It wasn't until about 10 or so the first night that I got to Lloc de Tapes. This was definitely a chow-based recommendation. I was surprised that I found the restaurant rather sleepy, in an nondescript part of the city about a mile from the historic center. There was only one other table seated on this wednesday night. The tapas were in the 8-16 Euro range, a sticker shock as I was coming from Portugal. My stomach and soul eager, I ordered grilled calamari, patatas bravas, croquettes, and asked the server's recommendation on a few other plates. "No, no, no", he counseled. "Too much!'" I should order only the calamari, half an order of the patatas bravas, and one croquette. Then I could see if I was still hungry. I appreciated this! At home, let's face it, in tapas or "small plates" restaurant, the first thing you get is a big lecture from your server about 3-4 plates a person and you feel them trying to instill an obligation to order enough to earn your place at that table. The calamari was excellent! Very fresh, large, nice sear, flavor, and texture. One of the best plates of calamari I've had. It was a generous serving, and with my delicious croquette (best croquette on this trip) and my two square shaped portions of scrumptious patatas bravas, I was perfectly satiated. I washed it down with house red wine, which was quite good. My server also presented me with a complimentary after dinner drink, that sweet and apple-y. (I found this to be a common perk of being a solo female diner on my Europe Trip.) Moscatell maybe? Anyway, big thanks to the chows because the food, as well as my service, were excellent and it's a definite recommend on my part.
Paella was a not a small part of why I chose to visit Valencia on this trip. It was hard to gather enough research here on chow, as Valencia isn't covered a great deal, so in cross referencing with other sources, I came to the conclusion that either Levante or Casa Roberto would be the best for paella-- I decided to hit them both.
First was lunch at Restaurant Levante (the one in Valencia, not the original outside the city). Levante is the paella choice of Jose Andres. My hostel had called to make reservations and said they were only open for lunch. I'm not sure if that means they're only ever open for lunch or just the day I happened to be going. So Levante is large, sunny, caters to an upscale and business clientele. Lots of men of suits dining here at lunch. The server was incredulous that I wanted to order my own paella, which is meant for at least two people and takes 40 minutes to cook. She offered instead a "plate" of paella, seeming sure I'd find that more suitable. I surely wanted my own paella! I had to convince her I meant it! I had one single mushroom croquette while I waited, and it was super tasty but tiny. 40 minutes later, I had this huge seafood paella that was stunning, topped with whole and various crustaceans. It was delicious. I eagerly consumed about 2/3 of the pan- something I'm sure she's never seen a solo female diner do before or since. The rest was wrapped up for me. It did not exactly have the famous rice crust socarrat on the bottom of the pan. That made a little bit sad, but it was so delicious I didn't care. The server told me that the chef was flown to Jose Andres's new restaurant in Las Vegas as a paella consultant. She was very nice, and I received a free coffee.
That night I had the leftovers for dinner. Another wonderful perk of staying in a hostel instead of hotel, besides being able to prioritize my trip budget on FOOD, is the kitchen. I was able to refrigerate my leftover Paella, and then later heat it up and eat at the dining table. With a three euro bottle of wine, I was all set!
The next day I had lunch at the Mercat Central, which you probably know is the "Boqueria" equivalent for Valencia. What a wonderful, happy place! I could (and did) spend hours there. I bought saffron, paella seasoning, cherries, candied Valencia oranges, pastries, and more. There is only one real sit-down bar restaurant type of eatery inside the Mercat. It was crowded with locals which was a good sign, so I waited for a spot. I ordered a bocadillo (sandwich on baguette) of serrano ham, tomato (which is always served on bread like a crushed spread), and cheese. It was delightful, the best sandwich of my year.
My last dinner was at Casa Roberto, the other popular paella spot here on chow and elsewhere. The atmosphere is somewhat formal and old school, including jambon carving station with a whole pig's leg. I ordered the same mariscos paella for one. (Actually they took my order when I made my reservation, I'm not sure if that is standard). So, traditional Valencian style paella is with rabbit and chicken. I do not eat rabbit and I'm not big on chicken, so I allowed myself to go for shellfish paella both times, which is also a "specialty" of Valencia if not the namesake version. I have to say, this paella was very disappointing. There was a strange and unpalatable flavor (kind of sweet- almost like cinnamon?) to the dish that I couldn't overcome. It was overly oily… Also, one of the seafoods in the pan were these round, white, super dry little chunks….I literally could not tell if they were supposed to be scallops (if so, they were brutally abused) or if they were just roundish chunks of dry fish. I ate as much of it as I could and made myself very full, but sadly I did not enjoy it much. It was the same price as my Levante meal, though clearly Levante was leaps and bounds ahead. Neither had much of the elusive socarrat! Maybe that stuff is more of legend than found on Earth…
I'm not sure why Casa Roberto enjoys so much esteem, but I hope my paella experiment can be of use to future Valencia visiting chows! In retrospect, I think two tapas nights and one paella night would have been better. Also, I visited the beach and the paella establishments there looked like such a romantic, scenic, if not cliche touristic setting for enjoying paella. Next time I will try La Pepica or L'Estimat.
Sadly, the next day was my departure. I woke up early and returned to the Mercat for a breakfast(actually right outside the market on the street is where a few sidewalk cafes are that cater to the breakfast and happy hour crowd, serving food from the market) of toast with jambon imberico and a couple cafe cortados (cafe macchiato). I also took a to-go bocadillo for my lunch on the airplane. : ) Whenever I will lose a meal to an airplane or train ride, I try to take good stuff with me!
(In the pictures, the first paella with more crustaceans was Levante, the one with the mussels and round maybe-scallops?! is Roberto.
- uh oh, only roberto's pic showed up. How can I add more pix?