Every year, once a year, the people of the tiny village of Benaojan, in Andalusia, Spain, gather for an epic feast to celebrate Spain’s national dish, paella. With 400 pounds of meat, seafood, and rice, the whole town of about 1500 is fed. I found out about this fantastic tradition years ago, on Jamie Oliver’s Great Food Escapes show. I vowed that one day, I would see it (and participate in the eating process obviously) for myself.
Time has passed and I have yet to experience the amazingness that must be cooking and eating a ginormous paella in some remote corner of Spain. I have, however, had the pleasure of enjoying various unforgettable versions of the dish in its country of origin; and have since come to deeply appreciate it in all its forms, from the classic Valencian original with chicken and rabbit, to creative seafood renditions found along the coast.
When I heard that Patria and Weslodge restaurants decided to get together for a paella patio party, I thought: this is the closest I have gotten to my dream Benaojan experience; I’ll take it! For $12, guests could get a plate full of freshly made seafood paella or an Aperol Spritz for $5. Though the thing to do was to order a combo where for $15, a total steal, diners got to enjoy both.
As far as presentation goes, Patria did not disappoint. The pans used definitely couldn’t feed 1500 people, but they were nevertheless impressive and highly Instagram-worthy. The cooking execution itself was done beautifully; with each portion containing a solid balance between al dente rice, and the crunchy bits everyone loves. The seafood items, such as shrimp, mussels, and scallops, amazed me by how wonderfully tender they were. However, when it came to the dish’s depth of flavor, I was unimpressed. Paella has one of the deepest, most easily recognizable flavors when done right. While the overall plate tasted fine, it was missing that extra oomph that turns a paella from good to exceptional.
To accompany the food, Weslodge was serving guests a refreshing Aperol Spritz. The first time I tried this famous drink, was three years ago. I remember gagging and passing the glass across the table to a friend. A year later, an Italian bartender told me that trying Aperol the first time is very much like your first sexual experience: awkward and forgettable. Yet like sexual encounters, the more you drink Aperol, the more you like it. By the fifth time you have it, you will be hooked, he reassured me. Weslodge’s spritz was my fourth encounter. And if I’m honest, it’s growing on me.