Sunday, April 10, 2011

First Impressions of Alicante, Spain

Yesterday I took the train south from Tarragona to Alicante. Both cities border the Mediterranean, but what a difference! Tarragona was relatively small and homogenous. It was bilingual, with Catalan the predominant language and I was grateful for Spanish translations on the menu.


Alicante is the second-largest city in the province of Valencia with over 300,000 inhabitants and it has a very large tourist population (Benidorm, a huge tourist resort town is just along the coast) so the second language is English (far too many restaurants have picture menus).


The weather is really warm so you could barely see the beach for the bodies – a frightening sight for someone like me who vastly prefers art galleries and museums to beach resorts. However, the beach is just one tiny corner of Alicante. The seafront promenade is lined with palm trees and flowering bushes (hibiscus, sweet pea, roses) and I discovered a small gallery with two contemporary art exhibits in the former fish market. There were some lovely children’s playgrounds and hundreds of outdoor restaurants.


There are parks and squares with fountains and centuries-old fig trees. I found the locals on a series of pedestrian streets with all sorts of interesting-looking stores. And there are some wonderful old buildings. I’m looking forward to visiting Castillo Santa Barbara which towers over the city on a white crag.


I know I’ve reached the south because I had two eggplant dishes yesterday. I had a beer at the marina and ordered a plate of thin, tempura-coated eggplant slices served with a light honey-molasses topping. It was a little sweet for my taste, but it is a traditional Spanish dish.


I had dinner at a lovely little vegetarian restaurant just near my hotel called Tabule (Calle Benito Perez Galto, 52). They serve a set menu with three courses, salad, appetizer, wine and bread for 18 euros, about $27. It was extremely good with innovative dishes that would definitely fascinate those of you who are chefs.

The first course was a puff pastry biscuit with corn relish and aioli alongside a small serving of red cabbage. The main course was a thick breaded slice of eggplant served on a bed of cheese sauce and sweet, slightly spicy tomato relish and topped with sliced tomatoes and cheese. Dessert was homemade strawberry ice cream with a dark chocolate sauce. Delicious!

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