When traveling to a foreign country, my family tries to eat like the locals. We wander the streets, finding hidden gems, forced to break language barriers through pointing to words on the menu ordering one thing and getting something completely different. On our recent trip to Panama City, we instead found ourselves indulging in local fare at a Panamanian hot spot, by Michelin Star chef Andrés Madrigal.
Madrigal’s namesake restaurant offers a three-course tasting menu for lunch, utilizing 90% local ingredients, including the catch of the day from the local fish market. The kitchen infuses Spanish and Mediterranean flare into each dish, while still maintaining the integrity of the local produce.
The menu changes daily, and reads entirely in Spanish, with the adorable waiter translating portions of the menu. When translated, the dishes seem simple, a protein and singular side, but don’t let this fool you. Everything is far more complex then it seems.
Complimentary glasses of house wine arrive with a basket of warm bread and olive tapenade.
Chopped into tiny pieces and infused with lots of garlic on the fresh warm bread, the tapenade is one of the most incredible versions I’ve ever tried. It’s texture seems similar to that of a caviar, bursting with flavor. Even my Mom and sister who despise olives (they cite the Olive Theory) took a bite, and ended up going back for more. It’s the olive dish to convert all haters into lovers.
Four options are available for the appetizer portion of the meal; two highlight the fresh fish available, a lentil soup, and an egg dish. We avoided the soup on the scorching hot Panamanian day.
My Mom and I both ordered the Crab dish, served with fresh tortilla crisps.
A basket of fresh, crispy tortillas sat in a basket adjacent to the dish, as a vehicle to devour the delightful, fresh crab salad. The light brown coloring of the crab looked similar to tuna, but the taste was unmistakably fresh. Lightly seasoned with citrus and fresh cilantro, the large pieces of crab are sweet and mild in flavor. It’s a delightful little tower of crab to start the meal.
My sisters ordered the ceviche, a pile of fresh seabass surrounded by sweet citrus juice.
Citrus broth surrounding the fresh pieces of fish hit all of the notes, tart, sweet and slightly salty. The acidity from the broth slightly cooks the Sea Bass, while still allowing it to retain its freshness. Once the fish is devoured, take a piece of fresh bread to soak up the citrus until the bowl is completely empty. It’s delicious.
The best meal of the entire appetizer round, and perhaps the entire meal, was the incredible 45-minute egg.
Served over a beautiful, vibrant sweet potato puree and topped with sautéed mushrooms, the delicate egg glistens with flecks of sea salt. Break into the yolk, it begins to ooze over the potatoes creating a rich and seductive sauce. One spoonful of all the elements is heavenly, making you realize you have never truly enjoyed eggs until now. A dish like this separates the good from the great, transforming simple, rustic ingredients; eggs, potatoes and mushrooms, into something simply extraordinary.
For the main course, two orders of the freshly caught Sea Bass arrived, pan seared on top of rice and topped with arugula. The bass was cooked to perfection, and the peppery argula contrasted the sweetness of the fish. But the rice underneath was really the ‘wow’ factor, infused with a subtle coconut flavor and sweetness.
The fresh salmon is served over a bed of Israeli couscous mixed with sautéed vegetables. The fish is flaky and delicate, with a hard sear on the skin side and topped with fresh herbs.
Thin sliced, crispy sweet potato chips balance on top of four chicken meatballs, which are seemingly glued into place by a pile of sticky, creamy mashed potatoes. The moist meatballs are bursting with flavor, making you forget that it’s a leaner, chicken version.
A deep brown, sweet sauce coated the roasted pork shoulder, served a beautiful medium rare next to a pile of sautéed vegetables and a pool of mashed potatoes. The potatoes were sticky, unlike anything I’d had before, and weirdly addictive despite the unusual texture that coated your tongue.
Just when you think you can’t eat a single bite more, dessert arrives.
Glass cups filled with an airy chocolate-hazelnut mousse that melts as soon as it hits your tongue. Topped with caramel ice cream. the different temperatures and textures create a complex, yet light dish. It’s delightful combination, and that ultimate sweet bite to end the meal.
After watching countless episodes of Chopped, I have seen so many varieties of Pain Perdu, but have never tried the dish myself. Until now.
The creamy ice cream melts around the caramelized slice of bread, creating a chilled soupy sauce. The Pain Perdu sweet, crispy bread soaks up the flavor of the ice cream. It’s hot and cold meeting in a bowl of sweet and savory goodness.
Our meal at Madrigal was outstanding. The service was impeccable, and the dishes were local fare with such a high class twist. Each ingredient was so deliberately utilized on the plate, with such care and attention put into every element. Madrigal highlights the importance of using high quality produce and allowing it to shine.
If you find yourself in Panama City, head on over for an incredible three-course meal that will introduce you to local ingredients in a way you’ve never seen before.
Madrigal – Avenida A at Calle Fifth Oeste – Panama City, Panama