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The unseasonably beautiful weather last Friday demanded that we find some outdoor dinner downtown. My wife has been bugging me to go back to Valenca in Centre Square but I’ve weaseled my way out of it for the past year or so. We’ve had way too many odd experiences there – mostly problems with the service. But they have a nice patio setup and tasty sangria so I was ready to give them another shot.

We started with the “meat and cheese plate” – more meat than cheese, but it was good nonetheless. A nice variety of meats and, simple presentation, and tasty candied walnuts to balance the saltiness of everything else.

My wife went with the Greek Salad and Margherita Pizza, and I had the Chorizo Penne. Everything was fresh and well-prepared.

We saved room for dessert and decided to share the lava cake with hazelnut chocolate ice cream (from The Purple Cow Creamery – excellent).

We weren’t surprised by the quality of the food – that was never our problem. The service was our concern and I’m happy to report that we had a great waiter. He was attentive and friendly without being overly chatty. We’d had one server there previously who wanted to have a conversation with every visit to the table. Awkward and frustrating. It’s too soon to be sure that Valenca has upgraded its waitstaff overall, but this visit has definitely recolored my opinion of the place. Plus it’s hard to resist the vibe of their patio and the great light as the sun sets on the square.

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The plan was to hit Valenca the other Friday night, but we pushed it to Saturday. Then the weather was so nice that we chose to hang in the yard and throw a couple burgers on the grill. Sunday would be it. But we sorta remembered Valenca being closed on Sundays? Sogo would be our fallback just in case.

Parked on 3rd near our old apartment and found Valenca to be open as we entered the square. The patio tables were tempting, but the sun was setting and the temp was already borderline too cold. We grabbed an indoor table by the window and stared at the menus for a while before our server showed up. The service has definitely been my biggest problem with Valenca. It’s easily the weakest of any of the better downtown restaurants. We’ve been there about 5 times, and obviously haven’t encountered every server, but there always seems to be something lacking. And it’s not like any of our visits have been during peak hours, so that excuse doesn’t apply.

Sunday was no different. Maybe 10-20% full. Our server took our drink order – had to get the red sangria– and then strangely asked us if we wanted any “entrées.” I figured he meant “appetizers” so I ordered the flambéed Portugese sausage. He paused and awaited more input. Umm…ok let’s just order our entrées too i guess. I got the salmon and my wife combined a salad with the steamed clams appetizer, asking to have them together as her entrée.

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The sangria took a while to arrive, but it was goooood. We noticed the table next to us ordered the sausage as well. Turned out it was mine and it went to the wrong table. It came our way after the brief confusion, joined by my wife’s salad – the one she wanted as her entrée. When all of the grappa burned off, the sausage was moved to a dish and sliced before coming my way. It was fantastic. Make sure you have some bread to soak up the juices. My wife didn’t mind having the salad early… but it was another one of those little things.

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The roasted salmon was served with crisp green beans and flavorful mashed potatoes – nothin fancy, but really good. The littlenecks’ white wine broth had “a lot of butter” – not sure if that was good or bad.

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I had half of my meal wrapped so i could save room for dessert. I’d wanted ice cream earlier that day but the coffee/gelato shop on College Hill was sand gelato for another week-and-a-half. WTF? It’s always killed me that people don’t think anyone eats ice cream between October and April… but i’ll save that rant for another day.

I ordered the dark chocolate cake with canoli filling, and i convinced my wife to get the chocolate hazelnut ice cream. Cake and ice cream is a perfect combo. We dug in so fast we forgot to take a pic. Oops.

We had 2 full glasses of sangria remaining even after dessert. I’d guess you get about 6 glasses in a $21 pitcher. Good deal. Definitely one of Valenca’s good points – in addition to the decor, the large patio area, free valet parking, and many unique menu options. They just need to take a few lessons from Ocean and Sette Luna on how to run a tighter ship.

Patio dining at Valenca, anyone? Haven’t been there since the fall. The dining room is fine but the patio is so much more relaxing – if you can ignore the crackheads in the square. (Just don’t feed them and they’ll leave you alone.)

If you visit, I recommend the salmon or the codfish gratin. And you have to get the red sangria. I still haven’t tried the flaming chorizo (so beeeeautifully animated on the website). The paella is their featured item but it didn’t thrill me – a decent amt of seafood but i can only take so much rice. I got bored after a few bites and we had tons leftover. “What am I supposed to do with all this Paella?!”

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