Paella from Paradise

Henri finds flavors of Spain at unexpected dinner partyHenri finds flavors of Spain at unexpected dinner party

PILED-HIGH PAELLERA<br>Ana Naveira of Leonardo’s Food Solutions shows off a batch of the paella special.

Ana Naveira of Leonardo’s Food Solutions shows off a batch of the paella special.

Courtesy of Leonardo's

Colette’s ability to make friends easily has always been both a blessing and a burden—certainly accounting not only for her five husbands, but also the many times as a teenager she sneaked into the maison Bourride in the wee hours of the morning, heels en main, as our parents slept unsuspecting upstairs. She is also frequently invited to social events whose hosts would never give Henri a second thought, and where Henri would feel hopelessly ill at ease anyway.

Recently, though, her social graces worked not only in her favor, but also in my own. She had driven to the Paradise Cinema to see The Wrestler (a movie that strikes Henri as hideously grotesque, despite his affection for brief, tight-fitting athletic apparel) and on the way home stopped at a little taco truck in the parking lot of Ray’s Liquor on the Skyway, run that day, it turns out, by a Spanish couple who were temporarily truck sitting, and who also happen to operate a catering business called Leonardo’s specializing in Spanish and other Mediterranean cuisine.

As she waited for her burrito, Colette talked with a couple who had stopped to order paella for a dinner party for the following evening. Naturally, she got invited—and was told she could bring a date.

I suggested making paella of our own instead and watching Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

“Come on,” she said. “It’ll be fun. Good Spanish food and wine. New friends.”

Two-thirds of food, wine and new friends sounded good, so I consented—Henri’s first dinner party since he arrived in Chico—and I have to admit, I’m glad I did. We had a wonderful time, and the food was absolutely marvelous. There were eight of us, all had traveled extensively, and everyone had at least visited Spain. One woman was born and raised in Castille.

Of course we started with the wine—a delightful Spanish rueda, which went down quite nicely and calmed Henri’s nerves considerably. We had just uncorked a 2006 Tempranillo from New Clairvaux when Ana Naveira and Luis Saenz arrived with the food—the paella, in a huge foil-covered paellera, two tortillas españoles and a pitcher of sangria. We all insisted they stay for a glass of wine.

As we continued to sample different reds, Ana cut the tortilla (a traditional Spanish frittata-like appetizer) into wedges. It was moist and delicious—onions and peppers mixed in with the customary eggs and potatoes.

After an hour or so of spirited conversation, Ana and Luis bid us adiós and we repaired to the dining room for some warm French bread, a green salad, more wine and the paella—removing the foil revealed the yellow-orange rice blanketed with mussels and large shrimp and released aromas of seafood, garlic and rosemary.

And it was delicious—squid, pork, chicken, the mussels and shrimp, all mixed into the steaming saffron-spiced rice. Everyone had at least a couple of helpings. My only complaint was that I’d like to have seen a bit more chicken. When I make paella I use meaty pieces of thigh and breast. This one included only small bites of leg. They also use a converted rice, in part because, Ana says, it stays good longer without getting glutinous and so it is better for catering. I thought it was very good, although a couple of people said they preferred the more traditional short or medium-grain bomba rices. We all agreed that the sangria was a bit too sweet.

In addition to paella ($60 for enough for four servings), Ana and Luis prepare a wide variety of Greek, Turkish and other Mediterranean dishes. Tapas and appetizers include ensaladilla rusa (salad with potatoes, peas, carrots, tuna and hard-boiled eggs, $16); champiñones al ajillo (mushrooms with garlic and prosciutto—$16); and ropa vieja (garbanzos, peppers, onions, tomatoes and chorizo sautéed in olive oil and served with pita bread, $18).

Main and side dishes include salmon quiche ($16); empanadas de vieriras (pie with scallops in a creamy onion-wine sauce, $16); funghi risotto (rice with mushrooms, $44); cassoulet de canard (duck, pork and white beans, $60); and pollo en pepitoria (chicken cooked in wine, saffron and almonds, $46). Orders, accompanied by at least partial payment, must be made 24 hours in advance.

Currently, Ana and Luis are trying to get a spot at Chico’s Saturday farmers market to sell fresh-made paella by the plate.