In the Shadow of the Prado

If my trips to Madrid have been notable for one thing, it would be overindulgence. It’s not just the food, but the art. After all, Madrid has the Prado, which houses one of the world’s most exquisite collections of European paintings. As if that weren’t enough, the city also has the massive Reina Sofia museum of modern art (home to Picasso’s most famous painting, Guernica), and the Thyssen-Bornemisza, a once-private art collection that spans the history of Western art from the Middle Ages to the modern era.

Before my most recent trip to Madrid, I searched for some celiac-friendly restaurants. The Asociación de Celíacos de Madrid has an excellent website, with information available in Spanish and English; the association maintains a gluten-free restaurant list, and it offers some general guidelines about ordering in Spanish restaurants as well. The restaurants on its list include spots such as No Sólo Pasta, which may be the most famous gluten-free restaurant in Madrid, and Madrid 20. However, there was no mention of my favorite restaurant from my first trip to Madrid, before I was diagnosed with celiac disease.

Once in Madrid, I decided to give El Cenador del Prado a try anyway. Located close to the Prado, the restaurant recreates the elegant world depicted in some of the museum’s 18th- and 19th-century paintings. Located in a dramatic, antique-filled building, El Cenador is filled with gilded mirrors and trompe l’oeil paintings. Its most beautiful dining room has trellis lattices and flowers painted on all four walls, creating the impression of being seated in an opulent gazebo on a sunny day.

I remembered from my previous visit that the restaurant’s service was just as luxurious as the surroundings, and I wasn’t disappointed the second time around. Much to my surprise — and delight — my waiter knew exactly what celiac disease was. He then proceeded to call over the other servers and have them read my Spanish celiac translation card, so that there would be no confusion about what would be served to me. My waiter consulted with the chef and described to me, in a mix of Spanish and English, what my options were. I ended up having a creamy mushroom soup followed by grilled cod with potatoes and leeks. Dinner was accompanied by a selection from El Cenador’s excellent — and affordable — list of Spanish wines. For dessert, I had Spanish cheeses and fruit, which made me feel, as indulgent as I was that evening, almost virtuous.

El Cenador del Prado [address] Calle del Prado, 4, Madrid 28014, Spain [tel] 91 429-15-61 or 91 429-15-49 [web]

Balenciaga and Baguette


I’ve been a fan of the department store El Corte Inglés for years. What began as a flirtation with the ubiquitous Spanish chain when I first encountered it in 1999 in Madrid turned into a full-fledged love affair after a couple of subsequent trips to Barcelona, where I learned that the store doesn’t just carry souvenirs, clothing, toiletries, housewares, and electronics, but some of the most exquisite shoes I’ve ever seen. How could you not fall in love with a store that carries beautiful pumps by Balenciaga – and sells them at a reasonable price?

I couldn’t imagine that my passion for El Corte Inglés could get any deeper, but that’s exactly what happened on my last visit to Spain. While I was researching my trip (my first to Spain since being diagnosed with celiac disease), I came across the association Celíacs de Catalunya, which provides information for gluten-intolerant people who live in the Catalan region. In addition to recommended restaurants (which includes some information on other parts of Spain, too), the website provides a list of stores that sell celiac-safe foods, and I spotted El Corte Inglés on this list. After a visit to the store’s website, I was entranced. Was it possible that the department store’s supermarket division really stocked gluten-free croissants by Proceli, madeleines by Adpan, and baguettes by Special Line El Corte Inglés, with each product priced between 2 and 5 Euros? I suspected I was dreaming.

It turned out to be reality. While not every El Corte Inglés supermercado carried the full range of products that appear on the store’s website, every single one carried enough gluten-free goodies to thrill me and my taste buds. Not only was I able to enjoy baked goods sin gluten every day of my trip, but many of the products were vacuum-sealed and dated five months ahead (though once the package is opened, the contents need to be consumed within a few days).

In addition to my almost daily visits to the supermercado, I had to drop by the shoe department once or twice, too. Even with so many packages of Proceli croissants in my suitcase, I managed to find room for one more pair of Spanish-made shoes. The croissants are long gone, sadly, but the shoes are enjoying their new home in New York.

(A note on language and translation: The El Corte Inglés website is in Spanish, while the site for Celíacs de Catalunya is in Spanish and Catalan. You can translate some of the pages using Google. To view the options at El Corte Inglés Supermercado, you will need to enter a Spanish postal code. Can’t think of one? Type “1” in the box and a drop-down menu called “Centros de Recognida” will appear. Pick any option on that list and it will bring you do the main page for the supermarket. Because of the frames on this page, I find Google’s translator doesn’t work with it. Click on the first drop-down menu and select “Alimentos dieteticos”; in the second drop-down menu, select “Productos para celiacos”; on the third drop-down menu, click on each selection in turn to find gluten-free beer, cookies, breads, pastas, and other products.)