Monastrell, calle San Fernando 10, 03002 Alicante. 96 520 03 63. Chef María José San Román, who worked under Catalan three-star chef Joan Roca has made Monastrell (named for the local red grape, the French mouvedre) the top modern cuisine choice in the capital.
And María José is an azafrán (saffron) expert (see this recent article in The New York Times; she is working on a book on saffron.
She uses Spanish azafrán, often almost imperceptibly, in many of her dishes, including desserts. Opt for her tasting menu and be surprised by her ideas, combinations and the quality of the ingredients she uses.
La Taberna del Gourmet (Taberna, Delicatessen & Wine Bar), San Fernando 10, Alicante. 965-204-233. María José San Román's superb, quality product-driven, taberna and wine bar, next door to Monastrell and one of the best traditional cuisine restaurants in La Comunitat Valenciana. Somehow you must work María José's restaurants (she also owns Los Mejillones [The Mussels], a block away on the Esplanada de España) into your stay in Alicante, even if it is just some tapas at the bar at La Taberna del Gourmet, which is run by Geni Perramón, daughter of María José and El Portero "Pitu" Perramón.
My recommendation at La Taberna, which is also "Pitu"'s (legendary former goalkeeper for the Spanish national handball team) pride and joy, is to put yourself in the hands of Geni and ask her (drop my name) to do a tasting luncheon of stellar modernized traditional offerings.
Depending on the season, a "little" sampling luncheon may include such dishes as little Navarrese txistorra chorizos; a shared portion of arrós con magro y verduras (paella-like rice with pork and vegetables), maybe the best patatas bravas (saffron-infused) in Spain; splendid, supernal gambas rojas (legendary prawns from the Alicante coast); and unbeatable grilled sepionets (small cuttle fish).
Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, go on with white esparragos de Navarra with a vinagreta de solera de requena (aged vinegar); an ensalada méditerraneo (arugula , goat cheese cubes, tomatoes and siurana olive oil),;spectacularly good croquetas de chorizo Ibérico; equally spectacular alcachofa a vinagreta (artichokes); pan con tomate y anchoas (bread rubbed with tomate and topped with house-cured anchovies; a little escalivada montadito con foie (grilled vegetables on a toast round with foie gras); riñoncitos de lechazo (milk-fed lamb kidneys) and finish up with a bit of arrós caldoso con cigala y sepia en dados (a delicious soupy marinera rice with chunks of Dublin Bay prawns and sepia cuttle fish).
The wine: A Godello from Valdeorras.
Of course, a little dessert won't hurt, so try María José's bizcocho de tocino de cielo, borracho de lima, freson and helado de gengibre, a take off on the classic, normally sinfully rich, lighter in this version tocino de cielo (read eggs and sugar), with lime, strawberries and a ginger ice cream.
Or course, you don't have to do this whole-nine-yards-menu, which I am very honored to say is now called "El Menu de Gerry Dawes," you can tell Geni when to stop anytime.