Monterey County in California is the location of some highly desirable addresses in the West Coast.
Pacific Grove where my friend works and live now is a small city bound by Monterey, Salinas and Carmel. It is the gate to the 17-mile drive to Carmel from the north. It is the location of some beautiful Victorian homes but unlike the ones we have here in Illinois, they are very much smaller in scale. Looking more like doll houses but don’t be fooled, they all cost a fortune.
I will write another blog to feature these houses and their tiny gardens but what strike me was the smell of rosemary and lavender in the streets. Because of its proximity to the ocean and its high humidity, rosemary and lavender grow so well in the area that the herb is everywhere for the picking. They grow like hedges in their gardens I had to take home a tiny bouquet for my cooking.
There is a restaurant we frequented in Pacific Grove called International. Their food is so good and reasonable and service is fast. So on our third dinner there, I decided to order one of their most expensive in the menu – a seafood paella.
Am not a paella aficionado. I don’t claim to know what is considered best paella but I know that I haven’t found one that I liked in Spain. See Filipinos has a version of paella we got from our Spanish ancestors so that’s my benchmark although we use less of the saffron since the cost is prohibitive in the Philippines. But I prefer the way we cook the rice – which is cooked well. The ones I’ve tried in Spain was al dente and it was like eating raw grain. We call it Arroz a’la Valenciana, the dish was named after a city in Southern Spain – Valencia, where it originally came from.
I like the paella in the Spanish restaurants in Chicago though. Maybe those have been adopted to American taste.
My friend is Moroccan and her friend is French. They’re not rice lovers like me. At this point I was starting to miss my rice and paella was a good excuse.It looked good and delicious, in fact promising. The rice was soft and tender enough for me and it had big portions of fish fillet aside from a pair of jumbo shrimps. But the fragrance of the herb used was very strong and overwhelming. I couldn’t figure it out while we were there. In short, I was really disappointed.
The night before I left I went to pick up some rosemary to take home. It was a revelation because that was the smell I couldn’t name in my paella. There was too much rosemary with some cilantro. Like crushed rosemary in oil and then mixed in with the dish. I never thought of using both herbs in paella no wonder I wasn’t associating it.
That was a case of having too much of a good thing could be disastrous.
But I did use a sprig of rosemary in my chicken dish tonight and it made it extra-special.