Oliva, a city by the sea a few kilometers away from Villalonga, held its 9th gastronomic festival and demonstrations (Jornadas Gastronomicas y Mostra Gastronomica) this past weekend. We’d missed the one in our nearest city, Gandia (historically Oliva’s rival), as our household stuff had just arrived then and we’d been much too preoccupied with unpacking. The purpose of these local food fests is to highlight local traditional foods, and this year the focus was on stuffed peppers (pebrera farcida). A number of Oliva’s restaurants had prepared special menus for the festival.
One participating restaurant was offering a deconstructed stuffed pepper dish. It’s fine, I suppose, to be innovative about a dish that one has eaten all one’s life, but I was more interested in how the traditional dish would look and taste like. At any rate, much like I feel about philosophical and linguistic deconstructionism, I don’t think I would particularly care for their culinary counterpart.
Scanning the menus of the other participants, I opted instead for the seafood menu of Restaurante La Goleta. It turned out to be the right choice. And we shall certainly be going back for more of Juan Ramon’s wonderful cuisine and his wife Marta’s warm and attentive welcome. Its superb location is another attraction — steps away from Oliva’s Pau Pi Beach (Platja Pau Pi) with its long stretch of golden sand and a picturesque view of the majestic Montgo Massif.
We began with three entradas: carpaccio of prawns in a subtle parsley-garlic oil marinade (it was a sashimi actually – looking remarkably like finely sliced fugu, pufferfish), a rucula-mixed baby veggie salad with fresh tuna belly, and tempura of coast squid. These went brilliantly with a refreshing Albariño from Galicia’s Rias Baixas region.
My tongue had the distinct impression that La Goleta’s gastronomic menu was so designed that the flavours intensified with each succeeding dish. Textures and methods of preparation were thoughtfully contrasted and complemented. The initial prawn carpaccio was the most delicate, the prawns’ intrinsic sweetness left to shine on their own, without any intrusively strong scent or flavour that would have masked their delicacy. It could have done with a bit of wasabi (Japanese horse radish), but that is just our idiosyncratic preference for a bit of a kick to our sashimi. This was followed by the varied silky and crisp vegetables married with a sour-sweet dressing and the succulence of fine slices of sauteed fresh tuna belly. The one concession to the festival’s theme was the grilled sweet red peppers incorporated into the salad. Next, the light and crunchy brittle tempura coating highlighted and contrasted with the squid’s flavoursome chewiness, and appropriately capped the trio of appetite whetters, leaving us primed and anticipating the meal’s star feature.
Our main dish was a suquet (stew) of mixed fish and shellfish — hake, monkfish, red prawn, and plump mussels. The fish steaks had been seasoned, battered, and fried before being braised in the richly seasoned saffron sauce. It was as a superb fish stew ought to be.
To round up such a wonderful medley of flavours, our dessert of caramelized oranges in orange cream was the perfect finale.
A walk to and rest at the beach was definitely in order after such a sumptuous feast. A hearty thanks to Juan Ramon and Marta at La Goleta. Incidentally, Juan Ramon began his cooking career at his parents’ restaurant called Mistral, further inland up in the mountains. We shall be returning to sample more of La Goleta’s fare for sure, and Mistral’s too.