monti otoño 2013

monti otoño 2013

Los mandarines y pontífices, la crítica gastronómica y la Red

Llevo en pocas semanas leídos ya media docena de descalificaciones, repletas de improperios, a la crítica, o simple opinión, gastronómica en la Red. Todas ellas de reconocidos comentaristas de los medios escritos de comunicación, algunos incluso críticos (en alguna ocasión). Alguno, incluso autor de meritorios Anuarios.

Es sorprendente el papel que puede deducirse que se pretenden arrogar: el de interpretes únicos de qué está bien y de qué no en el arte del buen comer y mejor beber. Como si el maltrato recibido en un restaurante o su deficiente calidad, nunca reseñados por ellos porque nunca lo sufriran por ser quienes son, no justificara un desahogo. Más: como si el lector de los mismos en alguna red fuera un subnormal incapaz de enterderlo como tal.

Ello además de otro elemento relevante que transcribo de alguien que sabe mucho más que yo aunque esté referido a la Red en general pero es de aplicación: "se echa de menos en su panorama algo más de acento en la vertiente creativa de la Red, que sin duda es importante. Hay gentes, que nunca habrían accedido a publicar en las ágoras que controlan los mandarines de la cultura y el mercado, que ahora publican y con mérito. Y si alguno lo hace por exhibirse es con el mismo derecho que tienen a exhibirse los pontífices de la opinión". Pues eso.

sábado, 26 de octubre de 2013

Valencia best restaurants on a budget

Mercado Central: where it all begins (© Jesús Ciscar)   .
Every day, more foreign visitors of Valencia are looking for a good place to enjoy the excellent Valencia’s cuisine but without willing to pay a high bill. And fortunately Valencia has a bunch of restaurants that make perfectly possible to combine good food (and service) with travelling on a budget (to spend less than 30 € for a superb meal). 

I guess you have to do a little looking around and not just rely on Tripadvisor to find the very good restaurants Valencia has at a very good price. It is true that you have to go out of these streets full of tourists. But most of the restaurants included below are very near from the City Center. And Valencia is not a big city. In fact, I have added after the name of the restaurant the walking time to go there. It refers to a calm walk from the main entrance of the City Council (without getting lost). More or less is the same as the indicated by Google.And as you can test none of them is more than a 25 minutes walk from the indicated point.

All the included are excellent, or very good, compared with the most commonly restaurants visited by average foreign visitor. They are own by young chefs who have found the magic formula for combining quality, service and good value for money. And all can be considered inexpensive by any European standard. In most, for a little more of 20 € you can have lunch (with a glass of wine generally not included in the menu) and for around 30 a suberb dinner (again in most of them).Pay attention to the websites they have, because in some cases the bill can be a little higher depending on the Menu you order.

All are restaurants where at the moment local people represent 95 % of their costumers. This fact is amazing in an era with so much information (and with so many tourists in Valencia).The fact can be explained by several reasons although two seems the most relevant. The main, besides the shortsighted attitude of local authorities who dont give any support to them, is that owners, usually the chef and his family (not relevant women by the moment in this category), do not give too much importance to be known outside their usual guests circle. But also, because despite the friendly staff who will allow a foreigner to have what they want to eat without any difficulty in being understood, the adaptation to the flow of foreigners visiting Valencia has been very limited. Just an example: most of the menus are only in Spanish. 

In any case, in all of the included below, reservations are recommended specially for lunch or on weekends (they usually have mail to be use if Spanish is not good enough for giving them a call). Otherwise the risk to not find a table is certain. Dont be afraid to use the mail, I am completely convinced that all of them will be more than glad to have you as a guest.

It is also important to have in mind some clues when visiting this type of Valencia’s restaurants as far as the majority have developed some quite unique treats. For me they are difficult to understand but this point is out of the scope of this comment. Thus, many of the included offer at lunchtime only a set menu established by the chef (different starters, like small tapas, and a main course, (often rice, almost always excellent but not usually paella, or the meat dish or fish of the Day and dessert). But in the evening the same chefs offer a more sophisticated menu (at a higher price) and sometimes several of them. Hard to understand in my view. It’s true however, that others, as indicated below, have the Menu of the Day and a Menu list. Obviously there the choices are  greater. Luckily all the ones with website explain this features (in Spanish). 

On the other hand, be aware that as is most  countries drinks are not usually included, which implies that the final price will higher if wine is ordered. But the wines offered are quite interesting, and the prices marked are right. Their selection is good enough (better in reads than in whites) to taste some of the new Spanish wines, most of them of small winemakers at a reasonable price. Last but not at least, dont forget that it's hard to find them open before 2:00 PM or 09:00 PM in the evening. This is perhaps their worst disadvantge in relation with the "tourist restaurants" open all the day around. 

