Getting Beyond the Cover at Valanni
Adam Erace may have been put off by the aesthetics and cocktail list at Spruce Street’s Valanni but he cannot help but praise the food of chef John Strain.
I never want to eat anybodyâ€™s paella again but Strainâ€™s. At Valanni, the one-pot Valencian masterpiece is portioned for one or two, with or without meat and seafood. Paella for one was big enough to split and served in the coppery two-handled paellera in which it was cooked. Saffron-scented steam wafted forth as my server spooned a bed of bomba rice on our angular plates. The chorizo, chicken thighs, shrimp, mussels, calamari, scallops, clams and lobster tail were all delicious, but paella is more about the rice than whatâ€™s on it. Cooked with tomato, roasted garlic and ancho chili powder, it possessed a risotto-like creaminess, intensified by a blushing dab of sharp garlic aioli I stirred in like ricotta into pasta. We scraped the crusty bits of burnt rice off the bottom of the panâ€”the hallmark of proper paellaâ€”like scavengers. I canâ€™t say enough about the intense umami of those stuck-to-the-bottom bits. And at $33, the paella is a deal considering it feeds dos. All of Valanni is a deal, really, with most items around $10.