We also loved our tiny clams, steamed open in a red marinara sauce ($7.95), and a dish of fragrant, tender button mushrooms steamed in wine and olive oil. The bacalao croquetas fried salt cod croquettes had just the right degree of crunchiness on the outside, creaminess/saltiness on the inside, and were served with a tart tomato dipping sauce. On our second visit, we sampled an excellent ceviche ($6.95); chunks of tilapia and curls of pink shrimp had been tucked into a lettuce-leaf bowl and sprinkled with lime juice, thinly sliced red onion, peppers, and cilantro. The kitchen had marinated the fish to the right degree of tenderness and body without letting it deconstruct, and it was ice-cold, tart, and delicious.
That tableful of tapas should have done us in, but we splurged on one of the "Chef's Favorites" entrées, the Paradilla de Mariscoes ($20.95), a great tray of broiled fish, lobster, shrimp, squid, scallops, clams, and mussels swimming in a sea of butter and oil. This turned out to be the one downer in an otherwise interesting and lively meal. While some of the seafood was fresh and delicate, the lobster, shrimp, and squid were way overcooked, tough and tasteless as foam rubber, and the greasy presentation of the platter was gross and unappetizing. Next time, I'll opt for the fish casserole ($20.95), broiled grouper (priced by the pound), or Palomilla steak ($8.95).
Four types of paella are on offer, running from $12.95 to $15.95 per person. Paella Valenciana ($15.95 per person), the queen of paellas, is made with small lobster tails, shrimp, clams, mussels, chunks of tilapia, scallops, calamari, tiny bits of Serano ham and sausages, and chicken. This dish requires a half-hour wait, no hardship when you're working on a half-carafe of sangria ($11.95) and a couple of tapas. The paella is presented, as it traditionally is in Spain, in its pan with a flourish, beautifully arranged and multicolored green peas and red peppers against saffron-hued rice, circled with lime wedges and all that glorious shellfish and meat. Our waiter expertly dished us each a plate so we wouldn't have to argue over who got the extra piece of shrimp.
Paella is one of the most contested foods on the planet how to cook it, with exactly which ingredients, is a subject of fierce debate in Spain. Certain ingredients are considered heretical: Whether to add garlic and onion is a question over which otherwise level-headed men will come to blows. At Paella Seafood Grill, needless to say, they don't hunt and skin a wild rabbit in the mountains or collect snails fed with rosemary or bake the paella on a wood fire outdoors with only one precise variety of Mediterranean string bean or use nothing less than sheets of Las Provincias newspaper under the lid to absorb steam. So in the opinion of some Valencians, Paella's paella might not do at all. But we thought it was just yummy.
We liked that the rice was cooked al dente, sticky and dense, and how thoroughly and delicately infused it was with the flavors of shellfish and paprika. And if we missed the "socarrat," the lightly burnt crust on the bottom of the pan, we were able to quell our disappointment. This was a hearty, satisfying dish, and the roughly ten pounds of it left over we took home and ate with relish the next day.
The atmosphere at Paella is relaxed, dinner served family-style, without frills but conveying a lot of warmth. This is simple, comforting, inexpensive fare, focused mostly on Spain but with nods to Latin America. Service is quick and personable (our adorable waiter, Alex, remembered us on our second visit, and air-kissed us enthusiastically.) As for the wine, it would be nice if Blanco could explore a few more Spanish and Latin possibilities with his list he's got a solid selection of Chilean Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs but only two Spanish reds, a Tempranillo ($17) and a Rioja ($28). It would be even better if he'd offer the Tempranillo and Rioja by the glass (we did have a glass of Argentinean Malbec/Cabernet blend at the almost unheard-of price of $5).