Monday, April 17, 2006
Eating in Madrid: Cañas y Barro
There are a few basic rules for finding a decent paella that, if you are a foreigner, you learn only through harsh experience (I suspect that for many Spaniards, these rules are innate, like their ability to keep all the soccer leagues straight).
Rule #1: No matter what its bearer may call it, nothing that anyone ever brought to a potluck in Boston, or Ann Arbor, or, say, Oberlin, Ohio, is remotely close to real paella.
Rule #2: Never eat paella on a menu del dia--it's been made ahead. Same goes for those massive paellas on display at tourist restaurants along Echegaray and most every paseo maritimo on the Costa del Sol. You only want paellas that are made to order. And for that, you usually need to eat in an arroceria
Rule #3: Purists will tell you that paella should only have rabbit, snails, and those massive beans called garrofa in it. But in truth, most combinations are pretty tasty. Chicken and chorizo; shellfish and chicken; vegetables and squid--they're all good. The only exception to this rule are those vegetarian restaurants where they start getting funky on you with the verduras. Carrots do not belong in a paella. Ditto for broccoli, yellow squash, and tofu.
Rule #4: The best paellas, the ones that will stick with you longest in memory, are cooked over an open fire on a dia de campo with friends.
I'm frequently asked where to get a good paella in Madrid. And, since I assume the asker is willing to ignore rule #4 for the moment, my answer is usually Cañas y Barro. It's a small place, decorated in a romantic style whose excesses border on the ridiculous, but the rices, including the authentic (rabbit, snails, garrafo) paella, are expertly made and thoroughly delicious.
I found it the first time when I was working in the municipal archives at Conde Duque. That day, I was on my own for lunch, and since I am a bigger fan of paella than Geoff is, I decided to take advantage of my solitude for a little rice. It was a risk, since some restaurants require a minimum of 2 people per arroz. And I was the only person in there, which made me a little nervous. But the menu assured me they made rices for one, the waiter was solicitous, and the bright yellow dish of aioli he brought to start things off was reassuringly valenciano. And indeed, the shellfish paella that finally emerged from the kitchen was the best I'd ever tasted. Admittedly, I've never been to Valencia. But trust me, it was good.
For the longest time I thought that Cañas y Barro was my personal discovery, mostly because the place was always empty or near-empty when I was there. I've since been proven wrong by the CNN bureau chief. But he also turned me on to the restaurant's zucchini and bacon appetizer, so I can't hold it against him.
Cañas y Barro, Amaniel 23, Tel. 915 424798