There we were, ready to have a thorough look at this nursery on the outskirts of Gandia, when we were brusquely told they were closing. We’re off for lunch now, the lady, presumably the owner, said. I was just on the verge of selecting a couple of agapanthus plants when she said this. We are open again from four, she said. She was understandably put out, as we probably delayed her lunch by about 1 minute. Outside on the parking lot, from a spinney of tall trees, emanated a shrill relentless wall of sound — cicadas. Their nostalgic sound was cheering at least.
To compensate for our disappointment, we decided to have lunch at the restaurant on Monte Corona, as we had not been there before, but alas it was closed. So off to La Taska in Villalonga we went. It had slipped our minds that what is really outstanding there is their tempura of baby squid. We were quite impressed when we had it a month ago.
We ordered the menú del día, out of habit and perhaps expecting something different from other times we’d eaten there. The starter salad was as usual. Sunflower seeds, nuts, and a batter-fried cube of camembert topped an assortment of radicchio and romaine and carrot and turnip ribbons. However it was all much too much for one person, and most diners sent back their plates still overflowing with greens. The La Taska staff perhaps need to seriously look at their portion control. The second course was a revuelto (scrambled egg) with white botifarra, caramelized onions, and scallions. That was something unusual and it was rather good. Our mains were tenderloin of pork for M and a salmon steak for me, with sides of sautéed red cabbage and excellent fried potatoes. Too many potatoes – I could only manage 3 pieces. The salmon, on the other hand, was rather tasteless. As if it had spent too much time in the freezer. Dessert was a flan of leche merengada for M and a chocolate mousse for me. I do sound just a wee bit unimpressed, don’t I?
I guess I cannot help but compare this with what Ana of L’Abadia in Gandia offers, with none of the fanfare and artsyness. Each time we eat there, there is something completely different, from whatever is in season. There is a saying that the mediocre is the enemy of the excellent. Ana’s meals are simple and honest, but so obviously made from the heart, and that is what makes them excellent. La Taska’s daily menus are, shall we tactfully say, fine. But nothing special. Certainly not excellent and, except for the second course, rather predictable: a salad of the usual mixed greens and vegs, strewn with raisins and nuts with two little blobs of dressing (not really enough for full flavouring), a main dish of either sautéed pork (a choice of loin or belly, no sauce or gravy) or sauteed fish (salmon or swordfish) with garlic parsley batter. Next time — just baby squid tempura. Maybe a salad to share.
Off diagonally across from us, however, a couple were eating from a huge paella pan something that was definitely not paella. It was not from the daily menu. Whatever it was, was dark and rather mysterious. And eaten with spoons, though it was not soupy. The chef himself had brought it in with a flourish, as compared to the other diners who did not merit this individualized attention. The chef also took some time explaining all the details of the dish. I couldn’t hear what was being said, but it all sounded quite esoteric and special. Other than two small mounds of flavoured cream, there were no other accompaniments. Just this large flat pan with a thin layer of mystery.
They don’t seem to be enjoying it, I whispered to M. I don’t detect any hmms of pleasure.
Finally unable to resist my curiosity any longer, I asked the waiter when he came to bring our dessert. “Un preguntita, por favor; can you tell me what that dish is? I’m rather curious.” “That,” he said, pleasantly, “is fideua (fine noodles) cooked in a broth flavoured with lemon grass, ginger, diverse spices. Vale probarla (‘It’s worth trying’).”
Whereupon, the male half of the good-looking couple said, “Come, taste please. It’s incredible.’ All this in English, obviously for my benefit. I was so overcome with embarrassment and gratitude for their kindness and graciousness at the same time.
I took my camera and took one shot. I had thought of refusing the proferred fork (“unused, so it’s clean,” the young lady said) with a generous helping of noodles. But I sensed I would be insulting them if I refused. And so, overcoming my sheepishness, I accepted. Oh, it was amazingly rich and full of flavour! The mingled spices and herbs were delightful! (How could they keep eating it without exhibiting their pleasure the whole time?) But would I order it? I don’t know. I believe a whole panful just for the two of us would be rather cloying, unless you had something else for contrast. They did have a whole bottle of white wine. For a crowd perhaps it would be well worth ordering.
It was truly a surprise, and such a kind and generous gesture to have offered me a taste. “Moltes gracies,” I said again to both, as M and I left La Taska. I seemed to glide out of there on clouds, anointed with the young lovers’ benison of grace. Just one of those lovely, totally unexpected things about living in Villalonga.