It was as if a food business flash mob had assembled the other night at Sacha, a rustic little self-styled "Botillería y Fogón" (Bottlery and Stove) in a tiny alley off Calle Juan Hurtado de Mendoza in Madrid's northern sector.
At the table with master wine- (Roda) and olive oil- (Dauro) maker Agustín Santolaya and his agronomist/oenologist daughter María, we enjoyed a succession of stunningly flavorful morsels. We started with a steamed oyster and proceeded to sample a vast array of local dishes, including, in chef Sacha Hormaechea's words, a tortilla vaga (a "lazy" — that is, unflipped) omelette, covered with black truffles; some jumbo shrimp served in a mortar and pestle to allow diners to make private emulsions with the notoriously dark and delicious inner workings of the shrimp head, in which to swab the jumbo shrimp corpus; a dish of cardos y borrajas (cardoons and borage greens); and crab ravioli with sea urchin sauce; culminating with bone marrow from a 13-year-old ox in a rich, dark sauce, with slipper bread along with a strip or two of ox meat — all memorably deep and pungent.
As we ate, food celebrities — in town for the international gastronomic conference Madrid Fusión — started popping up to say hello to Santolaya, one of Spain's major food and wine communicators and media asteroids. First was Mikel Zeberio of the recently inaugurated Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastián, one of the greatest connoisseurs of the cuisine of the Basque Country and a longtime food writer and expert. Then came Jesús Sánchez, owner of the restaurant El Cenador de Amós in a charming village near Santander, while over in the far corner were Daniel Patterson of San Francisco's two-star Coi fame and Corey Lee of the same city's three-star Benu, the only two American chefs invited to Madrid Fusión this year.
At the door, we ran into Toni Massanés, director of Fundación Alicia, the Ferran Adrià-backed food research foundation near Barcelona, accompanied by author Cristina Jolonch of Barcelona's top newspaper, La Vanguardia, and Lourdes Reyzábal González-Aller of the Fundación Raices, which places immigrants in need of work in restaurants around Spain, including Sacha (one of them was on station in the kitchen at the time).
Just another working night at Madrid Fusión...