July’s Apartment: Valencia

Our plan to rent a bolt hole in Valencia for a year was put on one our back burners. Renting an apartment in Valencia for a month was the consolation prize. Oliva is still home, but it was always meant to be a comfortable place to begin our explorations.

The question always comes down to, “Why?” Strip away all the rationales and it’s, “That’s what we do.” A change of venue might change the nuances of an act, but it doesn’t change the performers. Our unspoken motto is, “If you want to keep moving, you have to keep moving.”

July’s apartment is a five minute walk from Valencia’s world renowned Central Market. We have already scoped out a bakery that makes the bread I’ve been looking for. We have never gone wrong at any of the produce stalls.

Donna found a gourmet shop on the way to the market. It carries several dozen varieties of olive oil. A bottle of spicy extra-virgin Cornicabra now graces our kitchen counter.

My personal quest was for a bottle of hot sauce to doctor up any paella I am persuaded to try. This is a horrifying notion to Spaniards. Even 5th graders I met were shocked by the notion that paella could be improved with a little heat. I was assured by a South American stall owner that a bottle stuffed with Malagueta peppers from Brazil would do the trick.

Valencian Restaurants:

We have favorite restaurants in Valencia. They are tried and true, but adding to our list is part of the quest. It might be the real quest. You can get me to go to a museum once. I am usually ready to find an exit half way through. A restaurant? If we find a good one I want to go again tomorrow, and I’ll stay for dessert!

We used to make fun of El Encuentro’s sign. It says the restaurant has been around since 1994. That’s a blink at our age. Pre-COVID we ate at the bar and watched the finishing touches being put on everything coming out of the kitchen. That experience made believers out of us.

We tend to show up at lunch when the restaurant caters to the business crowd. Drinks are perfectly made, and the food is good enough to let a client know you mean business. Take the waiter’s suggestions seriously.

A few years ago the concierge at a fancy hotel we lucked into gave us a handwritten list of restaurant recommendations. He let us know his list wouldn’t help us find tourist fare.

La Salvaora was fully booked the first few times we tried make reservations. Our persistence paid off. When you wake up in the morning wanting another bite of last night’s meal, you know you have been fed well. The avocado ceviche we ordered on one of our return visits has inspired several dishes in our home kitchen. Even departures from the original are getting encores.

The Plaza de La Virgin in Valencia is full of frozen food restaurants that cater to tourist crowds. Saora’s tables are always reserved in advance. That’s the first hint that this place serves food that’s a cut above the rest. If you are in the mood to people watch in a historic location, Saora is your best bet.

Kukla was an accidental find. We just finished viewing an art exhibition at the Carme Contemporary Culture Center (highly recommended, air conditioned, & free) and it was 90 degrees outside. We turned a corner and Kukla looked inviting. All of the outdoor tables had toy animals with notes that had someone’s name on them. An inside table next to an open window was available.

Kukla’s vermouth is house made. The falafel took me back to my University of Washington days when Cedars of Lebanon first opened on the Ave. It’s tough to beat your first falafel. I’ve had quite a few that brag about being the world’s best. Kukla’s and one from a hole in the wall in Barcelona are better. It’s like Texas BBQ though. The debates are fierce. I know for certain we are going back to Kukla tomorrow. Donna swears their eggplant sandwich is the best she’s ever had!

Clochinas are only available from May through August. They are small firm fleshed mussels that pack a briny punch. Our preference is for broth that’s rounded out with enough garlic to keep vampires at a safe distance. We order clochinas every chance we get.

At this writing the clochinas at Palacio de la Bellota are the standouts. Eating the mussels is only part of the experience. Sopping the broth up with bread is the real test for me. Three fist pumps is my highest score so far. The broth at Palacio de la Bellota was on the verge of earning four. If bread had been served at the same time the mussels were, earning four fist pumps would have been a breeze.

La Pilareta is known for its clochinas. On crowded evenings boxes are supplied for customers to chuck their shells into. La Pilareta’s mussels delivered a walloping dose of brine. Garlic would have smoothed out that wallop. The paprika in the broth was too faint to counteract the Mediterranean’s saltiness.

El Encuentro’s clochinas balanced the flavors of garlic, salt, lemon, and mussels. Nothing overpowered the dish. Bread was a timely and pleasant accompaniment, but it wasn’t necessary. Scooping up the broth with a spoon, mussel shell, or bread all worked fine. I wound up giving their preparation two fist pumps, and that’s probably not fair. I can actually remember what their mussels tasted like. It’s just tough to beat Bellota’s broth!

And the winner is yet to be determined!

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