Friday, July 4, 2014

Valencia Festivities: Noche de San Juan

One of the fun things about Spain, and Valencia, is that there are always so many festivals!  Recently, we passed the Noche de San Juan.  This is celebrated the night of summer solstice, June 23 - Midsummer in as Northern Europeans celebrate it.

In Spain, Noche de San Juan involves fire and water. And conveniently for those of us along the coast, we can go to the beach to celebrate.  I went to the Valencia city beach, La Malvarrosa since it's convenient to get to from the city center by bus.  This evening, the bus company ran extra buses through the night for this festivity.

Here we can see some fireworks from the promenade.  See how many people are here at midnight!
















The beach was absolutely packed, and the air was hazy from all of the fires that people made.  La Malvarrosa is a very wide beach; this view is actually looking north with the Mediterranean on the right hand side.


At midnight, we went in the water and jumped over the waves and made wishes!

Valencia Eats: Double trouble at La Mattina

Often I'll put up with poor service when the food is fantastic, and other times brilliant service ameliorates lackluster food.  At La Mattina, near Plaza España, the service was a cringe-worthy amateur-hour comedy performance and the food must have been made by college students on a hot burner in their dorm room.

With a group of 7, we ordered the dinner set menu for about €17 per person.  This included 3 starters, either pizza, lasagna, or linguini with pesto, beverage, and dessert.

The first to come was the charcuterie plate.  Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of it - I was with a bunch of friends of friends so was a bit shy to take pictures of the meal!  But I wish I could show that it was basically a plate of cold cuts from Mercadona, the mainstream supermarket.  I know because I buy cold cuts from Mercadona, too.  There was deli ham, chorizo, and other non-Italian selections.

We also got zucchini carpaccio, which was dry and tasteless.  Topped with balsamic reduction and black sesame seeds.



















The third appetizer was a salad with mozzarella, tomatoes, and spinach.  At this time, we had yet to receive PLATES.  For the first two appetizers, it wasn't a big deal, but salads served in communal bowls are hard to eat without plates.

After the three appetizers came (and plates, finally), we waited another 20-30 minutes, and then the waitress comes out and says they have only enough dough for 2 pizzas, when we had ordered 5.  Hmmm, we were the last table of the evening, and they only figure out AN HOUR after we order that they don't have enough ingredients to serve us?

So then we consulted the menu again, and chose some other pastas.  The pastas were all incredibly bland. There was a spaghetti with a thin tomato sauce, and the pesto pasta on the dinner set menu was served with spaghetti instead of the advertised linguini, and the sauce was so dry and tasteless I felt like I was eating macerated lawn grass.  I realized at this time that actually they had run our of linguini long ago, because a table being served when we were ordering had asked why their pesto pasta was with spaghetti, and the server just curtly said that they ran out.  Yet the server didn't inform us that there was no linguini when we ordered.

Oh, and the lasagna burnt but cold, and had to be sent back to the kitchen to be reheated.



And the pizza which was apparently so popular they ran out of dough?  So so.  It didn't taste bad, but it was spongy and floppy.  I much prefer the refrigerated pizza my roommate gets from Mercadona and heats up in the oven at home.  That I look forward to.  This on the other hand, was quite forgettable.




There was also ice cream at the end, but I did not partake because I just wanted to leave.

In the end, I thought for SURE we would be comped at least one meal, or be given something extra to compensate for the mishaps on so many levels.  Yet there was nothing!

La Mattina is highly NOT recommended.  Stay away.

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La Mattina

Carrer de Honorato Juan, 11
46007 Valencia

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Valencia Eats: Chinese at Bar Frenazo

So this is an interesting name for a restaurant: Bar Frenazo.  In Spanish, Frenazo means "slamming on the brakes."  In Chinese, the restaurant's name is 温州面馆, or Wenzhou Noodle House.

In any case, my Spanish friends all really enjoy eating Chinese food, and are quite gung ho about trying new things.  This area just to the west of Estación Nord is Valencia's little Chinatown, and we've been to this place a couple times.  At first, I was terribly let down by this place, due to horrible 干煸四季豆, stir-fried green beans.  They were really only barely cooked with garlic, instead of the usual condiments, and though severely undercooked, were still incredibly greasy.  How is this even possible?


