La, la la la la la, la la: That is the sound of paella.
You know the song from the La Paella television commercial featuring owner Tom??s (no last name necessary) entreating you to sample his wine and his paella. I’ve always been intrigued by the commercial but rarely have the resources to enjoy such a meal. Now, as The Daily Cardinal’s new restaurant critic, I felt it was necessary to finally sample the signature dish of one of the area’s most authentic Spanish restaurant.
No distance was too great, no Fitchburg too far for me to find my saffron and seafood bliss. I donned my guayabera and sunglasses, climbed on my BMX and headed south. I found that eating at La Paella is a transcendent dining experience that takes you far away from Fitchburg’s housing developments. The romantic vistas of Hemingway come to mind.
Make no mistake, if you go to La Paella, you will meet Tom??s, who makes a point to seat or greet every customer, and if you are as lucky as I, you may be treated to a story of young love and bicycles. La Paella has indoor and outdoor seating, both of which are decorated with hanging plants, works of art and vast racks of wine. The waitstaff immediately proved itself to be very attentive by constantly refilling water glasses, fetching fresh utensils and discussing the food. In fact, everyone there seems to be discussing the food, if sometimes loudly.
Dinner, of course, begins with a basket of bread: excellent light rolls served with olive oil infused with basil, peppercorns, garlic and onion. This paves the way for some of La Paella’s tapas, which covers a wide spectrum of Spanish appetizers while staying in the $5 range. The cold trout with cilantro vinaigrette was especially impressive, combining incredibly flaky steamed trout with a pungent but not overpowering sauce. Also noteworthy was the calamari stuffed with basil, sausage and pine nuts, which were tasty and not too rubbery. Tom??s’ mother’s meatballs, made from chicken and veal, are tasty, but have an unexpected consistency and an even stranger flavor. Nevertheless, they are certainly worth a try.
Paella is a complex dish native to Spain, consisting of various kinds of seafood cooked together to allow their flavors to mingle, served atop saffron rice. Naturally, a dish like this takes a while to prepare, so you might as well pull up a seat at the bar. My brandy Manhattan was extremely dry, but the olive was a nice touch, and made it a very complementary libation. The bar’s selection is pretty classy (try Tom??s’ own sangria, served in a La Paella logo glass), and I found the prices and quality of the liquor to be quite satisfactory. I really needed a cigarette after the tapas, and the bar offered sweet respite from the non-smoking purgatory found at many restaurants.
The paella finally arrived tableside, in a sizzling skillet. One of the more dope aspects of the meal was watching the waiter plate the paella for each diner (a note: the paella can only be ordered for two or more diners). Each plate comes back with mussels, a piece of whitefish, shrimp, calamari, chicken and various sausages atop of rice and peas sauteed in olive oil.
Each meat was perfectly cooked, especially the mussels, which almost melted in my mouth. Some of the calamari was rubbery, but forgivable. Saffron is used expertly here, and it combines with the meats and rice perfectly, rounding out a truly luxe dish. Each portion is huge, as it should be at about $20 a plate. La Paella has a lengthy list of entrees, but aspects of each appear in the paella, which really is the must-order menu item.
If you have the means (or your visiting parents have the means) I highly recommend the place. I’m sure that in a better location La Paella would be one of the most popular date restaurant in the area, although I caution you against getting too full off of seafood. Make the trip, and tell Tom??s that new Cardinal Food critic Justin “A-Bomb” Damm sent you.