Memento restaurant, is the first solo venture of American chef, Karen Bell, a remarkable young woman, who after training in the United States and Paris, and dulling her knives at some of the finest kitchens in Chicago, San Francisco and Madrid is now proving herself to be a supremely gifted, though incredibly modest, chef in her own right.
Located in the center of Madrid very close to the Alonso Martínez district – an area known equally for its working suits, trendy boutiques, traditional tapas bars and fancy new restaurants -, one of the most immediately charming features of Memento are the massive floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto the street, forming the outer wall of the restaurant. The interior is just as welcoming with its subtle combinations of light, color and materials that manage to achieve that rare synthesis of warmth and modernity. The minimalism of its slate floors, black tables, and small chrome bar is softened by comfortable red chairs, candlelight, flowers and a large picture window looking into the ample kitchen with its fire-red backdrop.
And while the food doesn’t require a blow torch or dry ice to prepare it — apparently all the rage in this day and age – it is anything but minimalist. Each element of each plate has been as carefully conceived as the last. Seasonal, fresh, creative, and satisfying, every bite reveals honest flavors mixed together with excruciatingly marvelous precision.
The attention to detail, and more importantly the attention to the harmony and artistry (we won’t say “fusion” again, no matter what) of each composition carries through to the creative and almost entirely Spanish wine list. There is a wide and carefully thought out selection of whites, reds, and sparkling cavas from an array of different wine producing regions, from the lesser known Somontano, Montsant, and Toro regions to the more traditional wines of la Rioja, Rueda and Penedés. Not only are there quite a few wines that can be ordered by the glass, but there are also some half-bottles available which is a great way to try a variety of different things in one seating.
As far as appetizers go, you might start off with the Iberian cured ham with melon, fig reduction and basil sorbet paired with a crisp glass of oak-aged Mont-Ferrant-Berta Bouzy Extra Brut Cava; or the red tuna carpaccio with sea urchin vinaigrette with the Pionero Maccerato Albariño from D.O. Rias Baixas. For something a little more luxurious, you could try the fresh seared foie gras with cherries and ginger, its velvety richness set off by the faintly spicy and slightly sweeter rose and floral notes found in a bottle of Viñas del Vero GewÃƒÂ¼rztraminer from D.O. Somontano. Not only does each of these wines marry well with these, and other dishes on the menu, they are an excellent testament to the variety and quality of Spanish whites, and to the wide array of grape varieties that can be found on the Iberian Peninsula.
For a main course, I recommend magret duck, with pancetta wrapped figs and drizzled with balsamic goodness, paired with the Isabel Negra (crianza 2002) from D.O. Penedés. 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot, its polished tannins are woven into folds of lusty fruitiness and hints of vanilla, perfectly meshing with the sweetness of the figs and balsamic and the robust flavor of the duck. Another great choice would be rack of lamb with quinoa and asparagus risotto, and crispy sweetbreads, accompanied by a spicy and dense red made from 100% Mencía grapes from the lesser known D.O. Bierzo, in Castilla-Leon. And yet another outstanding red wine is the Valsardo (reserva 2001) from Ribera del Duero. Aged for two years in oak, it is intense, complex and rounded by sweet tannins and ripe fruit. This wine is a perfect match for the New York Strip steak with roasted bone-marrow and garlic crust, puree of red wine braised butter beans.
These are just a few of the delights that can be found on the constantly rotating food and wine menus, and if the terrific wines don’t keep you entertained enough, you can always dip into the innovative cocktails which are as fresh and well thought-out as everything else at Memento. To wit: fresh cucumber cosmopolitans, key lime margaritas, passion fruit caipiriñas, and the pomegranate Manhattan. In all, a restaurant that more than holds its own, and an owner that has identified and captured all of the ingredients of a grand success.