Yesterday was my birthday. To celebrate, Embry found a promising restaurant, called “Richard Camarena” in one of the guide books. We asked Anais to make a reservation and showed up promptly at nine via cab at what we thought was the proper address, hoping that we would not be too early. The cab stopped in front of what was the address, but there was no restaurant or anything else for that matter—only a large, black imposing door. By the time we concluded that we were obviously at the wrong location, the large black door suddenly opened, and a fashionably dressed young couple dashed in, greeted by a guy wearing a tux and no tie. We followed.
We were at the right place after all. We were greeted warmly by another guy in a similar outfit and quickly escorted to one of the dozen or so tables, most of which were surprisingly already occupied (at such an early hour) by what appeared to be a pretty young, hip crowd—mostly in their thirties, guys wearing levis, designer tee shirts and blazers or sport coats, women also in jeans and high heels. The décor was understated and Spartan with concrete floors and simple wood tables with no tablecloths. The dim lighting, however, created a cozy atmosphere; and excellent black and white photographs–mostly of nude women– decorated the walls. The most surprising thing was how few tables there were and how much space there was between them. You could have—and in the US would have—easily doubled the number. At the end of the room was an open kitchen with at least a half dozen guys in chef hats feverishly working away.
Within a couple of minutes, the first of our three waiters came over and greeted us in English. In English! First of all, how could he have known we weren’t Spanish since we are not tourists but are living the Authentic Life of locals? And second, how did he pick up English? In Australia, it turns out, where he spent a year; and his co-waiter, who also spoke good English, spent time in London but was actually Italian.
And so the evening began.
We were provided a simple, one page menu (in English!), which was titled “Our Proposal for Today” and listed 16 dishes, the last three being desserts. We only had to make one decision, however, how many of these dishes to order—six or nine or eleven. Richard, the owner and executive chef, would determine which dishes we got. I decided to go with nine and Embry six. And the prices were not exactly what you would call cheap, especially here in Valencia where we have been eating lunches for two, including beer, for under 12 euros—75 euros for the six dish option and 90 euros for the nine dish option.
It turned out to be a bargain.
There is no way I can do justice to what came next. The waiter first unwrapped a bundle tied with a gold ribbon, which contained the bread. Then the first dish came—and this one was not even on the menu but courtesy of Richard—a “drink” though really more like a soup, which contained wild ranch chicken juice, wine and radishes, followed by a second “gift” from Richard, a dish of spring onions, cream butter and black garlic. The other nine dishes followed. The first was “Courgette peel, steak tartar, fresh strawberries, cottage chease [sic] and capers emulsion,” –and that is just one dish! Then oysters from Valencia, avocado and “horchata” of galanga (no, I do not know what any of this is); and on it went finishing up with two desserts “slightly spicy orange salad and peanuts” and “sweet carrots, yogurt and roasted coconut,” which was one of the best deserts I have ever eaten even though I hate carrots and yogurt and coconuts.
And when Embry mentioned that this was a birthday celebration, another dessert, a small cake with a candle and ice cream, appeared.
And as good as the food was—and I believe I can say it was the most delicious I have ever had—the service and the presentation of the food were even more impressive. We got a change of silverware between each of the 11 dishes and three napkin changes. (Beats me why there were three.) The time between dish changes was usually only a couple of minutes, and all three waiters were friendly and attentive. The third waiter, by the way, was a drop-dead gorgeous blond, also thirty-something. And each dish came in museum quality bowls and pottery of all shapes and sizes. And did I mention the wine? Incomparable.
At 11:30 we had finally finished and were ready to head home. The other tables were still mostly occupied, and no one showed any sign of leaving.
Now I know that by my telling this story you may think that combined with my cruise ship stories I am hopelessly obsessed with food and am a total dissolute, which, of course, would not be far from the truth. In my defense, however, I hasten to point out that the dishes were tasting portions and therefore rather small. So it is not as excessive as you might think. And, of course, to truly understand a country you must taste its food. One way to look at this over-the-top behavior is to think of it as research. Can there be any doubt based on this research where Spain stands?
13 thoughts on “Day 19”
Great posts from a wonderful-sounding trip. Just had to point out that for three or four times the price, triple the density of seating, and two-thirds the wait-staff, you might be able to get a similar meal at Komi on 17th Street in DC! Richard Camarena sounds heavenly.
Thanks,Bruce,I think you are right.
No food photos with your cellphone? This is 2015! Of course, you evoke the food and the atmosphere so well that I can visualize them. I’m really happy you had such a great birthday evening. (Thanks, Mimy!)
Just found the restaurant’s website, for foodies out there: http://www.ricardcamarena.com/
It did not occur to me at the time to take photos so thanks for the tip!
Hey, happy belated birthday!!!
Sounds terrific. Doesn’t surprise me. I ate well on a very modest budget in Spain 45 years ago.
A former dishwasher quite appreciated your clarifications about the portions.!@
Horchata is a rice-based drink found thruout Latin America and Spain. If you haven’t gone to the rice fields outside Valencia, it’s a great trip. Loved your dining experience.
I am crazily enjoying your postings; whether they’re factually correct or not, they’ll do for vicarious tripping.
This year Good Friday coincided with the first night of Passover (as is proper). We had a crowd of 21 for a festive event including delicious food, but your dining “experience” shows how very provincial our fare was.
Have you checked whether you have valid contact information for other places you’ll be staying? Somehow I think not, but things do seem to work out! I’m hoping your trip continues to be wonderful and wondrous.
Thanks,Ann,the saga continues. My next post will be about the wild and crazy and profound Holy Week experience in Valencia. Stay tuned.
The yogurt, carrots and coconut desert reminded me of a marvellous tofu soup Mimy bought for you and me at a fancy restaurant in Washington. We both claimed we hated tofu, but the soup was called something else on the menu and we loved it!…
Hi Joe and Embry; have been enjoying your very interesting blogs. Fascinating. We’re the couple you met on the promenade deck on the Z.; brother-in-law also went to Union? Sorry to read about Embry’s fall; she’s a tough broad! Looking forward to reading about your upcoming adventures. Safe travels.
Great to hear from you and we are delighted that you are following us! Embry is now back to a normal frenetic pace. Thanks so much for the comment!
–Joe and Embry