Another clue that should be known is that, being real or just an excuse to make cooking more exciting for the chefs, they change the menu almost every day (or the most conservative weekly). In some cases, the cause refered is the dependence on what can be found each day in the Market (most of this restaurants can be included in what it’s called Cocina de Mercado: market cuisine). And in others, the reason given is that they cook basically for loyal local people who will be bored if the same is offered for too long. 

The real effect is that website information is not always updated. And at the same time, unfortunately it is still very difficult to find one in a language other than Spanish or Valencian (the way we speak Catalan). If, as is the case, in almost all of the restaurants quoted the menus are only in this two languages and translation (especially the names of Mediterranean fishes we have) is not always easy, it can be helpful to have at hand a small dictionary.
Another relevant aspect to know by foreigners is that tipping is completely optional in Valencia as throughout Spain. To tip for service is welcome everywhere. But, the fact is that most of Valencians are not leaving anything for the service nowadays. In any case, tip amount is never as in the States a percentage of the bill. If you decide to tip, the staff generally is professional and for sure friendly, consider that in Spain it is usually based on the number of guests. A tip of a couple or three euros is considered OK (in this restaurants) for a party of two but can be considered unpolite for one of ten.

1.-Q de Barella (20 min)
Set Menus (with excellent rice dish for Lunch) from 25 € (without drinks, petit fours and bread) to 40 €. It
Q de Barella
is perhaps the most expensive of those listed here but is the best right now in Valencia if you are on a budget.  Fresh market raw product  cooked to perfection. Barella has an active  presence on Facebook but unfortunately for the aim of this post he cares more about posting pictures on the products he get in the market than on his elaborations. His wife usually attend the dining room and does it with professional cordiality. The menus are set, but they allow changes between what is offered in them. The restaurant urgently needs a website and also menus in various languages to become what it deserves (also perhaps a faster service from the waiters). In any case, today (Fall 2013), is a Must if you want to know what Valencian gastronomy is all about.

2.-Delicat (10 min) 
A beautiful small restaurant  minimalist (valencian) decorated, offering a set menu at midday for 12 € with an incredible quality for this price. In the evening has open Menu (more or less around 20€ without wine). Unfortunately it does not have an active presence on Facebook nor has an website to allow checking the quality and diversity of the menu. You can have Lunch for about 15-18€ (with a glass of good wine) and dinner in the evening for a little over 20 € (depending again on the wine). The restaurant often modifies the dishes offered, but in my experience they are always good ingredients cooked with care. It's better to book because the place is small and very appreciated by local people.  Some entrees have Asian touches and also (less) Latin American ones in a kind of Mediterranean Fusion not very common in Valencia. An other clue: in my view, the success of the restaurant is based, given the good cuisine present in many others, in the extreme kindness of the owner and her attention to the guests.  

3.-El Ventorro (10 min). 
El Ventorro
Located just 200 meters from the start of Calle de la Paz, whose opposite end is one of the mandatory stops for tourists visiting Valencia. It's a place where traditional dishes are cooked and served like we do at home in Valencia.  Therefore it is quite different from the rest; it is what we call a Casa de Comidas; to eat like at home (although usually more and with more wine). Here you will find the same products you have seen at the Central Market (if you have visited it) just cooked or panfried.  The owner, who manages the dining room, knows a lot about wine. Asking for the price is appropriate because the Menu is not always given to costumers; most of the local guest know what they are going to pay, although surprises are not excluded. In fact has eliminated the website. In my experience you can eat here for 30-35 € with an excellent wine (one bottle for three or four guests). Of course, if  you don’t  order  Denia shrimps or Carril clams (if availables)!!. Check opening hours -right now I dont know where-because evening opening times vary during the year. For Lunch is always open during weedays. Better if you book although it no as full as when it was one of the choices of the low level bank executives who used to work nearby.

