The recent opening of Raval Tapas Bar & Cocktail Lounge brings the zesty flavors and unique style of Barcelona to downtown Jersey City.
Raval, the latest venture from the owners of Lucky 7 Tavern and Satis Bistro, is named for the historical El Raval neighborhood of the Mediterranean port city, which is famous for its risqué nightlife and cabarets.
Chef Michael Fiorianti spent two weeks traveling through Catalonia, the region of Northeast Spain that includes Barcelona, sampling the tapas-style small plates the area is known for. He was so inspired that, he says, “I wrote sixty percent of the current menu on the plane on the way home.”
Fiorianti, 39, describes Spanish-style tapas dining as “a much more social experience than the traditional American way of dining. It’s definitely an educational process for our diners.”
The menu is divided into small, medium and large raciones, or portions, and includes classic dishes like patatas bravas (crispy chunks of potato served with a spicy red sauce and garlicky mayonnaise), and albóndigas (lamb meatballs with pine nuts in saffron tomato sauce), as well as three types of paella. Plates range in price from $4 to $30.
Fiorianti says his favorite dish on the menu is croquetas cremosas de setas. He and his wife first tasted these wild mushroom croquettes at a stall in Barcelona’s vast outdoor food market, La Boqueria. Unlike the classic French potato-based dumplings, these fritters, made with bread crumbs and thickened cream, are lighter and, Fiorianti says, “so unassuming.”
When his wife (no stranger to Spain herself) first tasted his re-creation of the dish, she gave him the ultimate compliment: “I could just close my eyes and be back in Barcelona.”
Entering Raval in Jersey City, visitors see three colorfully tiled half-round banquettes, meticulously recreated to resemble part of Barcelona’s Parc Guell, a whimisical landmark park overlooking the city that was created by famed 20th century architect Antoni Gaudi.
“The contractors painstakingly, over months and months, sat there and broke each one of those tiles by hand, much as I imagine Gaudi did back in the day,” Fiorianti says.
Raval, the Barcelona neighborhood, perhaps like many port cities, has a somewhat gritty reputation. Raval, the Jersey City restaurant, has a basement bar, painted red and black, with concrete floor and graffiti-covered walls, to reflect “the raw vibe” of the namesake neighborhood, “without any of the more undesirable elements,” Fiorianti says.
In Fiorianti’s opinion, “We’ve really been able to bring our perspective of not just Barcelona, but Spain, back here.”
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