9/14/2012 10:11:00 AM

Best Thing We Ate This Week in DC: Paella at Jaleo

Jaleo's paella; photo by Greg Powers/Audrey Crewe
Jaleo’s Annual Paella Festival showcases Spain’s iconic rice dish. This year, for the celebration running from September 17- 30, chef-owner José Andrés has invited chef Rafael Vidal of Restaurante Levante in Benisanó, Spain, the birthplace of paella, to visit his kitchens. When we learned that Vidal’s family has been cooking the dish for kings and queens for the past three generations, we were very pleased to have been invited to a preview tasting of his paellas.
Chef Vidal prepared six paellas, using different varieties of rice and traditional ingredients: paella Valenciana with chicken, rabbit, and beans; fideua negra con sepias, paella of black noodles with octopus, cuttlefish and artichoke; paella de pescados y mariscos, with seafood; arroz de verduras de temporada, with seasonal vegetables; arroz caldoso de costillas, alcachofas, y acelgas , soupy rice with Iberico de bellota pork ribs, artichokes and swiss chard; and arroz seco de bogavante, lobster paella.

To whet our appetites, we sipped cocktails designed to pair with the rice dishes during the festival.  The Gold Standard pairs saffron and infused gin, and the Cracked Nut involves horchata and Spanish brandy.

Then it was on to the paellas. The most dramatic in appearance was the cuttlefish ink-dyed black noodles prepared with seafood and artichokes. Its toothpick-thin, slippery noodles have an interesting mouth feel. The fire-red lobster paella is equally picture-worthy. There is a delicious earthy quality to the classic chicken and rabbit version. Hearty appetites will go for the souplike stew of pork ribs and vegetables. Seafood lovers will appreciate the version that showcases shrimp, mussels, monkfish and tiny clams. Surprisingly, our favorite was the vegetable dish. The mélange of just tender seasonal produce flavoring perfectly cooked rice was deeply savory and satisfying.  Although we had already copiously sampled several other paellas, we couldn’t stop ourselves from polishing off this plate.

Happily chef Vidal will be in town for the rest of the month and his paella specials (serving four-six people) will be available all day at DC, Bethesda and Crystal City locations ($40 and $65) giving opportunities for additional sampling. Check here for cooking classes that include a lunch.

480 Seventh St. NW; 202-628-7949.
7271 Woodmont Ave, Bethesda, Md.; 301-913-0003
2250A CrystalDr., Arlinton, Va.; 703-413-8181

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