4.-Mulandhara (25 min)
This restaurant is perhaps the one farthest away from the tourist center of the City, but near (just 10 min.)  from de IVAM museum. Recently, its young and dynamic chef Alejandro Platero has won several relevant awards in regional rice disches contests. Enough for be included here. But it is not the only reason. He serves a lunch menu for 15 euros (plus 1,5 for the bread) with several -six- choices of rice dishes as main entree togheter with an other for 25 (Menú Degustación del Día). At night, the chef  let free his  imagination and
Platero and his wife (or Bernal and her husband)
offers an evening dinner that delight his fans. The price in the evening is not as moderate, but if one has to believe the comments published it is good value for your bucks. Maybe some dishes are a little too strong for people of a certain age like me but is Valencian cuisine 100%. He is also present on Facebook and has a complete website where you can find information about what he offers.  Like most of the restaurants here listed the menus are set. If you like to discover valencian cuisine and you dont have limitations in your taste, you will be delighted by his good cuisine. (PD.:  Platero is the only chef I know in Spain that after a crude criticism in this blog, it is my way to write comments, posted it in his Facebook page and (for sure without agreeing with me), interact through private messages in order to improve the points stated.)

5.-Mar de Avellanas  (8 min)
Mar d'Avellanes
Excellent restaurant almost always full located less than five minutes away from Plaza de la Reina.Therefore if you think in visiting it, it is necessary to book.  It serves Mediterranean cuisine and is one with a website with enough  information (not always updated) to get a very good idea of what you can eat there. Unfortunately all in Spanish as far as I know. Good prices and better quality. Luch Menu for 20 € (19,50)  with a glass of wine and coffee. Interesting wine list but less than in other places. Offers two set Menus (menu del día y menu degustación)  and and one open which is a great advantage if you like to choose what you want to eat.  It allows small changes if a dish of the set menus dislikes you. Beautifullly decorated its main drawback is that it's quite noisy. In part because Valencians we are, but also because it has put too many tables for the soundproofing they have. Some of the friendly staff speaks a little English which can be always helpful. 

6.-Blanquerías(15 min)
Located at one of the borders of the Barrio del Carmen, very close to
Torres de Serranos  and the old river. It is a very good option both if your are visiting the IVAM Museum or the Barrio del Carmen. Opened very recently (again this post is from Fall 2013) but is becoming one of the better moderately priced options in the city. The two chefs come from Mar d’Avellanes.  Offers good local products and has several advantages besides location (if you are in the area). Offers set menu but also a quite complete open Carte to introduce yourself in the Mediterranean cuisine.  Has a comfortable distribution of tables and the wine list is quite interesting with most of the references at a moderate price. Here you can have lunch with the set menu (includes a glass of wine or a bier) for about 25 €. A little more if you choose from the Carte.  The website is outstanting but...just in Spanish.

7.-Kiaora (15 min)
A creative chef who is specializing in organic products and moving very fast into new imaginative creations full of color (I have not  tasted them yet). It has a set menu at midday for 15 euros (posted in Facebook) with bread and coffee (without drinks) where he demonstrates his expertise. Usually it has a rice dish, the national product of the Valencian Community. In the evening and at a higher price (around 30 € without wine also set menu) the chef demonstrates all his abilities as you can see in the pictures (fall 2013) in Facebook. Friendly service but a little slow when full. Its main drawback is that the place is quite noisy and a little bit to austere. Offers only set menus. But this is much more than a fashion now in Valencia; it is a Tsunami. Fortunately for them, because I have a minority taste. Two Thumbs-up!: Web partly in English and opens half an hour before the average (13:30 and 20:30).

8.- La Comisaría. (15 min)
In the center of Barrio del Carmen. I have put it at the bottom of the list not because it's inferior to the others but because my reference is older and things change in gastronomy (or can do) very quickly. It does not seem the case because on Facebook it’s possible to see some recent contributions (good-looking). Also you can find the Menus on the web, with very moderate prices.  Unfortunately, it can be applied here the indicated at the beginning of the post about the frequent variations in what this type of restaurant offer. So it is hard to
La Comisaría
figure what exactly are you going to eat a specific day. In any case, la Comisaria has a combination of good product  cooked with other cuisines touches  (mainly Asian). For local people like me who can get [most of] the extraordinary product the Mediterrean gives us at the Mercado Central this kind of restaurants gives us extra flavors.  The staff has been always I went very friendly. The caveat: the place is (very) small. But it has to be said that it has a proper distribution of tables.

lunes, 14 de octubre de 2013

Sharme: una opción contra la monotonía de Denia

La oferta gastronómica de Denia es quizá la más abundante de las ciudades de la Comunidad Valenciana. Tiene una acreditada calidad aunque en esto no sea excepcional porque son numerosos los buenos locales de restauración que de norte a sur dominan este territorio. Y algunos muy próximos como Casa Pepa en Ondara, ¡lástima su persimividad con los móviles y el tabaco! o Casa Manolo en Daimús con una barra a mi entender poco aprovechada. Pero sí parece única la combinación entre cantidad y calidad que se da en esta ciudad que celebra el milenio de su Taifa con el gobierno de Muyahid Yusuf al-Amir y que algunos, según leo, comparan exageradamente en mi opinión con la Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia

