We’ve always thought of the outdoor cafe tables at Oriente as Madrid’s seats of power. They overlook the Palacio Real and the Plaza de Oriente sculpture garden, and there’s a courtly decorum to the service. But since new managers took over the venerable restaurant a few years ago, the menu has become a little less precious and more accessible. Certain classics remain, including dainty sandwiches such as the house special of lettuce, tomato, pickled pepper, mayo, ham, cheese, and asparagus. But you can also order a cheese-laden pizza topped with Cabrales, Manchego, Mahon, and mozzarella. Just be sure to save room for a pavlova with freshly whipped cream and fruit or a fancy ice cream dish. A meal is hardly the point here. You sit down at Café de Oriente so you can feel like (and are treated like) you own the world. The indoor dining room, long a bastion of French cookery in Madrid, is now decidedly Spanish, if still quite traditional. Look for dishes like whole sea bass roasted on a bed of coarse sea salt served with a tomato concasse, basil oil, and flash-fried baby leeks.
- Frommer's Staff