With a nod to Barcelona's hipster district, where scores of art galleries and chic restaurants attract savvy travelers and bohemians alike, Raval is a relatively new cosmopolitan oasis on upper King Street. If I were head of a cartel, this deliciously mysterious nook would be my hangout of choice. One might expect the pungent cloud of clove cigarettes to be a fixture in this dark wood enclave, illuminated by scores of twinkling white candles and often populated by folks sporting exotic looks, but Raval is smoke-free. The community tables, where new friends are easily made and Bocados are passed around for everyone to sample, foster a wonderfully casual atmosphere. Among the 21 tapas selections, the artisanal cheese plate with condiments like fig jam and dried cherry compote ($11.00), grilled Manchego Bocadillo ($7.00), baked figs ($8.00), and Raval salad ($7.00) all win rave reviews.
The comprehensive printed wine list, credited to manager Josh Mueller, boasts 36 wines by the glass or cuarto (a small carafe). One clear standout is the Bierzo, J. Palacios, '03. This Spanish red is a favorite among Pinot Noir and Merlot drinkers alike ($5.00/glass and $13.00/cuarto).
Cocktail specials are written on a giant mirror behind the bar and highlights include the Spanish Moss ($6), a blend of Mount Gay rum, Midori, soda, and lemon; the Tinto de Verano ($3.50), a red wine, soda, and lemon concoction; the Kalimotxo ($3.50), a unique pairing of red wine and Coca-Cola, beloved by Spanish nationals; and the Cava Cocktail ($8), a powerful brew of Liquor 33 and Cava.
Last week, Raval doubled in size thanks to the opening of a Moroccan-style lounge toward the rear of the boutique tapas bar. Flush with cushioned banquettes and low tables, the non-smoking lounge features cocktail service from the main bar and will no doubt have fans like me debating colonial occupation and exalting Bergman's cheekbones.