Sunday, November 27, 2011

MADRID: A Paella Feast at Casa Benigna

Paella was a high priority on our visit to Spain, one of my most favourite things to eat in the world. To my surprise, it wasn't abundantly popular among the tapas culture in Madrid and we spent most of our meals dedicated to small plates of cured meat, Spanish omlette, croquettes and even tripe. Fear not, we did not leave Madrid without an indulgence in paella - our friends, Jen & Andrew, had a plan to take care of our paella cravings and we were treated to a feast at Casa Benigna.

Casa Benigna is one of those "local" finds, tucked away on a quiet, residential street. Reservations are always needed and we were welcomed into the warm, intimate restaurant after a homey knock on the door, including greeting from the owner's mom. I always get a good feeling from family run food joints! Although we were given menus, I don't think I even flipped it open - part of the experience are the fresh and special dishes that can be offered off the menu....we let our friends take care of the ordering :)

Everything from the olive oil for our bread was an experience - one from Italy and one from Spain. The server poured both into glasses for us to pass around and smell like you would with wine. They were each distinct and simultaneously had crisp and smooth flavours to the smell. We had house soup to get our appetites roaring (not that we needed much help), followed by a delicious duck and eggplant starter. We couldn't pass up the recommended "scrambled eggs" and potato topped with fresh black truffle - the server had brought out the fresh truffle for us to smell upon ordering. It's truffle season! The food kept coming fast and furious, I barely had enough time to take it all in! Next we had a delicious salmon omelette with zucchini and some sea kept - it was a sweet tasting dish served with a light tomato sauce. This was one of the most memorable dishes of the night for me, truly unique and was a nice, light starter...despite it arriving on the table in a giant paella pan!

Now for the main affair: We wanted two paellas, and learned that traditional
paella preparation does not mix meat with seafood/fish so we decided to have one of each. We settled on a squid ink paella for our seafood choice - I love the unique, savoury taste if you can get past it being, well, black! It's definitely one of my favourites and I never turn down the opportunity to have it. We also had a vegetable paella with chicken done with jasmine rice, which was very aromatic and seemed even healthy! The jasmine grains was very unique and was a different flavour and texture to paella. Both were served in GIANT custom pans used by the restaurant (available for sale!) was a good thing there were 6 of us ready to indulge!

After polishing off the paella, pretty quickly I might add, we dived right into the AMAZING dessert - first a mixed platter to share including delicious gelato and chocolate cake, and then individual chocolate dipping cups for pastries (they reminded me of Chinese almond cookies!).

The whole experience at Casa Benigna was wonderful. We were well cared for the whole night, with the service professionalism of any high end restaurant, while still maintaining an intimate and friendly feel. I tried to look at what other patrons were having but was sure everyone was indulging in something different, which is exciting in itself, knowing you can have a very custom meal. Although the restaurant can certainly hold a decent crowd, reservations are highly recommended!

Casa Benigna
Benigno Soto 9, Chamartin, Madrid

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