Just Mad About Saffron
Paella is one of my favorite things to cook, eat, and just think about. So I recently set out to write the definitive paella guide for Fort Worth. Turns out, it would be a very short book. The good news is, the versions I found are for the most part excellent, if expensive. The Spanish rice-based, saffron-heavy dish was created as peasant food — a way for the very poor to utilize their scraps of meat and bountiful seafood. Now, it’s like the Eliza Doolittle of Spanish cuisine. Chefs dress it up with all kinds of exotic, tasty morsels and fanciful techniques, but at its core, it’s still a rice dish with meat.
As I expected, Sera Dining & Wine (2418 Forest Park Blvd.), Fort Worth’s lone Spanish restaurant, does serve paella — but only on Tuesdays. The beauty of Sera’s paella is that the ingredients change every week, so it’s a different experience each time. On a recent visit, the dish was crammed with Gulf shrimp, clams, white fish, and spicy, salty sausage ($32 per person). Chef Brandon Hudson’s version is heavy on the tomatoes and topped with greens. It has just the right balance of moisture, rice, and other ingredients and is accompanied by a choice of appetizer. For my money it’s the best in town. Just wish it were in town every day.
One of the most inventive versions of the dish lives at The Woodshed Smokehouse (3201 Riverfront Dr.). As you’d expect from Chef Tim Love, it features an exotic menagerie of critters, including mussels, clams, shrimp, rattlesnake sausage, and pheasant ($75). The dish is meant to serve four, but it could easily have fed six on my recent visit. The open-flame preparation gives it a smoky quality that reduces other flavors. But the garlic aioli adds a nice creaminess that cuts through the smoke. Love’s dish also seemed a little dry. Still, I was pleased with it overall, and it makes a fun dining experience with friends.
Everything at Lanny’s Alta Cocina Mexicana (3405 W. 7th St.) just seems a little nicer than at most places. I’m certain Chef Lanny Lancarte could serve Hamburger Helper in his elegant, cozy dining room, and it would seem elevated just by the environs. His version of the Spanish treat ($36) is more traditional, with chorizo, clams, mussels, royal red shrimp, wild mushrooms, and English peas. Lancarte’s ingredients are second to none, and his straightforward preparation of the dish really highlights their quality.
There are a couple of Venezuelan versions of paella on offer at Mijo’s Fusion (1109 W. Magnolia Ave.) and Yucatan Taco Stand (909 W. Magnolia Ave.). The Mijo’s version ($20) was more soupy than I’m accustomed to and lacked the strong saffron flavor that I crave. Yucatan’s ($18) is meat-heavy, with chicken, chorizo, tilapia, mussels, clams, and shrimp. There’s not much in the way of nuanced technique or flavor, but if you want a protein sampler, this one’s for you.
I found a few other versions of the dish in the greater Tarrant County area; I’ll visit those places later. E-mail me if you have any suggestions. Or if it’s a Tuesday, just come down to Sera and find me.
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