The real interest of Estragon is the dishes you won’t get anywhere else. Take the tongue on toast ($6). No, really, try it: The tongue is cooked from scratch, sliced thin, and buried in a slightly hot mojo verde—what the menu calls a "Canary Island salsa"—with avocado, bell peppers, garlic, and lots of parsley and sherry vinegar. You won’t know it’s tongue, just something soft and, yes, palatable. Nor will you know that the golden mini disks painted with a creamy mayonnaise are actually cod cheeks with pil pil ($6), not mayo at all but a sauce of the fish’s natural gelatin emulsified with olive oil. You’ll just think they’re what snack-sized fish fillets ought to be. Veal sweetbreads ($12) might be a tougher sell, because they’re undisguised, though pretty: one foie gras–like slab, dusted in flour and expertly sautéed so it’s soft and fresh-tasting in the center, its natural sweetness accented by "toasted milk sauce," a slightly caramelized, pudding-thick concoction dancing a delicate balance between sweet and savory, and accented by wedges of grilled orange. This is sophisticated cooking, incorporating techniques we haven’t seen before.
Not up for anything quite that exotic? Leave the offal to the gastronauts and stick with the classic tapas—or the superior "feisty" fries ($8), with a sweet and hot paprika dipping sauce, notable for good frying technique using plenty of the olive oil the kitchen employs in everything. That’s a benefit of the traditional emphasis; a drawback is the salting, heavy even by Madrid standards and especially pronounced in plain fish dishes, such as the grilled whole bronzino ($26) and the cod fillet with chili oil ($26). That latter unremarkable offering at least has something most main courses—in fact most dishes—at Estragon don’t have: vegetables, in this case slices of zucchini. Shoestring fries are a more typical side. For greens or vegetables, you need to order one of the salads or the roasted eggplant ($6), which is awfully good but oily, too, and covered with little chunks of chorizo and pine nuts.
You won’t have room for dessert, but the three offered are all worth ordering: flan ($6), of course, served room-temperature as a low, wide disk with enough runny caramel to make a light soup; an odd and slightly tough but interesting chickpea-flour pound cake ($8), served with classic natilla (custard) sauce and grilled peaches; and three custom ice creams from Toscanini’s ($7), developed at Estragon’s request. Two of the ice creams, nougat and salty caramel (the third is sherry), deserve to always have a place on the menu.
Okay, I’d like less noise and less salt. But both of those are pretty Spanish. So are the friendly service and lively street scene that help Estragon bring brassy, vivid urban life to a part of the city that didn’t even know it needed it.