Olde Madrid Restaurant100% Local
418 6th St.
Racine , WI 53403 (view map)
The world of tapas is supposed to be a small one; small portions, small prices, small talk.
For chef Manny Salinas, the traditions of tapas are big. They, alongside the ideals of his Spanish mother, are the foundation for Sixth Street's Olde Madrid restaurant.
"My parents taught me to be polite, and I'm old school basically," Salinas said about his propensity to walk through the dining area greeting customers. "I think it's very important that the customer see who's actually behind the scenes, who is making the food and who owns the place. And they take that to heart, that you come out and talk to them and actually stand by the food … I just want to appreciate the people that come here and I want to let them know that I appreciate them."
Appreciation and gratitude are never far removed from any conversation with Salinas. Having grown up in Illinois, and having worked at such large-output operations as the Marriot Hotel and Abbott Laboratories, Salinas said he is grateful for the knowledge he's gained as a chef. And after earning a culinary arts degree from the College of Cook County, Salinas was appreciative when Shogun co-owner Michael Choi mentored him and advised the opening of his own restaurant.
"I had the chance to do whatever I wanted with this building. I could have done Mexican. I could have done whatever, another Italian place, but there's so many of them, I think with this we hit the monopoly because nobody has this. It's something different," Salinas said. "We didn't know if it was going to work out or not. Nobody knew about tapas here in Racine, so it was a scary thing to do, first of all, and I just thought it was a smart decision because I already knew the food and I grew up eating it."
As Salinas tells it, the history of tapas originated some 300 years ago with Spain's King Alfonso.
"Everybody did everything the king did. If he wore his hat on one side, everybody did it."
At some point the king came down with a stomach ailment and could no longer eat large portions of food, so his staff began bringing him smaller portions of the food he enjoyed, along with his customary glass of wine. When flies began to land in the wine, the king's staff decided to take one of the small plates of food and set it over the beverage. Everyone in Spain soon began to serve their food over a glass of wine in the tapas (meaning lid) style.
With 18 hot tapas and 11 cold tapas on the menu ranging in price from $4.99 (for the baked goat cheese) to $8.99 (for the seared scallops), customers shouldn't have a hard time trying something new with each visit. Add to that, nine paella options ($8.99-11.99), two soup options ($3.99) six entrée options ($13.99-$22.99) and four deserts to choose from, and no one should leave hungry.
"I'm very gracious with food. I'm not skimpy at all … I've always liked it when you go out and you get big portions for the money, and people here always end up taking it home; always," Salinas said. "They eat some, but because they have the tapas … and then the paella on top of that they can't finish it all."
Paella is a Spanish dish consisting of a rice base, Saffron (at about $850 per pound, it gives the dish its signature flavoring), Spanish paprika and extra-virgin olive oil.
The meat or vegetables that are added are cooked separately and bring their own flavors to the dish.
While the paella dishes are meant to feed three or four people, the tapas are presented as a la carte options.
"It is not coming with fries, it is not coming with mashed potatoes, it's not coming with any other thing. It's just what you order," Salinas said.
"The idea of the tapas is really fun and they're all really good," Mike Thielen of Racine said, after his fourth visit to the restaurant. "If you can have lots of really little good things (it works out)."
Voted the second-best new restaurant in 2007's Best of Racine County, the orange walls inside Olde Madrid help make the restaurant pop when walking down Sixth Street after dark. Once inside, the plants emerging from the walls and wooden table and chair setup bring a unique atmosphere to a unique restaurant.
"I really like it. I like the atmosphere," former Racine resident Greg Ross said of the restaurant that opened after he moved to Michigan. "It has a nice open atmosphere but not too noisy and I thought the selection was nice, the portion size was right. Sometimes you go to places and the portions are just too big. The portion size was nice and the food was excellent. I thought the value was really good."
A dream come true
Admitting that he's always wanted to open his own restaurant, Salinas began his cooking career as a high school student working in a pizzeria and at a fast food joint. He eventually became a prep cook and from there he worked for Jim Spodick, owner of the Historic Century Market, for three years.
"Believe it or not I never touched food at home, even though my mother is from Madrid," Salinas said, slipping into a Spanish accent when saying the city's name. "She did all the cooking at home."
Olde Madrid has been molded, over the course of the past half year, into the restaurant that Salinas, 28, envisioned. The current winter menu is the second in the restaurant's short history. Salinas said he plans to add to the menu this spring.
In all, Salinas said he would like to update the menu three times this year, adding more of his original tapas recipes with each edition. The ultimate goal is to some day have in the neighborhood of 130 menu options (with new choices arriving every year he stays in business), while also keeping the favorites around.
The baked goat cheese is one of those favorites. Salinas said it is ordered by nearly 90 percent of his customers.
"It's just something that everybody can share. It comes in a bowl, you put the fresh goat cheese in there, you bake it in the oven and then you get toasted bread with that and it's something you just dip in there," he said. "I make my own marinara sauce and mix it together with the goat cheese and it's just outstanding. The flavors that come out of there and the bread, you can't beat it. A warming dish that's not so expensive. It's only $4.99 and maybe four or five people can eat out of there. People love it."
Repeat customer Mark Lukow of Caledonia agreed. Having tried the seafood bisque, seared scallops, The Matador paella, baked goat cheese, garlic chile shrimp, gourmet cheesecake and orange zest flan, Lukow mentioned that his group of three could have gone anywhere because the meal was being paid for through an expense account, and they chose Olde Madrid.
"The first place I ever had tapas was in Puerto Rico, San Juan, and this was in like a 5-star hotel in a historic district, and from what I remember from two years ago, their quality compares favorably with the tapas I had in San Juan," Lukow said.
Salinas counts on repeat customers like Lukow and Thielen, as well as word-of-mouth testimonies to keep the customers coming through the doors at Olde Madrid. And as long as the lights are on and the doors are open, people should feel welcome to come in. Salinas promises never to turn away anyone with an appetite at any time.
That's the kind of appreciation for his craft and his customers that Salinas hopes will keep him in business for decades to come.
"My goal is to be here as long as the beautiful people of Racine let me stay here," he said. "I will still be cooking 20 years from now, if God lets me and the people let me, I will still come out and greet them, I will still be cooking their food."
This little place feels like you are coming home. There is great atmosphere and you can be sure that you will have enough to eat and be pleased with the efforts of the staff. Everyone is hospitable, the food is outstanding - nothing fancy or exotic - and the staff will do their best to mmake sure that you are pleased with your meal. From the bread with hummus to the desserts, you can definitely have a great meal at a reasonable price at Olde Madrid........
The food is always wonderful. You get exactly what you want, if you want more, they bring it. The signature dish "seafood gumbo" is out of this world..... safron broth with chicken, scallops, andoulille sausage, and shrimp....oh,and rice, and topped with my favorite things, cilantro, advocado and onions ....to die for....New on the menu is Cornflake encrusted scallops, my favorite is the goat cheese, no, the garlic shrimp, no, the beef kabobs.... it is all great.....you must go. Oh, and great, friendly service.
Vernon Hills, IL
I can honestly say this was one of the best meals I have ever had. I went with my folks and some family friends who have been going here since it's opening and they claimed it was the best Tapas spot ever.
For Tapas I was blown away at the portions and freshness of the food. we got 5 plates between 5 people and probably had 2 plates left over with nothing over $9 except the gumbo. The meat was fresh, flavors authentic, and combinations were completely unique. My dad ended up asking the chef for his gumbo recipe and he was nice enough to put it down in chicken scratch on a ticket (the chef is the owner).
If you are startving I recommend the Paella....for 14 bucks you get enough food to feed 5