Paella was one of the few dishes at Oloroso about which Craig LaBan had reservations, which got us thinking — who does have the best paella?
Craig LaBan: Paella is one of my favorite things to share with a group, but a great one is rare because so many different elements have to come together with perfect timing.
A lot of pro kitchens cheat by assembling pre-cooked ingredients to order, and though that allows the most delicate items to be properly done, you can miss out on the deeper flavors that result from seafood, chicken, and chorizo mingling together and infusing the same pan of rice.
A great paella should be cooked from start to finish to order, and preferably over an open grill or stove to get a toasty "soccarat" crust on the bottom.
Oloroso definitely cooks its paella to order, but the rice was still too wet, and the broth had too much tomato overtaking the other flavors. I'm sure the excellent cooks there are working on it. (I was a bigger fan of its squid ink rice.)
Meanwhile, there are other paellas to consider. Amada, of course, has long been the gold standard for Spanish classics, and though it's been a while, I remember my last paella from a Garces kitchen fondly, the nubby Calasparra rice brimming with a smoky base of braised chicken and chorizo that was worth the 40-minute wait.
The still relatively new Barcelona Wine Bar on East Passyunk Avenue does a solid job with classic paella (don't bother with the bland vegetarian version), but the chewy seafood in mine could have been more delicately cooked.
I've also found great paella in the suburbs at Ambler's 555 Lagiola, a tiny Spanish BYOB where house-made chorizo adds richness to the rice, delicately cooked seafood, and tender bone-in chicken.