By the time the bowl of creamy, crunchy, gooey chocolate textures was cleared from the table, we had surrendered to a state of pure contentment. At the end of a twelve course tasting menu, we’d had plenty of food but we didn’t want to budge. Would we like coffee? Yes, please. Anything to stay a little longer, conversing with friends. A chupito of sweet Mistela wine? Of course! Just please don’t make us go.
Friends that live in Barrio del Carmen of Valencia have been poking at us to visit Restaurante Karak for months, ever since Chef Rakel Cernicharo won Season 4 of Top Chef Spain in early 2017. Rakel’s incredible story of how she opened her own restaurant in Valencia 10 years ago won the hearts of her many fans. Now, at just 32 years old, she has beaten out more experienced chefs to win Top Chef Spain.
Her cuisine is creative and fresh, using Mediterranean products fused with flavors and techniques from all over the world. It is also innovative and complex, using processes like low temperature sous-vide cooking and textured gels. She grows her own edible flowers that are not just pretty but also add flavor to many of the dishes.
The restaurant just reopened in a brand new space in the Hotel One Shot Mercat 09. The new restaurant covers three levels. Upstairs, the Zona Barra is an informal bar space with an a la carte menu. On the ground level, Zona Gastro is a formal dining space where a Degustation Menu is served for $45. This room is modern and refined with a soothing pale grey color scheme. A mural of a giant stag looks over the tables. The third level down houses a gorgeous wine cellar and a private dining area.
The wine list offers some interesting and unique Spanish wines at very reasonable prices. We decided on two bottles for the table, one white and one red, so that we could pair appropriately with the variety of dishes.
For vino blanco, the Attis Albariño Lias Finas 2016 from Rias Baixas is somewhat unique for an Albariño in that the wine is allowed to sit on its lees (yeast) for a while after the fermentation is complete. This adds additional depth and complexity to an otherwise light in style wine. The Vino Tinto was the 2009 Finca Sandoval Manchuela from La Mancha. This Sandoval is a blend of Syrah, Monastrell and Bobal rested in 50% new oak. This wine is lush and complex. The 8 years of age has made it quite food friendly while still offering a beautiful dark fruit palate.
The meal began with a few small bites to wake up our palates. A cherry formed from Stilton cheese covered in cherry glaze and perched on pistachio powder was a signature starter from the original restaurant. We were then presented with a single Zamburiña topped with a sauce reminiscent of sweet buttered corn. The final amuse-bouche was a crisp pastry tart topped with a spread of turbot, dressed up with salmon roe and microgreens. Our taste buds were now properly prepared for the good things to come.
Just about every restaurant in the city has an Ensalada Valenciana on the menu, which is usually a version of tomato with onions and tuna. Rakel accomplishes those requirements in a very non-traditional way. Her Ensalada Valenciana estilo Karak, principio y final combines poached tomatoes, strawberries and grape slices. Hollowed onion halves are filled with an intense briny foam dotted with black caviar…was that a salted fish foam? and maybe seaweed? Part of the fun of this meal was trying the guess the many flavors. I just wish there was an answer sheet at the end.
We are probably lucky that the Coca de morcilla y guisantes doesn’t come in a larger format, because it could be dangerous. Rich morcilla sausage was spread across a cracker and topped with pretty things like green peas, pickled onion and flowers. To the side was a savory sauce with fascinating little green candied “somethings”. What sauce we couldn’t spoon onto the coca was swiped up with bread to get every drop. (This would be a good place to mention that bread service was included in the menu and our board was replenished throughout the meal with three different breads.)
The Atún con salsa de yema was spooned into the top of a glass globe, bringing it closer into striking distance of my mouth. A crunchy soba noodle added even more height to the spicy deep ruby red tuna tartar.
The winner of “most beautiful” dish of the day goes to the Pastela de cordero, phyllo pastry wrapped package of shredded lamb with mango ceviche. What made this dish extraordinary was the dusting of aromatic spices – sage, cinnamon, these are just guesses at the combination. I’m sure the reality is much more sophisticated.
The blackened surface of her Black salmon comes from soy and sesame in a vacuum-osmosis process that I don’t fully understand. Nonetheless, the interior of the salmon was super rare and silky smooth.
For the final main dish, Canelón de rabo de toro, a pasta tube filled with tender oxtail meat in a fragrant rose and hibiscus sauce. The sweetness left behind by the sauce transitioned us into well into dessert phase.
Orange blossom and butter cream was a gentle start to dessert. Next, a roasted plum jolted the palate back to its senses when doused with a powerful Armagnac ice cream. Textures of chocolates decorated with little white chocolate noodles brought the meal to its ultimate conclusion.
There is no doubt that atmosphere and service can have an immense impact on a dining experience. Everyone at Karak was welcoming and friendly. Throughout the meal, service was impeccable, with the staff regularly checking in to make sure we were satisfied with everything. Silverware was changed between each course, every dish having its own unique plating and utensils. We wondered how many people must they have back there washing dishes?
Each plate was beautifully constructed and elaborate, defying description by a casual diner like myself. I really want to know each and every ingredient to understand the reason for their inclusion. On the other hand, breaking the dishes down into their individual components might just ruin my ability to appreciate how the flavors integrate together into a delicious whole. Still, I just can’t help wondering what was in that sauce…oh, well. Clearly my palate needs refining, and I can think of few better ways to educate my taste buds than return visits to Restaurante Karak.
Carrer del Músic Peydró, 9