wearing monochrome wig/outfit ensembles (Sometimes girls just wanna have fun!). We’re pleased to report that we could not have been more wrong. Our hosts were overly gracious, assuring us that there was nothing to worry about and that we were finally free to relax.
This was the start we had been hoping for, and we continued to be pleasantly surprised as we walked through the restaurant to our table. We have to pause for a quick second here to discuss the inside of this place. The decor skirts just perfectly south of “too much,” and if the food wasn’t so mind-blowing, we might say that taking the atmosphere in is the real treat. Everywhere you look is another neon sign, oversized chandelier, or unique Spanish art piece to stare at. If it tells you anything about the level of grandeur, the most ‘grammed spot of the whole place is in the literal bathroom.
Okay, enough about the bathroom. On to the food!
We definitely needed a drink or two after our struggle getting to the restaurant, so we started right off with the fizz–three in total. While expensive, the drinks are also sizable, so don’t feel like you’re not getting your money’s worth. The first drink we ordered was a rosé off the wine menu, the “Bodegas Muga ‘Rosado’ 2018.” It was a dry rosé from Spain that is definitely not for a sweet wine lover, but which we think would pair well with any of the meat dishes on the menu.
We then moved on to cocktails, which we would say to order before your meal so as not to be too distracted by other flavors. At the tippy-top-of-the-menu was the “Ay Güey, Qué Guay.” This was a tequila-based drink that was a little smoky and a little sweet. The toppers were a spicy foam and a grilled pineapple chunk that lends a zing. We ended with the winner of the group, so good we had to order two–the “Fresa Gin Tonic.” The alcohols at the base of the tonic are a gin and a flavored brandy. Building from there is an explosion of fruity fresh flavors. Strawberry and basil win out for most apparent, but mint and lemon lurk below the surface too. Additionally, we would be remiss not to mention how absolutely mesmerized we were by the basil-infused ice cube that came in this drink. Instead of being watered down, the flavors just got more pronounced as time went on. Incredible.
We started off with tapas: the “Bravas Tomás,” the “Serranito,” and the “Empanadillas de Cochinillo.” The Bravas Tomás looked essentially like a plate of cheese fries got taken on a vacation to Spain. But oh boy, did they taste like so much more. The potatoes were soft on the inside but the skins were crisped to perfection, and the sauce draped on top was thick and creamy, akin in consistency but not flavor with a hollandaise sauce. Next up on the tapas was the Serranito. This was “glass bread” topped with the “secret” Spanish cut of pork and a variety of vegetables and spices. Glass bread is called so because of how crunchy and delicate the outer skin is, while staying soft on the inside. The dish sounds complicated, but it was almost like a Philly cheesesteak went on vacation…to Spain. We admit we’re being a bit ridiculous with the Spanish vacation jokes, but it’s our way of trying to relate these foods to more familiar ingredients and make the ordering process a bit less intimidating. Hopefully it’s helpful. Last on the tapas list were the Empanadillas, aptly named because they were teeny-tiny and adorable, approximately the size of a typical Japanese gyoza. They were crunchy and flaky with a mango-apricot chutney that really upped the ante.
For a full entreé, split between three people from the wood fired rice section, we ordered the “Fideuá de Cochinillo.” Tip: if you want to order any of the wood fired rice options, make sure you do so as soon as you arrive, because they take a good 40 minutes to be prepared. The full cast iron is brought to your table by the chef, who then serves a portion to each diner and is more than happy to answer any questions. We were apparently really feeling the suckling pig this night, because it was a prominent feature of both the Empanadillas and this dish as well, and wow. It did not disappoint–we all agreed it is rare to find meat that tender. The base of the dish is roasted angel hair pasta, topped by the suckling pig and mixed with onions and porcini mushrooms. This dinner was truly in our top five meals of 2020, and that’s saying a lot considering we started this entire blog about food this year.
Things to Know Before You Go “MAD:”
- Reservations: Make a reservation. We cannot stress this enough. They are incredibly strict (reservations last exactly two hours) and not making one will cause a lot of heartbreak, hanger, and pain, especially if you’re wearing heels. Additionally, don’t be late to your reservation. Any more than fifteen minutes late and you’ll lose your spot.
- Parking: You’ve got options when it comes to parking. There is complimentary valet available at the front, although make sure you have cash to tip if you go that route. There is also free self-parking in a nearby garage, or there is metered parking lining the street leading up to the restaurant entrance.
- The menu: MAD’s menu is extensive and can be a bit confusing, especially considering half of it is in Spanish and that there are a lot of unfamiliar ingredients used in their dishes. We recommend looking over it before you get there, although the waitstaff is incredibly helpful in walking through the menu with you.
- Portions: Another important thing to note about the menu is the portion sizes. Most of their dishes are traditionally tapas, so you’ll want to order a few to get a good variety and enough food. On the other hand, some of their dishes, like the “Wood Roasted Rice” or “Over the Open Fire Pit” dishes are huge and designed for multiple people to eat them. Be aware of this, and if you’re not sure, always ask your waiter!
So When Should You Make Your Own Trip to MAD?
MAD is definitely not a restaurant you decide to go to on a whim when you don’t feel like making dinner. MAD is an experience fit for an occasion, like a birthday or anniversary dinner. It’s very expensive, we won’t lie, but it’s worth it. Not only is the food a unique and delightful fusion of Spanish foods, but the atmosphere will make you stare in wonderment the entire time you’re there. We hear they’re also having a killer New Year’s Eve dinner, but reservations are tight so check for yours, like, yesterday, and try not to go mad in the process 😉
That’s it for this week! We’ll see you next year, fizzies, with a recipe inspired by the cocktails of MAD (Really enjoying that. Probably won’t be stopping anytime soon). Happy New Year’s!