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La Paella Restaurant - the real deal

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All,

When I was researching La Paella, a Spanish restaurant that's been around forever on San Vicente just south of 3rd Street, I was surprised that there was very little mention of it on Chowhound, especially since Spanish food has become the rage recently.

So, I wanted to give a review based on a meal eaten by my wife and two close friends, this past Saturday night:

My wife and our female friend made a meal out of tapas. They used very good, high quality stuff: Squid in garlic, olive oil and chile, mushrooms and chorizo in garlic, olive oil and chile, spinach in garlic, olive oil and pine nuts...You get the point. They were delicious and very authentic, but pretty much a single note. I would like to blame them for choosing dishes which were too similar, but most of their tapas was treated this way.

We should have added a serving of the tortilla, which looked and smelled wonderful and was getting orgasmic responses from the table nearby.

We all had a Caesar salad. It was one of the better Caesars to be had around LA, one using actual anchovies. Not a "real" one where the dressing is mixed at the table, but pretty darn good. (I don't even know of a real Caesar exists anywhere in the United States.)

My male friend and I shared the seafood paella. This was outstanding, perhaps the best I've had. The flavors combined perfectly, and the mussels, shrimp, lobster tail (from a midget baby lobster) and other ingredients were super fresh. This was the real deal. The rice was fully infused with the seafood broth and perfectly cooked, AND used the correct grain of rice, (similar to arborio).

I have had paella at other restaurants which were good but not nearly as authentic. Having spent considerable time in southern Spain I can attest to all of our dishes being the real deal.

The service was superb, friendly but courtly in a European manner. They were not actors waiting tables, they were waiters. We were seated at a table at the back of the front dining room and it was busy that night but not hard to hear (one of my pet peeves, and no I'm an old guy with bad ears), so you got the energy from a busy restaurant but not the noise or sense of being rushed. It was very cozy.

It's been around a long time and the decor and ambience are not "fresh." It does not look or feel like a hot new place which just opened with a star chef, because it isn't. It just feels exactly like a typical restaurant in Andalucia. A delightful evening all around.

The only complaint is that it is pricey for what you get. Each tapas come in around $8.00 and these are indeed "small plates." As good as the paella was, it was not a huge serving or crowded with seafood. The wine is way overpriced, with a bottle of run of the mill Chilean Chardonnay coming in at $25, etc. If the ambience and service were not as good as they are, I would rate the restaurant only three stars, on this basis.

All in all, it's a wonderful place and we will be going back.

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La Paella
476 S San Vicente Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048

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  1. EB -- I concur with your review. Though we didn't order exactly as you did (though I can't recall our exact order) I will say we came away saying "That's a really good restaurant, but it's a little bit overpriced for what you get."

    We did have the seafood paella and I can not improve on your description. I also recall the service being top notch.

    I'd just add that the place is borderline romantic, it would work well for an anniversary dinner.

    (Total side note: The person who recommended this restaurant to us is a vegetarian. We are not vegetarians. But, if you are a vegetarian, apparently you can get a nice meal here.)

    1. "Real Caesar" - table side concocted - Nick and Stef's downtown.

      FYI - I'm pretty sure the original was not served that way. If you - or anyone - is interested in such things - there's a book called In Search of Caesar - the history of the Caesar salad. Oddly fun read!

      The original was served at the Hotel Caesar in Tijuana. They still make them there, but they're not assembled tableside. (but very good).

      5 Replies
      1. re: foodiemahoodie

        Thanks for the lead to Nick and Stef's.

        Interesting, I was a youngster when we went to Caesar's Hotel in TJ, and we of course all got the salad. It's been so long I can't recall if was assembled table-side at the time, but I do remember loving it.

        It's so hard to find one that has whole anchovies laid over the top, and which isn't smothered in a garlicky white dressing called "Caesar." I know the real one uses a raw egg (or maybe it's coddled?) and maybe lawyers warn off restaurants from that nowadays.

        Thanks.

        1. re: EarlyBird

          According to an old episode of David Rosengarten's "Taste" I watched back when it was still on the Food Network, it's a one-minute coddled egg. And the anchovy flavor comes from Worcestershire sauce, not anchovies. Wikipedia says the same thing.

          I like La Española's paella, but sometimes I find there isn't enough socarrat. But it's a great option when I'm too lazy to make it myself.

          1. re: mrhooks

            When I order the paella para llevar from La Espanola, I ask the nice ladies there to scrape the bottom of the pan a bit - You end up with a bit more socorrat.

          2. re: EarlyBird

            So many arguments about "authentic Caesar salad"; so much fun for foodies.

            I haven't been back to the new, reinvigorated-by-Javier-Plascencia Caesar's Hotel and Restaurant in Tijuana, but when I dined there years ago, they muddled the anchovies in the bottom of the wooden salad bowl and then added olive oil, lime, salt and Worcestershire sauce before putting the hearts of Romaine lettuce leaves into the mix.

            Historical aside: The late,lamented Bouzy Rouge restaurant in Newport Beach served a Caesar salad and routinely served eight or more whole anchovy fillets laid on top. I loved that salad.

