Year of Grace, Day 238. Arroz Valenciana mixta at Puig-Mola

We’d been thinking of trying the restaurant at Puig-Mola since we first arrived here. Mercedes, the owner of the lovely casa rural named La Casona de Ferrando, where we’d stayed in nearby La Drova, had recommended it. But the restaurant was open only at midday, and never on Mondays. So it was only recently that we got the chance to try one of the house specialties, arroz Valenciana mixta.

Restaurant Puig-Mola’s rice dishes are made the traditional way, that is to say, over a wood fire, and each order is intended for three. What happens when you only have two people dining? We wrap the remainder for you to take home, said Jose, the chef. (His name was pronounced by our hostess with the accent on the first syllable.) The restaurant was unusually quiet for lunch, perhaps because it was the middle of the week. We were the only customers in a space good for at least 100. The restaurant’s setting is brilliant: all-glass walls look out onto the mountains that tower over Puig-Mola, Barx, and La Drova and the surrounding fruit orchards – plum, apricot — slowly awakening with incipient blossom. Late oranges awaiting harvest glowed on the trees. Just below the restaurant, a stately pawlonia’s candelabra-like buds revealed mauve-violet tips.

Our arroz Valenciana was being cooked from scratch, so it took some time before we were served. While it was cooking, Jose came out from the kitchen and asked if we’d like to see how it was prepared. We followed him eagerly. Normally, he said, the entire cooking area would be occupied, and diners are hardly ever shown the kitchen. We did feel quite privileged.

Our arroz Valenciana mixta had chicken, vegetables, and red prawns as sweet and moist as amaebi in sushi. I had expected a lingering smokiness, but there was scarcely a hint. Our arroz Valenciana came in an enormous pan, though we did manage 2/3 of it. Our verdict? It was good. It was tasty. The vegetables were well-seasoned, the meat tender. There were surprisingly albondigas (meatballs) made of botifarra (blood sausage) subtly flavoured with cloves. But perhaps we had been expecting something quite out of the ordinary, some unique quality that cooking over a wood fire — the restaurant’s claim to distinction — would bestow upon it and justify the above-average prices they charge.