The 锅塌豆腐 (egg-coated tofu) on the right, on the other hand was excellent, using soft tofu and lightly coated in egg.  On this basis, I agreed to return (my friends really wanted to come back).

This visit turned out a lot better.  The waitress warned us that because the kitchen was busy, we'd have to wait a long time for the egg-coated tofu, so recommended the home-style tofu instead 家常豆腐.  It was tender, and the vegetables still crisp.  The sauce was just a tiny bit spicy, which was probably the maximum that Spanish people generally tolerate.

Other dishes we ordered were fried noodles, sweet and sour eggplant, and salt and pepper shrimp.  The sweet and sour eggplant was excellent, with the eggplant being custardy yet still retaining that bright purple skin.  The sauce wasn't overly sweet or salty either.  The shrimp had a nice peppery flavor, but were a bit soggy and far too salty.  Most Chinese meals in Valencia have left me parched, and this meal wasn't an exception due mainly to this shrimp dish.  The fried noodles were passable, but it's the kind of thing that seems thrown together just with random ingredients.


Ironically, after being warned about the long 20 minute wait for the tofu we originally wanted, we waited probably a good 45 minutes for the potstickers to come out.  They came with a well-balanced filling of chives and pork.  These were nicely done though (a bit salty still), so I wasn't terribly upset.

Before, I would dread whenever my friends would want to eat Chinese.  They are far from the best Chinese I've ever had, and I can sometimes cook things myself that I would enjoy more than what they serve.  But I then realized, that if I had any one of these restaurants just a 15 minute walk from Potrero Hill in San Francisco, or Clifton in Cincinnati, I would be overjoyed.  In the end, there are quite decent Chinese restaurants in Valencia, and are just a 15 minute walk from home.

And cheap, too - with 2 bowls of rice to share among the 5 of us, and a big bottle of water, the total bill was €29!

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Bar Frenazo / 温州面馆
Carrer del Matemático Marzal, 22
46007 Valencia

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Valencia Eats: Menú del día at the MuVIM restaurant

One of my favorite places for menú del día in Valencia is the restaurant at the illustration museum of Valencia, MuVIM.  I've always sat outside on the terrace, and unlike many restaurants in Valencia, the terrace does not front a road, but actually is in a courtyard looking at the orange trees of the beautiful municipal library building (formerly a hospital) and a Roman archaeological site.

The menú here passes that usual €10 mark, running about €12 on weekdays and €15 on weekends including a beverage, but is well worth the price for the quality and amount of food.

On the chalkboard there's a list of starters, but you don't choose just one, you get all three.  On my two visits in December, the first course was a meatball soup.

















Second was "coca" which is flatbread from Valencia and Catalunya.  Here it was topped with bell pepper and a nice salty cheese.

















This third course would be quite satisfying as a main course.  It's a piece of cod, with an Asian-inflected salad of bean sprouts, seaweed, and soy vinaigrette.  Light, with a nice contrast of different textures.



The choices on my two visits were secreto de Iberico, which is a "secret" cut of pork.  Served with potatoes.





















The other choice is this arroz calderoso, which is like soupy paella.  This one had shrimp and other seafood in it.



















Finally, dessert was a brownie in vanilla creme, with fresh pineapple.



I find the MuVIM restaurant super satisfying and wouldn't hesitate to go back.  It's also great to bring guests to, because it's a pleasant location close to the city center, and features typical Spanish food, but presented in a modern way.

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La Terraza del MuVIM
Carrer de Quevedo, 10
46001 Valencia







Monday, May 26, 2014

Valencia Eats: all you can eat chicken at La Parrilla

Pollos Planes is a local Valencia chain of chicken butcheries where you can buy chicken and chicken-based products (skewers, sausages, chicken burgers, etc.) to make at home.  They have two stores where you can get these prepared for you, in unlimited quantities, at great prices: €6.80 weekday lunch, and €7.80 weekday dinner, weekends, and holidays.

