Blog: El Coto de Rioja Paella Parade
The wafting scent of fresh seafood drifted far beyond the outdoor space of the Financial District’s Beekman Beer Garden Beach Club, the emerging waterfront bar space capable of hosting events of any caliber. Monday evening, eight distinctive Spanish restaurants would take their place underneath the Beekman’s white tented roof for the 4th Annual “El Coto de Rioja Paella Parade,” a friendly competitive cook-off featuring some of New York City’s finest purveyors of the rice and seafood filled dish. And with ticket proceeds from the event benefitting Brooklyn’s New York City Tech and Action Against Hunger, the ‘Parade’ would be much farther reaching than simply satisfying the collective appetites of hungry event goers.
On a mild October evening, the inner bar area of the Beer Garden was outfitted for a full on food tasting, with Spanish wines from the Rioja region being poured courtesy of El Coto for pairing. Guests were encouraged to sign up for free door prizes handed out every thirty minutes as they arrived as well as five raffles with tickets sold to benefit the aforementioned organizations. As the sun descended down over the striking views of Williamsburg and the evening turned dark, the smells of the steaming food filled the air amid a collection of festive, Spanish tunes. Each of the restaurants prepared their dishes in massive steel paella pans and watching each chef utilize different ingredients and styles of preparation made the art of cooking the dish a conversation piece at each station.
What made the ‘Paella Parade’ such a unique event, aside from the generous portions plated at each tasting station, was the fact that the organizers brought in several restaurants from outside of New York City to participate. And their final products ranked among some of the best served up at the event. Coming in from Mineola, Vinoco Wine and Tapas Bar prepared a tasty ‘Duck Confit Paella,’ infused with pico de gallo, pickled onion and a cilantro drizzle. The eatery had arguably the lengthiest line of the entire parade as each serving was hand made to order by the three assistants helping out their head chef. Honorable mention also goes out to East Harlem, represented by two restaurants with two different paella styles. First, Agua Fresco’s “Pork Loin Paella” tasted like the most traditional, authentic style that we had tried all evening. With a tender slice of pork atop the soft yellow rice, the fishy smelling helping meshed in fresh seafood, lobster, and artichoke salad for perhaps the most complete dish being served. El Paso Restaurant’s inventive “Rabbit, Chorizo, and Seafood Paella” however, was also a favorite of ours, with its soft yet creamy green rice, poblano peppers for spice, and a hint of a cilantro finish that vied for the Parade’s top billing.
That’s not to say some of Manhattan’s best purveyors of paella weren’t in the running. Sala One Nine came equipped with a “Chicken, Rabbit, and Duck Paella” served with flat beans, while Socarrat Paella Bar’s “Chicken, Pork, Mushroom, and Sausage Paella” yielded a smokier, heartier flavor than perhaps any other. But from our perspective, the best paella that we sampled at the Parade belonged to Midtown East haunt San Martin. Their paella dish was packed with calamari, chicken, pork, clams, mussels, and Spanish sausage. The dish provided the overall best depth of flavors and tasted more like a main course than any other sampling offered. Served piping hot with perfectly cooked seafood, the salty profile was absolutely mouthwatering, leading to our only repeat taste of the parade.
It’s certainly a benefit for restaurants to participate in food tasting events just like the “El Coto de Rioja Paella Parade” because it gives attendees the opportunity to become exposed to new restaurants right in their area. While eight samples of rice heavy dishes might sound like overkill, each prepared offering was delicious in its own right. With food festivals and tastings all over New York City every weekend, the ‘Paella Parade’ was as relaxed and laid back as any in recent memory, a nice change of pace from having to race to each table before the restaurants run short on food. And with the views of the waterfront on a beautiful fall evening, it’s one that gave us the chance to admire the preparation, and sit back and savor the ingredients in each tasty dish, just like the locals do in Spain.
- Jane Van Arsdale