Paella festival (and tapas tirades) underway at Embrujo Flamenco

Paella festival (and tapas tirades) underway at Embrujo Flamenco

The Fernandez sisters in the kitchen at Embrujo Flamenco (Photos by Davida Aronovitch)

This week, the Danforth’s slice of Spain, Embrujo Flamenco, is hosting a paella festival that features four daily spins on the classic dish from Valencia ($49 with soup and dessert). Diners get to take a culinary tour of sorts, sampling each of the variations accompanied by flamenco guitar performances. The event runs until May 31. “We want to show people what real paella is, not the touristy Las Ramblas version,” says Amalia Fernandez, one of the three sisters who run the shop. Intrigued, we stopped in for a taste.

Chef Mali Fernandez starts us off with a paella-making demonstration in the kitchen. “It’s all about the ingredients,” she tells us. Mali sources from local farmers but imports signature items, like saffron, from Spain. But there’s some “anything goes” in the mix, as well. Says the chef, “Paella is so personal; everybody brings something different to it.”

Paella made striking by the addition of squid ink

We sit down to a family-style feast with the Fernandez sisters. First, we sample the black rice, a version of paella that leaves out the saffron but includes hard-to-get Spanish squid ink. Despite its dramatic looks (true to name, it’s pitch black), the flavour is subtle: softly briny with undertones of zesty sofrito and savoury bursts of black tiger shrimp. The dish is tasty and the restaurant romantic—exposed brick, mood lighting, sultry flamenco tunes—but we would not recommend black rice as a date dish: it leaves lips ink-stained and Kiss concert–ready.

The saffron-infused paella Valenciana gets its smokiness from handmade chorizo and has a slight paprika kick. Around the table, conversation gets a little spicy, as well, with gab about the state of “tapas” in the city. “Just because you’re doing smaller portions doesn’t mean you’re doing tapas,” says restaurant guru Lina Dhingra. “I feel like there’s a misconception of tapas in the purest form.” The Fernandez girls all agree on this issue—and we’re with them on this. Says Amalia of the trend, “If it looks too pretty, it’s not real tapas.”

The sisterhood will be bringing the tradition home when they unveil their new tapas bar downstairs at Embrujo Flamenco this fall. Currently under renovation, the large space will house a 5,000-bottle Spanish wine cellar, a swank private dining room and a lounge offering cold tapas, canapés, serrano ham and an arm-long list of sherries. Sounds like a noble tradition to us.