The first stop on my trip to Spain was Valencia, where I had been invited to give a talk by the biology department at the University of Valencia. When invited, I agreed but requested that I be taken to sample a good specimen of paella, for Valencia is of course world famous for this dish.
The day before the talk they showed me the venue, which was an auditorium with a spiffy name. To my right is Cristina Pla Gallent, a graduate student in paleontology who invited me (she is the friend of the son of an old college friend, and had told me that if I was ever in Spain I should stop by and give a seminar. I don’t know whether she expected me to take up her invitation!). To my left is Ana Márquez Aliaga, who teaches in the Department of Geology.
A bit more dressed up the next day, I gave my talk, but was very hoarse because of a virus. I more or less croaked out my talk, and went through three bottles of water desperately trying to lubricate my throat. I was told the talk went okay (but they always say that!), and afterwards I was presented with a gift: a coffee-table-size illustrated version of The Origin, produced by two Spanish biologists and illustrated by a local artist. It was lovely.
In the photo below, I begin the lecture on speciation by presenting my concept of species, which is basically that of Ernst Mayr, whose picture appears in the slide:
The next day Cristina, her friend Adam, and my friends Kenny and Jane King had a guided walking tour of Valencia, which is a lovely town (I’ll show more pictures this week). While scouting around for lunch, I spotted this place and immediately brought the party to a halt. The window was filled with tempting dishes of paella and various other local rice casseroles. That’s the true paella Valenciana to the right, but I’m not sure of the names of the other three dishes in the next two photos (perhaps an informed reader can weigh in):
Although we were heading to another restaurant, I begged everyone to let us eat there. It turned out to be a good choice. Here is the three-course menu–for only 10 Euros! Note that it includes coffee and a “drink,” which turned out to be a nice bottle of wine for four people. (It’s always good value to get the “menú del dia”.)
For the first course, I naturally chose the paella valenciana. This classical dish is made with chicken, rabbit, rice and broad beans. The amount they gave me would have been enough for a full meal, and it was great:
My second course was the “brascada de lomo”, a pork steak in a rich sauce, smothered with onions and served with vegetables.
Dessert, also great, was a tiramisu:
Here’s my friend Kenny, about to crack a bottle of the local white wine, which was very good:
The meal was followed by coffee. I usually have an espresso after lunch, but in Spain everyone appears to drink a cortado, an espresso with a bit of hot milk:
And after coffee they served us a slushy lemon drink; I’m not sure what it was but it was just the ticket to clean and refresh the palate:
A splendid meal for 10 euros ($13.38)! Afterwards, the paper table covering looked like an abstract painting:
The next day we had a real paella excursion, to the Restaurant El Famós on the outskirts of Valencia. It is owned by an artist who’s a friend of Cristina’s father, himself a well known painter in Spain. “El Famós,” named after the artist, is said to produce some of the best paella in Valencia, though you wouldn’t know it from its unprepossessing exterior:
As friends of the family, we were allowed to tour the kitchen. And there is the glory: pan after pan of incipient paellas cooking over small sticks of wood (I’m told that they use orange wood). The vats of stock, chicken, rabbit, and vegetables simmer over the fires until a paella is ordered:
Doesn’t that look good? The smell was overwhelming, inducing a Pavlov-dog reaction. When a paella is ordered, they put the rice in and cook it to doneness. They won’t let an order sit for more than twenty minutes after the dish is finished.
I posed next to the well-used paella pans, of different sizes for different orders:
Here is the artist who owns the place, presenting the finished dish. His name is Vincente Famós:
Before we ate paella, there are the obligatory appetizers: fried calamari and fried potatoes, both served with aioli, a garlicky sauce made with olive oil and eggs. Here’s Adam, Cristina’s friend, presenting the aioli:
And the main course: paella valenciana. It was absolutely terrific, and we ate ourselves silly.
Our party: Cristina, Adam, my old friend Kenny, and his wife Jane. Kenny and Jane are vegetarians and so ordered a non-meat paella.
At last I had had my paella, and very good it was, too.
Just to complete the story, here is Cristina’s father, the well known artist Luis Pla Esterelles (and friend of Vincente, the paella guy). He gave us a tour of his studio, and I show two of his pictures (he does many different kinds of paintings, including figures and landscapes, but I particularly like the cloth applied to canvas):