I can tell right away that they must be at La Espanola Meats in Harbor City for the same reason my friend Erin and I are there on a humid Saturday afternoon – for Tony C of Sino Soul’s paella/blogger feast/love fest. The man has an inexplicable ability to get his friends and semi-loved ones to drive exorbitant distances for food. He also has an inexplicable ability for arriving at said gatherings late (I suspect to force the random individuals he invites to become friendly with one another without his assistance as the tie that binds everyone in the Twitterverse together).
Plus, I secretly think he enjoys making an entrance.
“Are you part of Tony’s group?” I ask the couple (who I later learn are not a couple at all).
They nod eagerly at my opening, introductions are made, and as we begin perusing the small space of the charcuterie/specialty Spanish storefront, I feel a fledging affection for them. Ben and Sylvia seem like good folk, I think.
While I am busy knocking bottles of artichoke mousse onto the floor and nibbling on the stinky (ie. delicious) cheese samples near the cash register, Erin picks out a pleasant 2001 Campo Viejo Rioja Reserva for us to enjoy with our lunch. She’s excited because it’s a Tempranillo, and I’m excited because I don’t have to make the decision.
Soon thereafter Tony arrives with his beautiful new bride Hayon, and informs us that he has requested 16 orders of paella – one for every two people. He also informs us that the paella is not what we’ve driven 30 miles for – La Espanola’s premium cured meats are the real draw. I ignore the voice in my head that is screaming, “You’re wrong, Tony C! Wrong!” and join Erin in the long line that is forming to order individual meat and cheese tapas plates. Both Erin and I are more interested in the paella (and our bottle of wine), but decide we can handle the slight charge of $4.99 for some fatty pork, as well.
It is at this critical juncture that the aforementioned Ben of B-Side Blog does something that completely eradicates the possibility that Erin and I will forget his and Sylvia’s names and remember them as “the couple who is not really a couple.” He starts to talk to us as we wait in line. One thing leads to another and Erin asks if they want to share our bottle of wine. Ben agrees and ups the ante with the proposition for a shared plate of tapas as well ($7.99 for 4 people). In mere moments, Ben, Sylvia, Erin, and I have become paella pals.
As we sit on the patio, sipping wine and demolishing our seafood paella cartons that are more noteworthy for the fluffy texture of the fragrant rice and the sweet strips of roasted red pepper than for the slightly overcooked seafood, we become bonded over our mutual appreciation for the food.
Tearing through the meat plate (whilst carefully avoiding the salami-esque pieces that Ben describes as “fine” – ie. not fine enough for me), I start wondering if this is Tony’s intent with all his gatherings. That maybe he doesn’t just care about getting everyone sauced and stuffed on a hot summer afternoon. Maybe he wants to bring kindred spirits together like he’s a Foodie Cupid. Maybe he’s the Great Asian Hope for Los Angeles – the man who can bridge a thousand personality, demographic, ethnic, and geographic gaps. Or maybe Tony’s just a guy who really really likes being in control.
Any which way, it works.
25020 Doble Avenue
Harbor City, California 90710
Phone: (310) 539-0455
Fax: (310) 539-5989
Note: Paella only available on Saturdays for lunch.