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A Michelin Starred Chef and a Revived NYC Icon Revitalize Paella
Two exciting new destinations for one of Spain's most beloved dishes
A great paella can be an epiphanic experience, the result of the perfect alignment of peak-seasonal ingredients, enrapturing flavors, and skill derived from years of sweating over the paellera. It’s a relatively rare encounter unless you frequent Spain, particularly Valencia, which staunchly defends its claim to the dish’s origins.
Luckily for New Yorkers, two newcomers to the city’s restaurant landscape, Casa Dani (448 W 33rd St., Manhattan) and El Quijote (226 W 23rd St., Manhattan), both honor and challenge preconceptions of traditional Spanish fare. Casa Dani and El Quijote are breathing new life into NYC’s paella scene with two very different approaches to the dish.
Casa Dani opened in December 2021 under the direction of chef Dani Garcia, whose restaurants earned three Michelin stars, and Sam Nazarian’s Disruptive Restaurant Group. Founded on Garcia’s culinary ethos of “cocinacontradición,” a play on the Spanish words for cooking with tradition and contradiction, the restaurant hopes to challenge diners’ ideas about Spanish cuisine. This extends to its selection of paellas, which include Arroz de Verduras (seasonal vegetables), Arroz de Pollo (Cornish hen), Marisco (prawns, mussels, salmorreta), Arroz Con Costilla (seasonal mushrooms and pork spare rib), Black Rice (grilled octopus), and Txuleta (dry-aged, bone-in ribeye).
Casa Dani’s paellas are some of the most sophisticated in NYC — a feast for the eyes and belly. Elegant in presentation, each paella features rice spread thin with ingredients delicately positioned atop. Chef Francisco Troncoso, who oversees day-to-day culinary operations at Casa Dani, explains this technique ensures the rice breathes as it cooks and forms the coveted and quintessential crispy, caramelized base of the socarrat.
Ten blocks south of Casa Dani, fabled dining institution El Quijote reopened in February under new operators, partner Charles Seich and Sunday Hospitality, the same restaurant group behind widely popular Brooklyn restaurants Sunday in Brooklyn and Rule of Thirds. Along with a revived interior, El Quijote also features a refreshed menu focusing on dishes influenced by Catalunya, Basque Country, and Valencia.
El Quijote’s Paella de Temporada is a thing of beauty, consisting of squid, cockles, mussels, blue prawns, and rabbit served with an accompanying aioli. The stock — made from roasted lobster and shrimp shells, cod and chicken bones, Armagnac, and saffron — adds complexity, subtle sweetness, and richness to the bomba rice. According to Sunday Hospitality co-founder and culinary director, Jaime Young, and chef de cuisine, Byron Hogan, who spent the past 13 years living and cooking in Madrid, one of the most challenging parts of properly cooking paella is managing the burn rate, or the rate at which the stock evaporates and absorbs into the rice. Too fast of a burn rate, and the rice will be undercooked and scorched; too slow, the rice will be overcooked and lose its structural integrity. El Quijote has mastered this balancing act, orchestrating rice that is both tender and absorbed with as much flavorful stock as possible. For now, El Quijote is sticking with one iteration of paella, but don’t be surprised if you see another version added soon. The dish is magnificently decadent, and the flavor-concentrated socarrat is not to be wasted.