Garcia's Wins Big at Paella Parade

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In collaboration with the Miami International Film Festival, chefs from six local restaurants competed in a Paella Parade competition at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden last night. (It followed a screening of Fernando Leon de Aranoa's Amador.) The weather was beautiful, the gardens sublime, and the crowd seemed to be having a real good time -- helped along by the wines of El Coto de Rioja.

Participants were Por Fin, Xixon, El Carajo International Tapas and Wines, Garcia's Seafood, Casa Juancho, and Happy Wine.

WINNERS: Garcia's won Prettiest Paella, and the top prize, the Parade Pleaser (voted on by the public). Happy Wine won Paella That Goes Best With Wine.

LOSERS: Delicias de España, Andalus, El Rincón Asturiano, and Whole Foods, who did not show up. They weren't missed, but shame on them anyway -- especially Whole Foods, which co-sponsored the event. "Two of them were for personal reasons," replied one the event managers when asked why those four couldn't make it.

Chef/owner Esteban Garcia of Garcia's offered a "Valencia, Spanish-style paella. We've got a lot of seafood in there. We started out with blue crabs, scallops, calamari, fish, shrimp, a little bit of lobster meat...and we've got some chorizo, some chicken, and some pork." It gets finished with olive oil and "a lot of love from our fish stock." I thought it was the tastiest of the six -- the crab flavor really came through. You can get it at Garcia's Seafood Grille ($22.95 to $26.95).

​​"We're both gringos from Kentucky," said John Richards, Culinary Director of the new Miami Culinary Institute. He and MCI Chef Instructor Colin Engle were two of the three judges (MCI students helped set up and serve). "We know what we think is paella, but this is how they do it down in Miami. So this is a wonderful learning experience for us." Luis Quant, executive chef of Por Fin, "wanted to do something different." Indeed, this was the only non-seafood rendition of the event: "Quail quail egg, fresh artichoke, parsnip, sofrito...very Cataluyna. We serve it every Thursday, which is paella night. We have about ten different types." It's about $32 to $34 in the restaurant).

Co-owner siblings (along with their father) of El Carajo, Ricardo and Javier Fonseca, were on hand to dish. The secret ingredient? "We put love in ours," answered Ricardo. "We match wines with the food at our restaurant, instead of the other way around." Chef Juan Caliero described the ingredients to me in Spanish. According to my on-the-spot translation, he said, "bacalao..(I'm not sure what came next)...porcinis Italiano...pollo, clams, white asparagus...(a few more things I didn't understand)...piquillo peppers and Valencia rice." It's $18 to $20 at El Carajo, and "it's a 45-minute wait," Ricardo offered, "because we cook everything to order."

Chef Jon Gonzalez of Xixon also described his paella to me in Spanish. I'm not sure if he mentioned garlic or not, but you could taste it.

​Chef Felix Carlos Lopez and manager Joanna Fajardo of Happy Wine served up the winning wine-friendly paella of shrimp, mussels, lobster, calamari, clams, and pork. It was a delicious and hearty version.

Jose Rodriguez of Casa Juancho was dishing a paella with scallops, calamari, shrimp, mussels, and mahi-mahi. I thought they got the rice down better than anyone, including the nice crispy stuff at the bottom. They serve the same version at the restaurant for $28.

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