If you read the Daily Travelerthis summer you already know that I have a fondness for tapas. My former favorite small-plates spot was Barcelona’s Cal Pep, but this week I discovered its gastronomic rival, Casa Montana, just down the Mediterranean coast in Valencia’s Cabañal neighborhood. Although new to me, this is no trendy newcomer. A city institution that’s been around since 1836, Casa Montana is full of people whose idea of the holy grail is an unpretentious, atmospheric local spot that serves a great glass of wine and rounds of appetizers that highlight the best of the region’s ingredients. (The real Holy Grail, by the way, is supposedly across town in Valencia’s gorgeous Gothic cathedral.)
Casa Montana’s main room is lined with huge wood wine barrels and chalkboards that announce the weekly wines available by the glass. The prices are very reasonable; an excellent Tempranillo-Syrah mix only set me back 1.80 euros. As we moved on to the second glass, my husband and I ordered a stream of wonderful tapas under the excellent tutelage of our bartender, Alejandro Garcia Llinares, who puts many sommeliers to shame.
Hearty protein-packed broad beans were followed by perfectly marinated anchovy filets, tiny artichoke hearts, pimentos stuffed with béchamel, late-season tomatoes marinated in oil with a touch of sea salt, olives from Seville, and acorn-fed Iberico ham in superslim slices (and that was just to start). Alejandro told us about his time as an exchange student in high school in the suburbs of Detroit, and we shared excitement over Barack Obama’s victory. (I have never been treated with anything but respect as an American living in Europe, but this past week the reception grew even warmer–especially when people heard which way we voted!) He also told us that Gwyneth Paltrow and Mario Batali shot part of the new PBS series Spain–On the Road Again, at Casa Montana. So I am not the only one who thinks this place is one-of-a-kind. If you find yourself in that part of the world, go to Casa Montana, worship, eat, and drink. And be happy that such a place exists.
Recession special: Guests who book three consecutive nights at any Banyan Tree hotel or resort will now receive a complimentary 90-minute massage session, normally worth at least $100.