A las faldas de su castillo se encuentran al menos media docena de restaurantes que gozan de un destacado reconocimiento del público. Pero sin dejar de reconocer lo obvio todos, menos el estrella de El Poblet, tienen un gran pero: su oferta gastronómica de cada uno de ellos, es tan parecida a la del otro como dos gotas de agua. La atención al producto, una ventaja competitiva innegable todavía poco aprovechada, y los arroces, con el a banda como estrella, conforman su oferta gastronómica. Realizada  en la mayor parte de los casos con profesionalidad aunque no estén ausentes fallos impresentables como los gritos de la cocina que se oyen en todo el comedor en Peix i Brases o un servicio a menudo desbordado en El Raset. Aún con ellos, las cartas, que no menús, contienen una buena representación de la cocina mediterránea que tanto gusta a quienes nos visitan.

El problema lo tenemos los que no somos foráneos sino que vivimos, al menos la mayor parte del año, aquí. Y que tenemos acceso al mismo, y en ocasiones mejor, producto  através del mercado (Mercado Central de Valencia en mi caso). Si, por mencionar, sólo un ejemplo uno puede abastecerse de gamba de Denia, cuando no está en veda ecológica como estas semanas pasadas, en Pepin (y sabe mirar y selecionar cuándo compra) poco pueden mejorarla en un restaurante de Denia o de fuera de Denia. Y cuando lo hacen es cobrando unos precios astronómicos que hacen enrojecer de verguenza. Y así con otros productos incluído el arroz a banda que, para qué engañarme, el que más me gusta es el que yo cocino (con la mitad de ajo que en Casa Federico por ejemplo).

Estando como estoy hasta más arriba del gorro del abuso de normalización de la cocina mediterránea, dentro del cual pocos en la zona se salvan,  ha sido una satisfacción rencontrarme con Sharme un local en la marina del puerto que ofreciendo calidad en producto y servicio, se separa de este adocenamiento generalizado de menguante atractivo para quienes no somos turistas.

Regentado por una pareja rumana, que habla un inglés muy superior a la media, el restaurante ofrece los elementos para considerarlo una opción atractiva cuando se desea salir de esa cocina que con el pretexto del escaso tratamiento del producto ha acabado estancándose (y en bastantes casos reduciendo la calidad del mismo). Servicio profesional, mucho más en la pareja que la camarera que han tenido este verano empeñada en saber mejor que uno mismo lo que se quiere comer y beber, carta atractiva (no actualizada en internet por desgracia) y suficiente frente a la obligación de comer la voluntad del chef, producto de calidad aceptable, claridad y rigor ante las preguntas sobre la procedencia y la composición de los platos y precio mucho más moderados que en la competencia. 

Un ejemplo infreceunte en mi experiencia: viendo bogavante en la carta preguntó la comensal que estaba pensando el pedirlo por su procedencia. Sin alterarse y con una cordial sonrisa el jefe de sala le contestó que no estaba seguro pero que creía que eran canadienses y qué, desde luego, estaban vivos. A lo que añadió: "si no le gusta el plato se lo cambiamos sin problemas". Todos lo probamos y sin ser la textura ni el sabor espectacular, todos coincidimos que eran superiores al 80% de los ofertados en el mercado español (por no compararlos con las inferiores servidas en la restauración francesa: el afamado parisino Le Duc sin ir más lejos). 

¿Que ofrece Sharme? Pues una cocina basada en el producto, como todos, pero con toques foráneos entre asiáticos y latinoamericanos. De esta segunda cocina toma el uso del cilantro en las ensaladas o el curry presente en ocasiones en su oferta y de la primera las hojas de plátano en el que envuelve el atún a la plancha ofrecido en estos meses pasados. Junto a ello unos tartares bien elaborados o un tempura conseguido.

¿Es todo igual de positivo? Pues no aunque  superen a los no detalles negativos. Entre éstos segundos destacan el que la combinación de bar y restaurante hace que la música invada la terraza con unos bajos retumbando en toda ella. Insufrible en determinados momentos de la visita. Por no mencionar el amenazador  e inmenso televisor que decora el comedor interior que no invita a visitarlo en invierno. Y por otro lado, el estado de los lavabos de hombres son impropios de un local de esta calidad de cocina y servicio. Pero  aun con ello es un restaurante a tener en cuenta como ya saben bien el buen número de extranjeros que hartos de pagar lo que no vale lo que ofrece la competencia, llenan sus mesas. Mál que pese así son las cosas.