07 April, 2009
Spanish food has been enjoying a huge renaissance in the U.S. since the early 90s, when a then little known chef named Jose Andres began leaving his mark in New York at various restaurants and introducing tapas and Spanish cuisine wherever his hands worked. Since then, tapas and the Spanish trademark dish, paella, have crept onto menus and become a real source of bragging rights. Los Angeles is fortunate to have La Paella, a small quaint and intimidatingly authentic Spanish bistro featuring a number of dishes that will transport you back to that small sidewalk cafe you fell in love with in Galicia or Barcelona.
Have no fear that you aren't in good hands - the owner, Pasqual Franqueza, is a Spaniard true to form, completely closing the restaurant for the entire month of August in order to do as the Spanish (and Europeans) do in August, travel. Be sure to check in with him at the beginning of your evening for great recommendations for wine and tapas. A Spanish red wine will of course be most appropriate, and the extensive wine list includes both Spanish Riojas and Tempranillos, as well as a few California locals. Pasqual will definitely guide you in the right direction.
Spanish tapas come both hot and cold. My personal favorites include the Spanish Tortilla, which is actually a thick egg and potato omelette (I prefer it cold), sure to please. Paired with a cured meat such as the Serrano Ham or Spanish Chorizo, and your palate will begin its own little Flamenco dance. The serrano ham is available on signature soft french bread bites with a tomato spread. This combination of very simple flavors will surprise you with their perfect balance of the salty ham and the light sweetness of the tomato covered softened bread. If you prefer plain crustini bread to start, don't overlook the quiet unassuming butter that comes with it - it is whipped with garlic, and you just may find yourself eating the entire basket in order to finish the butter. Be careful not to fill yourself with all of the wonderful appetizers, because you also have a huge skillet of paella to take on!
For truly Spanish paella, the Paella Valenciana is a must. Combining meat, seafood and veggies, this skillet of food is finished at your table in front of you. Sidenote: all of the paella platters must be ordered for two or more people. And by the size of the skillet, you will need at least two people to make a dent. Tender pieces of chicken, shrimp and mussels hug together in a saffron dream by the delicately seasoned rice. (No really, you will be speaking poetry after tasting this dish...) For even more seafood, order the Paella Marinera, filled with large langostines, mussels, scallops and clams. This aromatic dish is hard to resist overeating. The sweet tender flavors of the clams and langostines will bring back those memories of Barcelona's hole-in-the-wall cafes for paella by the waterfront.
And even if you can't travel back to Spain once a month, you can at least drive to West Hollywood to remember those warm Spanish evenings from your last trip to the Mediterranean. Except not during the month of August...