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With limited time in this tree lined city we trusted our hotel concierge for a recommendation on the best restaurant in town to sample the national dish of Spain--paella.  The guy pointed us to the Cafe Balear.

Was it the absolute best choice for paella?  I'd have to doubt that.  But it was an interesting experience.

The Cafe Balear specializes not only in paella but seafood paellas.  On this night there were four of us.  One couple ordered one version of a seafood paella.  The other couple ordered a similar but slightly different rendition.

I couldn't wait for the big, clay pot to arrive at the table with seafood and yellow rice with saffron bubbling away.  But it didn't turn out that way.   Instead the rice first arrived in two separate bowls.  We were each given a sample of the rice on a fork with the concept the same as when you are served wine to make sure it's good before it is served.  It tasted "okay."

Next came bowls of seafood.  You then mixed the seafood with the rice on your plate.  Not at all the image I had in mind when we came to this place. 

Our paellas came with various ingredients but both were rich in small shrimp in the shell along with some squid and as I recall, scallops and perhaps some clams and mussels.

For those who aren't too keen on fish, you can actually order up a vegetarian paella.

If you want the "true" paella experience, like the scenes you've seen on t.v., you might want to ask around about a place that brings the dish to the table bubbling away.  And while I'm no paella expert, I'd say the paella that I sampled at Barajas International Airport  while waiting for a flight to Faro in Portugal tasted better to me than what we got at Cafe Balear.  And that was pre-prepared stuff in a cafeteria type setting!

Cafe Balear is located at Calle Sagunto, 18 in Madrid.  Reservations are highly recommended.


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