Thursday, September 25, 2014

One Paella, Two Paella

Close-up of paella mixta
" If I'm in Rome for only 48 hours,
I would consider it a sin against God
not to eat caccio e pepe, the most
uniquely Roman of pastas . . ."
~ Anthony Bourdain

"Where was that place I had paella when we were here before?" Mike asked me when we arrived in Barcelona last week.

"I have no idea," I replied. "I remember it was along Las Ramblas, and we sat on the second floor.  Other than that, I don't know."

"Didn't you write it in your journal?" he wanted to know.  It was eye roll time because I had written it in the journal seven years ago, but I didn't take it out and read it.

"Yes, and I don't remember."

"We'll have to ask for another good place to have paella," he said.


"We'll have to ask for another good place for *you* to have paella," I added.  Paella, if you don't know, originated in Valencia, Spain, and is a rice dish that combines several types of seafoods and meats. Most people consider it the national dish of Spain, although most Spaniards consider it a regional dish.  That doesn't stop restaurants in tourist areas from pushing it, and a lot of tourists have to try it since paella is a uniquely Spanish dish.

 For five days I checked out tripadvisor recommendations for paella, and I finally found a few places that offered it as well as foods that I would eat.  (You may remember that the other night I mentioned that I cannot eat fish, mussels, and a few other things that make me sick, so I wanted to make sure we headed to a place with other choices.) One of the restaurants, L'Oliva, was near our apartment, so we decided to check it out last night.  The restaurant itself was very nice (top photo), and we arrived just as they opened for dinner at 7:30. (Barcelona is famous for its late dinner times.  Some restaurants don't open until 8 or 9.)

 The owner greeted us and seated us in the window. I opened the menu.

Paella mixta. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . €12,95
 (Mínimo 2 personas)

Paella mariscos . . . . . . . . . . . .€14,95
  (Mínimo 2 personas)

I tried not to get sick immediately.

"What are you going to have?" Mike, who somehow always fails to notice the fine print, inquired.  I let the question hang in the air a few seconds. He put his menu down and waited.

"I guess I'm having whatever you're having."

"Why?" he wanted to know. Since he was staring at me, I didn't roll my eyes, but I wanted to.

"The paella has a two-person minimum."


When the waiter came over, I asked if they could please put the meat on one side of the dish and the seafood on the other.

"No, it's all mixed together. No."  I knew that, but I tried.
Caprese salad

"We'll have the mixed paella, caprese salad (photo above), and sangría," I told him.  The salad was very nice, although I did find that the tomatoes in Spain are not anywhere near as good as the tomatoes in Italy or the US.  For some reason, they tend to be pinker and tougher.  I could see that the owner made the sangría, mixing wine, juice, fruit, and brandy.

"This is a lot stronger than the sangría you make," Mike commented.

"That's because this is authentic," I said as I drained glass number one.  "I make the wussy American version with wine, juice and no brandy."

"I like yours better," he said. 

"Yeh, it's strong," I added.  "I'm already seeing three of you."  I was joking a little, but my eyesight was starting to get a little fuzzy.

Paella mixta

 It takes a good 30 minutes to make good paella, and about 40 minutes after we ordered, the owner proudly delivered the pan of paella (photos above).

"Don't touch the handles," he warned us. "They're very hot."  I took another swig of sangría.

"Your sangría is very good," I told him as he walked away.

"Maybe you can eat mostly rice and the meat." Mike was trying to be helpful.  "There is meat in it, isn't there?"

I have to be honest. I wasn't sure that there was meat in it.  There were shrimp, clams, and mussels on top, and mixed in with the rice was something that maybe looked like chicken (which I might eat), or rabbit (which I would not eat), or some other type of fish (another no-can-do).  I spooned out a little rice, one of the clams, and a piece of chicken-rabbit-fish-whatever-the-heck it was.

"You know how much I love you," I said to Mike. "I would not do this for just anyone."  I took a small bite of the rice and tried not to gag.  Rice absorbs flavor, and when there's so much seafood, it's going to overpower everything else.

I have no idea what this was....don't *want* to know.

 I chewed the piece of the chicken-rabbit-fish-whatever-the-heck it was. The texture was not anything like chicken.  "I don't think this is chicken. It might be rabbit or fish," I told Mike, drained the second glass of sangría, and refilled my glass.

"Are you sure they didn't give us seafood paella?" he wanted to know.

"I have no idea," I replied while swallowing more sangría.  I picked all of the chicken-rabbit-fish-whatever-the-heck it was out of the rice and nibbled on the rice while drinking more sangría with each bite. "I'm trying."

"Do you want a shrimp?" Mike asked me.  I shook my head. I do eat shrimp, but not when it still has its legs and whiskers.  "Or, how about a mussel?"

I drained the glass. "God, no."  I picked up the lemon quarter and squeezed it on the rice on my plate.  "Well, that helps a bit," I said.  By that time, I had no idea whether it was the lemon, the wine, or both, but I was able to finish the rice on my plate.  "I'm sorry," I repeated.  "I just cannot eat anymore of that."

The empty seafood shells (Mike's)
Mike finished the seafood (photo below), but he ate very little of the chicken-rabbit-fish-whatever-the-heck it was since neither of us could figure out what it actually was.

"I'm sorry you didn't like it," Mike apologized. "I thought maybe the rice would be okay."

"It's okay," I said. "I'm sorry I couldn't eat more of it." I finished another glass of wine, and put the empty pitcher on the table. I have no idea how many glasses of wine I had, but by the time the pitcher was empty, my head was spinning.

 I picked fruit out of the pitcher and ate it.

"Trying to get rid of the taste?" Mike asked me.

"Trying to get more alcohol in my system." I started laughing and couldn't stop. We kept cracking jokes, and I kept thinking, "I have to remember that.  I have to remember that." Alas, I didn't remember them. I had hard time walking to a gelateria, but I deserved a good amarena gelato after that dinner.  I went to bed immediately when we got home, and my stomach protested all night while my head pounded and continued to run in circles.

The empty sangría pitcher (Mine)

I do not drink much, and I was worried about how all that wine would affect me.  I didn't sleep much, but when I got up, I didn't have too much of a headache. Luckily, I was able to sleep a bit on the train ride from Barcelona to Madrid this morning.  When we got to the flat, the owner was telling us about places to go and restaurants that have good food and wine.

"If you're interested in good paella," she started to say, and I stopped her.

"Nope. We're paella'd out," I said.

"Ok," she continued.  "El Boqueron has good tapas. You can get them shrimp, clams, oysters, mussels, cod croquettes at a reasonable price."

Yeh, thanks for that info, but I think we'll be looking for something a little more turf-themed.

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