Dear Mr. Gold:
I love this big giant melting pot we live in, but why do we have such little representation of Spanish food? Am I missing something?
Dear Mr. Armendariz:
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Probably because L.A.'s best maker of charcuterie, La Espanola, is Spanish, the flavors of Spain have never been easier to find in Los Angeles: Its great chorizo shows up on the menus of local tapas joints and hamburger boutiques, expensive French restaurants and downscale deli counters. The Iberico and Manchego it imports make it into supermarket cheese displays, and the acorn-fed Iberico ham is an object of desire in almost every high-end restaurant in town. The custom of serving Spanish membrillo, quince paste, with cheese is everywhere. Canny wine drinkers have learned to look to wines from Monsant and Jumilla where once they depended on Chianti. Spanish expats Placido Domingo, Pau Gasol and Penelope Cruz are hometown heroes.
Still, Los Angeles was technically part of Spain for a good chunk of its early existence, but unless you count such "Spanish" restaurants such as El Cholo, El Coyote and The Spanish Kitchen, which were of course Mexican restaurants trying to thrive in an era even unfriendlier to our brothers and sisters from the south than even the Lou Dobbs legions can bring themselves to be today, there have never been more than a handful of places in central Los Angeles at a time. There used to be a small but significant Spanish and Portuguese presence in the South Bay, especially around Lomita, tied to the port trade, but the last traces of it are almost gone.
Until we can persuade significant chunks of Extramadura or the Costa Brava to emigrate, we can at least console ourselves with the Valencian paellas and fideos at LA Paella near the Beverly Center. If you call an hour or two in advance, you might be able to persuade them to prepare their normally wettish paella so that it ends up on the dry side with a developed crust. It couldn't hurt to ask.
LA Paella: 476 S. San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 951-0745.