Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Art of Paella

On Saturday I took the train out to Atlantic City and the new Revel Resorts where Jose Garces has a number of restaurants. They're running a series of tasting events as part of the grand opening this week. As you might have guessed from the title of this post, I attended The Art of Paella. The event was held in Garces' Amada restaurant, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

After the usual introductions Chef Garces began demonstrating how to assemble two of his most popular paellas: a straight forward chicken paella and a more challenging seafood paella using squid ink to color and flavor the rice.

While the demonstration took place on a podium near the center of the seating area, servers brought out a series of appetizers accompanied by red or white sangria.

Serrano Ham Wrapped Salad
The first of the appetizers was a Serrano Ham wrapped salad composed of baby spinach lightly wilted in a sherry/bacon vinaigrette, bleu cheese, spiced almonds and chopped figs. I was blessed to be seated with 2 ladies who did not care for the spinach so the other two of us got most of the delicious dish.

Vegetable Plate
Appetizer number two was a grouping of vegetables. From top to bottom: roasted eggplant and pequillo peppers, caramelized onion, and tomato confit. The bread was topped with goat cheese whipped with a few chives.

The third plate held delightful little croquettes, deep fried and incredibly delicate, served on a spoonful of tomato confit. Unfortunately I wasn't quick enough with the camera and gobbled mine down, only to find everyone else had done the same.

Garlic Shrimp
Appetizer number four was garlic shrimp. Fortunately, they were incredibly hot and everyone politely used their little stabby fork to grab just one. I managed to snap this action shot of one of my neighbors soaking up the garlicky oil.


The chef and his associates were busy putting together the two demo paellas:

Amada Chicken Paella
The chicken paella is built on saffron rice with sauteed onions, roasted peppers, fresh peas a bit of chorizo, and shredded slow braised chicken thighs to give the rice more flavor. It's topped with a grilled chicken breast and simple salad of favas, parsley, tomato and artichokes. The toasts are slathered with saffron aioli

Seafood Paella
The seafood paella is the one we were served. The initial steps were the same as the chicken, but instead of saffron chicken broth, the rice was cooked in clam broth colored with a bit of squid ink. It was topped with shrimp, clams, whelks, mussels, squid, and half a grilled lobster. This time the toasts carry smoked paprika aioli.

Scheduled for an hour, there was no pressure at all to finish up. Servers continued to refill sangria and water glasses and Chef Garces continued to make the rounds of the tables, chatting and posing for pictures. Since I had a train to Philadelphia to catch I could only linger about half an hour past the official ending time though at least a third of the diners were still sipping wine and picking over the remaining bits of shellfish and rice at their tables.

This was by far the best of this sort of tasting event I've been to in many years. So good in fact, that we'll be having dinner at Amada before next weekend's ZZ Top concert.

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