We had the best paella at El Patio Bodega in Malaga, and just by pure luck. We came from the nearby Bodega Bar El Pimpi (post coming soon), the first place we tried upon arrival in Malaga. But their hot food wasn’t going to be served until later that evening, and we were told that there would be no paella. We had some anchovies and sangria and looked for a place for dinner. We had to have paella. That’s the reason we were in Spain!
I’ve got some nerve declaring their paella the best, when we had many others we were very happy about. I especially enjoyed El Patio’s paella because it was the only one that was served to us in a perfect al dente, a point that from experience is not only hard to achieve but also disappears within a few more minutes exposure to heat. Other than its consistency, the rice was still very moist with broth that settled in the bottom of the pan, and one whose flavor was infused with saffron and flavors of the ocean. Flavors of shellfish and mollusk dominated the dish, leaving no doubt as to the base of the sauce. Our server told us that their paella recently won 2nd prize in a contest, beaten only by a chef from Malaga who worked in Las Vegas(?)
El Patio is pretty from the outside, an observation that we first interpreted as likely touristy when we first passed. While there was a party of thirty American exchange students at the next table having Thanksgiving Dinner, El Patio was homey enough for us with its simple cafeteria-style tapas dishes displayed at the bar.
We made some good choices for our starters. The rest of the my party chose the sardines and baby octopus, and I took a second look at the bar selections to order the pulpo salad. We dipped our bread in the various oils and sauces and toasted glasses of wine. Pretty soon our cheeks were flushed and we were laughing. We were so happy to be in Spain!
We promised ourselves we’d be back at El Patio before our trip was over, and kept making plans to squeeze it into our busy sightseeing days. We craved El Patio’s paella all week and attempted to replicate our joy in front of paelleras elsewhere. But it just didn’t happen for us and we never made it back, which in hindsight is just fine. As with all great moments, one really shouldn’t be too eager to repeat them and risk disappointment. The first time will always be so hard to beat.
El Patio Bodega
Granada 39, Malaga, Spain