          3. re: foodiemahoodie

            Actually, with the change of ownership of Caesar's, the Ensalada Cesar and the Ensalada Victor (like Caesar, but with cotija and a slightly different sauce) are made tableside... at least they were when I last went to Caesar's for dinner, which was two months ago.

          4. It's been at least 2 years since I've been to La Paella. My opinions on their tapas has always been favorable.

            Their paella, on the other hand? Not so good. At least when I last went 2 years back, my paella was a soggy mess, with no socarrat, and tasted like it was hastily prepared. Paella is NOT risotto, people!

            However, after having read this, I'm thinking they may have retooled the paella at La Paella, and that means Mrs. J.L. (born & raised in Spain) & I need to pay another visit.

            Until then, my favorite L.A. paella is not La Paella... Rather, it's at La Espanola (in Harbor City).

            11 Replies
            1. re: J.L.

              I've heard about La Espanola and will have to give that a try.

              Sorry you didn't like the dish originally at La Paella. I can attest to ours being perfectly cooked last Saturday.

              1. re: J.L.

                I agree with your initial review on the paella. Really too expensive to try again on inexpert opinions. Let me know if you go. I'll return the favor some day.

                1. re: J.L.

                  I've never had the paella actually at La Paella, but the chef, Pascual Franqueza, makes several absolutely enormous paelles every year for the annual picnic of the Casal dels Catalans. It is prepared the correct way, over the correct wood, and in the correct dishes so that the socarrat [note to those reading who don't speak Catalan: this is the crunchy crust at the bottom, like Persian tadig] forms. Whether they do this at La Paella I don't know, but the chef does know how to make it correctly.

                  Incidentally, it's a very fun picnic; it starts with a Mass (of course), then people go to learn to dance the sardana; en Pascual makes the paelles while everyone watches, and at a properly Catalonian hour (14:00 or so), lunch is served. Paella, amanida, pa, postre i cafè, for $15. Then everyone gets up and dances the sardana, the kids play "trencar l'olla" (like a piñata), and everyone goes home. It's usually in May.

                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                    That sounds very intriguing! However, paella is not a Catalan dish. It is most identified with with the Valencia region in Spain.

                    1. re: Ernie

                      There isn't a Valencian brotherhood in Southern California. El Casal dels Catalans is as close as you get.

                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                        There may not be a Valencian brotherhood in SoCal, but there IS an entire city named Valencia!

                        I'd really like to attend the picnic if possible - How does one get to be invited? Also, given the region's political sensitivities, would I offend anyone there if I spoke Castilian Spanish? My Catalan proficiency is practically non-existent. Don't worry, I promise I won't wear my Real Madrid jersey to the event.

                        ... maybe I should just stick to English.

                        1. re: J.L.

                          Mutter "puta Espanya" a few times and they should forgive you for the Castilian ;)

                          1. re: Ernie

                            Hehehe... But since I am happily married to a Madrileña (and would like to keep it that way), no amount of great food would make me utter those words...

                            1. re: J.L.

                              Just declaim, "Jo no sóc espanyol" and you should be fine.

                              The event isn't closed, but it is by reservation. They hand out flyers at the L.A Times Festival of Books (pleasegobacktoUCLApleasegobacktoUCLA) so presumably anyone can attend. It's called L'aplec del Casal dels Catalans ("lah pleng del cuh sahl dellss cuh-tuh-lahns").

                              Information will be put up at casalcatalalosangeles.org when it's announced. It's normally in May.

                  2. re: J.L.

                    La Espanola's paella is made with "dehydrated" rice grains or the one that's in a blue box with the words "no se pasa" on it...meaning won't pass into the soggy stage of the rice. You can buy that rice in their store. When in Spain, authentic (not touristy) Spanish restaurants' servers actually get agitated when they announce that "the paella is ready" and you don't allow them to serve it..as it can get to the soggy stage and ruin their reputation.
                    La Espanola plays safe and uses the dehydrated rice as they only cook a batch on Saturdays..even if the paella waits, it won't get soggy. Still pretty good though IMHO.

                    1. re: trvlcrzy

                      Whatever means they use to reach the end-product, as long as that end-product is delicious, I'm all for it.

                  3. Thank you for reminding me that I want to try this place! Since this place is rarely mentioned I wondered if it was "the real deal", and happy to hear that it is. The new places do get the benefit of hype, so we need little reminders of the classic joints out there we haven't been to yet.

                    1. There's no special lunch menu which makes it difficult for me to eat alone at lunch. I just need a nice balanced plate. Cute place though. Please add a blue plate special and I'll eat lunch there m-f. There is a dearth of luncheon spots by Wilshire/San Vicente.

                      1. Went here a month ago- the paella was just okay. It was wet and didn't have the right texture though pleasant enough in flavor. The olive tapenade served with bread was canned olives! That turned me off. The fat served for the bread was tasty though. Not rushing to come back, though I did enjoy the old school ambiance which felt like real Europe.