Labarra (Valencia, Spain)

For our second dinner in Valencia, we wanted to find something a little bit outside the tourist belt, but still Spanish and convenient to downtown. After a little bit of research, we settled on Labarra, a small Tapas bar located a few blocks south of Carre Colon, and thus a few blocks outside of both the old city and the main tourist beat in a fairly quiet neighborhood, with several outdoor tables nicely arranged on a little square.

Our goal this night was to do some tapas, since the previous night we’d done the obiglatory paella and morcillas, so wanted to try something a little brooders from Spain. Ordering was a little difficult, since, like the US, Monday is the slow night of the week for restaurants, and they didn’t have several items on the menu. That, combined with our Spanish and the waiter’s English having very little intersection (although the waiter was outstandingly patient in dealing with us and our bad pronunciation and pantomiming), we managed to order up a rather nice range of dishes for the evening.

First up was a nice plate of sliced Spanish chorizo (I had wanted Jamon Iberico, but they were out). Like the other Chorizos I’d already sampled in Spain, this was a rather pleasant dry sausage, with good smoky paprika notes, some mild garlic notes, and little streaks of fat that just gently melted on your tongue. As I write this, I’ve been back in the US almost two weeks, and I’m already missing Spanish pork products (I can actually get some decent Spanish chorizo. Jamon as well, if I want to pay through the nose for it).

Next up was a fairly simple dish that I encountered several times as a tapas dish: beans with bacon and garlic. It sounds like such a simple dish, and it is, but the several places I had experienced this dish did such a good job of it: nice beans cooked until wrinkly on the outside and creamy smooth inside, with just enough bacon and garlic to really blend with the smokier notes of the beans without overwhelming them. I really do need to try and duplicate this dish at home.

Another thing we found about Valencian cuisine (at least restaurants) was a distinct lack of vegetables except as ingredients in paella. Even at the tapas bars, most dishes were meat, sausage, or rice dishes. Labarra, however, served us up a very pleasant plate of marinated vegetables (peppers, onions, beans, and chickpeas) that did nicely satisfy out cravings, and worked with the rest of the meal.

Finally, we ordered one main dish: Arroz al Horno (“baked rice”). Similar to Paella, it’s a rice dish baked in the oven (instead of made on a pan) with blood sausage, pork, beans, garlic, and tomato. However, that’s where the similarity ends. The rice is entirely different in texture, more like a US-style casserole instead of a paella’s firm nature. And the dry cooking of the oven gives the rice a nice nuttiness. All in all, a rather pleasant and simple dish.

Overall, we really enjoyed Labarra, and were glad to find this place in it’s nice little quiet corner of Valencia.

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