By: Ashley Murray
Capital Cooking Contributor
Who does the King of Spain call when he wants paella? Chef Rafael Vidal, that’s who. For two weeks only, Washingtonians can eat like royalty at Jaleo’s ninth annual Paella Festival. Diners have their choice of a variety of paellas (ranging from $34 - $50) including Paella Valencia, the traditional paella of rabbit and chicken, Paella de Ibérico de Bellota, a paella of fresh ibérico pork ribs and cauliflower, and Fideua negro, a black “paella” of angel hair pasta with octopus and garlic scapes (a favorite among the group). Each order is enough to feed two people as a meal or can be shared among a larger group.
What makes Chef Vidal’s paella unique is the technique, which has been passed down for generations. His recipes feature both long and short grain rice that is cooked over a wood fire at his Valencian restaurant, Ristorante Levante. Chef Vidal is considered an expert in creating authentic paella valenciana and has graciously shared these recipes with the team at Jaleo.
The traditional Valencian paella was good, but the vegetable paella and the black paella really shined among the rest. The vegetable paella was full of seasonal veggies like baby corn, carrots, green beans and tomatoes. Suddenly all those carbs don’t seem so bad. The black squid ink paella can be both intimidating and intriguing due to its color. However, once you try it you will know you made the right decision. The dish is rich without being too heavy and the puree of garlic scapes underneath elevates this dish to perfection. I haven’t stopped talking about this dish since I tried it and I will definitely be going back for seconds. The least favorite seemed to be the lobster paella. It did have its redeeming qualities -- it seemed to be the lightest of all the paellas and had huge chunks of lobster meat. Unfortunately the flavor fell short in comparison to the others. Overall, Jaleo maintains is reputation for bringing unique, authentic Spanish cuisine to DC.
Jaleo’s Crystal City location will host the official kickoff event on Monday, July 18th from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and the Paella Festival runs from July 18th through August 1st. Jaleo will also be showcasing a paella demonstration at the Dupont Circle FRESHFARM Market on Sunday, July 10th at 11 a.m.