Paella in Spain is as common as hotdogs are in the U.S. -- with just as many regional differences.
The one thing every paella has in common is long-grain rice, and a wide, flat-bottomed pan that lends its name to this iconic Spanish dish that is found all over Chicago, including Tapas Gitana in Lakeview.
There are several ways to celebrate a meal in Spain; Sangria usually plays a role. In nearly every region, you can bet you'll find paella. At Tapas Gitana - which has locations in Northfield and Boystown on Halsted - there are always a handful of paellas on the menu.
"Paella is a staple item in Spain. You'll find it all over the different regions in Spain. It originated in Valencia, down South. but you'll find it everywhere. Each region has a different style of paella," said Andrew Novak, the owner and chef of Tapas Gitana.
The best-known is the Valenciana version, which begins with chorizo sausage and chicken, sauteed in garlic oil. Onions, peppers and tomatoes are added, and once they're softened, Novak adds long grain rice. Just like risotto, he must add liquid stock - in this case, seafood that's been infused with saffron - which will season and add color the dish. He also adds some individual saffron threads, giving the paella even more vibrancy.
"Paella actually is the pan the dish is cooked in. What the dish is, it's a traditional rice dish that can be made with meats, game, fish, seafood. It's generally a saffron scented rice," said Novak.
The paella is covered and baked for about 20 minutes.. then to finish the plating, he garnishes it with sweet peas, diced piquillo peppers, a few lemons and fresh parsley. He also makes a mariscos version, overloaded with clams, shrimp, mussels and calamari.. as well as an "Imperial," which is essentially a mariscos plus lobster tails. One thing you need to look for is the tell-tale bottom crust, called socarrat.
"Socarrat..it's a very nice, rich, chewy, crispy bit that comes on the bottom of the pan when it's cooked properly," Novak said.
Paella is not fast food, so if you do plan on ordering it at any Spanish restaurant, always expect at least a thirty-minute wait. It leaves more time for sangria.
"This is an excellent tapas restaurant in the north shore. They offer some of the traditional tapas such as garlic potato salad, pisto manchego, and bacon wrapped dates. They also have some great ones we've only found here: eggplant with goat cheese, fried artichoke hearts, etc. Definitely a great place for couple or group."
Jay C Austin Tx
"We've been going here for years, usually on Saturday nights and for 2 always can be seated quickly. Dining room isn't large but always lively and loud enough to bring children. The food is consistently delicious, we dream of the skirt steak and bacon wrapped dates. They pour our sangria promptly and then I can't wait for my next dish, stuffed mushrooms?"
Amy M Northbrook, IL
Last Sunday night I was in Chicago for one night and had dinner at TAPAS GITANA. What a memorable experience! We started off with a tasty beverage, namely the Raspberry Martini and Senorita (translation: half margarita half sangria), delicious and won't make you too loopy. The dishes that I will go back for my next trip to Chicago, which won't be soon enough, were the ALCACHOFAS FRITAS-i.e. FRIED ARTICHOKE HEARTS (go there now ye Chicagoans!), SALMON AL HORNO- i.e. SALMON W/ HONEY MUSTARD GLAZE (I prefer the glaze in a delectable little dish on the side in order to obtain the perfect fish to sauce ratio), and the BACON FRIED DATES (do you ship AMAZON same day delivery to LA?). My date and I had a double helping of FLOR DE PLATANO (banana split).
"Amazing! A great place! It's so pretty inside. And the food comes fairly quick. It would be a great place for group gatherings, or by yourself. Such a big menu makes it hard to find something that you don't like. Not to pricey, for the quality of the food. $6-10 dollars for most plates, but you usually get about 2 per person. Will definitely come again. Hope this is helpful!!!!"
Bugaba B Elmhurst, IL
"Really very nice. Great value for the food. We will look forward to returning soon. ✅☘️🌈♦️⭐️😀"
VIP Bdgarrett (Chicago)
"Chef Andy shows his creative genius with the new menu. I am a huge fan. I have been a regular patron of Tapas Gitana and I like the new tapas offerings, particularly the honey Dijon chicken tenders a very generous portion as well as the marinated grilled beef skewers served with sautéed peppers and onions. The chef informed me that the beef is hangar steak and it is quite noticeable how top notch the flavor and quality of the beef is....very tasty indeed. And to top it off, it a value.
I like trying different tapas each time I dine at Tapas Gitana but I MUST get the bacon-wrapped dates. And my other go-to tapa is the oven-baked goat cheese. In a word "Yummy".
While the food keeps me coming back, I like the comfortable, almost homey atmosphere, decorated with with distinctive art and artifacts.
No need to go to Spain to get authentic tapas. You need only go to Northfield, Illinois.
VIP OpenTable Diner (Chicago)
"Overabundance of food - be careful with ordering. Everything looks and smells so nice and you stomach will be satisfied before your eyes and brain are!"
TJCZ1 Trip Advisor