Tuesday, April 2, 2024

THE place for paella... maybe....

So today we went out to the beach to visit the famous Casa Carmela.  It's allegedly THE pace for Valencian paella here in the hometown of paella. I give it a 6/10 score and the one we had the night before at Los Gomez a 8/10 (which I would give the same to El Infante's paella as well.)

We chose Los Gomez because we gone to their other location twice on our last visit to Valencia and this time we were seeking non meat non fish non fowl options for when Angela visits.  But here are the two meals.

First the famous Casa Carmela history from their website:

Casa Carmela started off as a shack that was used as a changing room for the occasional bathers on Valencia’s beach in the 1920s. My great grandfather, José Belenguer, travelled every day of summer from Horta de Vera, the neighbourhood where the family lived, to provide service to tourists from Madrid visiting the Mediterranean. This was in 1922 and he named the business after his wife, my great grandmother Carmen.

As the years passed and in addition to giving bathers a place to change, Casa Carmela also started serving up meals and providing accommodation. Uncle Toni and Lola ‘the Laugher’, my grandparents and the children of the founders, raised their own livestock in the back farmyard and brought the fruits and vegetables from the family vegetable garden and orchard, in the Vera district.  Using these ingredients and the freshly-caught fish from the boats each day, my grandmother prepared the stews of the day for the occasional people out strolling by the sea and – above all – for her regular clientele. These regulars included the owner of the holiday home next to Casa Carmela, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez.

The Valencian writer, politician and journalist kept this beach house despite his long stays abroad. His first wife, María Blasco del Cacho, spent many summers there along with their four children. The youngest, Sigfrido Blasco-Ibáñez Blasco, played dominoes with my grandfather in never-ending games they would play as the day cooled down in the long afternoons.

During the following decades, with the onset of spring and good weather and especially in summer with the city’s Festival of July, the premises were bustling at night until the wee hours. Waiter bearing large trays rushed out to the seafront terrace that were loaded with seafood, rice and paella dishes, caragolà (a stew flavoured with escargot), pepper and salt-cured tuna…

In his book Tram to Malvarrosa, Manuel Vicent evokes the ambience of those years well: In the afternoons, we strolled to the end of the beach. (…) Passing by the line of holiday homes at the end of the beach was Casa Carmela next to a Pompeian-style villa owned by writer Blasco Ibáñez, although it was half abandoned after being seized by the Falange and the last Flechas Navales [sort of marine Boy Scouts] and first gypsies were camping there. Under the thatched roof of Casa Carmela using a bulrush chair as an easel, Julieta started to paint and we shared periwinkles and mussels.

In the seventies, right around when I was born, my auntie and my mum, both already married, took the reins of the business permanently, overhauling the establishment, building the wood-fire paella pans and cookers and Casa Carmela was ready to specialise in rice dishes. They made the paella – just like today – one per table, as many as groups of diners, with a very thin layer of rice and socarrat (a thin caramelised layer), smoked by the wood from the fire, cooked to perfection.

The restaurant was expanding, the terrace was added to the dining area, covering the walls with emblematic Valencian Manises stoneware tiles and installing the paella barbecues and kitchen. And I joined the staff and could get down to the nuts and bolts of the business, as well as the hobs.

With the new century, I took over running the company and, since 2011, my quest has been to innovate, seeking new challenges for the business and, in parallel and above all, emphasise the deep value of tradition, my family’s traditions. Casa Carmela has kept its centenary cuisine, the smoky taste of the wood-fired paellas of my great grandmother and, in short, the best from the Valencian sea and land with a homemade family flavour.

Paella is still shared after being placed in the middle of the table, according to the ritual of my ancestors and, further, with the last modernisation of the premises, we serve from a new bar where diners can enjoy our traditional local cuisine as tapas. During this last reform, we also created small private dining rooms for family celebrations and work meetings, in a more intimate setting.

My challenge each and every day goes beyond captaining our ship with 100 years of history, a capacity for 150 plus diners and preparing some 25 wood-fired paellas at each service, as well as managing a team of over 30 people. My challenge is also to do so knowing that four generations of my own family are peeping over my shoulder from the past, encouraging me to ensure that eating at Casa Carmela will be a different, delicious and, if possible, unique culinary experience. 

here are two of their photos-

So while that is interesting - the proof is in the pudding as they say. So here are my own photos- 

So it was the first really warm sunny day and it was nice to be outdoors. 

last night it was so cold we both went to the store on the corner to buy sweatshirts LOL Here is the one I got myself...

Then we were able to go to dinner without freezing! It has been cold for the entire last week!

The night before we had greek food which I liked way more than Phil - a beautiful walk there and home after dinner...

the walk home- 

We continue our exploring- soon we have plans (after returning from Madrid) to go to the Biopark and then the City of Art & Sciences (when Angela and Lee arrive.)  Then shortly after the kids leave we will be departing for home base in Sevilla.... time flies!

Sunday, March 31, 2024

more eating in Valencia

 So we have been trying to stay warm despite not having packed the right clothes for the 40* weather we have been having regularly here.  It has been unseasonably cold in Spain the last ten days. In part we think it may be due to a sandstorm in the Sahara that has covered all of Portugal and most of southern Spain. So we have been staying close to "home" - going to the market and eating everything but dinner at our apartment.

today's brunch at home:

Last night's dinner - really excellent place- 

The night before we had a good dinner at a bad restaurant. A brazilian Japanese fusion place with terrific creative dishes and nice staff but an abysmal restaurant administration. QR code menus with no open wi-fi connection and a surly "bouncer" out front who tried to stop us from going into the restaurant.  The staff were pleasant but most spoke only Spanish and the clientele were mostly English speaking.  We did better than most because we actually are fairly decent with restaurant Spanish.  

You will see in the photos - the food was very creative- but we won't be returning- the meal was good but it was way too expensive to not have equally good service.  Here is a telling story of the way the place was run.  We wanted to leave a 20 Euro tip for staff and because all we had was a 50 Euro note we asked for change at the bar, telling them why we wanted it, and were refused ("we are not allowed to make change.") So no tip for the poor employees.... Oh well...


sorry, no photo - the sandwich was tasty but very very very messy! 

Today we are trying a Greek place - so we'll let you know - the time changed overnight to daylight savings and we are off kilter as we had no reason to get up early. So the sun sets now at almost 9 PM. YAY! unfortunately that is not yet making it warmer here... And it has been even colder in Sevilla! Which is a shame given that literally thousands of people are outside for the processions for Semana Santa. Photos taken below by my intercambio Julia last year from her balcony during Semana Santa. 

It is a very big deal - very big-  videos taken by Julia and Pablo (her husband) 

So more to follow- at the end of this week we are headed to Madrid-