Basically, you get a table, and then go up to a counter where you can pick out your things out in the display case, or order a sampler platter for the number of people at your table.  You can also pick up your unlimited toasted bread here, unlimited potato chips, condiments, and beverages (which you pay for separately).  Then you go back to your table and wait while they grill up all of your food to order ("parrilla" means grill).  Listen for them to call out your name, so you can fetch your platter.



















We got the sampler platter, because it seemed a lot simpler than picking things out individually.  This included several pieces of grilled chicken breast, thigh, several different types of skewers, chicken burgers, sausages, and french fries.

In retrospect, it would have been more interesting to order individually, because some of the plain pieces of chicken thigh and breast got boring after a while, and no really liked the morcilla (black blood sausage).  Plus, the fries were soggy.  But they have other items like chicken nuggets and burrito wraps, and other flavors of chicken and chicken burgers, which seemed interesting to try but weren't included in the sampler.  Also, I would skip the fries which were greasy and soggy, as well as the toasted bread which was cold and just filler.

Still, I thought it was a really fun experience, with freshly made-to-order food, at a great price.  I'd recommend arriving early for lunch, because the place fills up fast!

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La Parrilla de Pollos Planes

Calle Martínez Cubells, 8
46002 Valencia

Gran Via Marqués del Turia, 62
46005 Valencia

Friday, May 16, 2014

Valencia Eats: Burgers at Mediterránea de Hamburguesas

The gourmet burger trend has hit Valencia, and Mediterránea de Hamburguesas is a major player with two branches in prominent locations, one in Ruzafa and the other near el Mercado Central.  I really like the concept, as the menu claims that the beef is free-range from Valles del Esla of the province of León, and the bread is handmade, 100% all natural and baked in a wooden oven.  You can choose from four types of bread, and beef or veal patties.

Unfortunately, the execution fell short of the concept.

I ordered the "Chicago," which is basically a bacon cheeseburger.  Out came a burger topped by a mountain of streaky bacon.  The bacon was floppy like in an English breakfast, and there was too much in relation to the size of the burger.  The burger itself was dense, deep brown on the outside sharply transitioning to a solid disk of pink inside.  It's as if someone took a frozen patty and cooked the outsides while pressing down to make the raw meat inside solid.   The fries weren't memorable.


What I liked least about the experience was that while we were eating, we saw some posters that ordering certain menu items entitled us to free dessert as part of a promotion.  The waitress never told us this, and once we found out, we went and asked about it.  Indeed, we were finally asked what we wanted.  I did like the brownie and ice cream, but wish the staff were proactive in offering this rather than keeping it a secret.



I wouldn't choose to return to Mediterránea for another go, as there are so many more nice places in Valencia to try.
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Mediterránea de Hamburgesas
Calle San Fernando 22
46001 Valencia
Spain

Valencia Eats: menú del día at El Kiosko

El Kiosko is a restaurant near el Mercado Central that's quite popular among both locals and tourists.  It has an old-timey feel with murals inside, and fronts a neat square with outdoor seating (this square is shared by other cafes and restaurants as well).

The first time I went to El Kiosko was within the first few months of arriving in Valencia.  I had rarely eaten out, and thought the price was great with huge portions.  I returned more recently for a second visit, and wasn't quite so impressed this time.  The price at €11 is still great for three courses, beverage, and a huge loaf of bread, but I felt the quality was missing.

First course was a stuffed eggplant.  The cheese on top was hard and crunchy, as if they used non-fat cheese and let it sit too long under the broiler.




















The main course - merluza (hake) with fries was dull in both presentation (could it be any more yellow?) and flavor.




















I quite enjoyed the flan - can never go wrong here.  I was disappointed to see that the stacks of supermarket-bought flan in the refrigerator when I went in to pay the bill.




















El Kiosko would be a nice place to have a drink and share one or two tapas, but there are better choices to be had in town for a fulfilling meal.
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El Kiosko
Calle de los Derechos, 38
Valencia 46001
Spain