5 Things I Learned at the Corona Paella Challenge

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Anything goes at this paella-off.

Despite the cold and occasionally drizzly weather, the turn out for Sunday's Corona Paella Challenge was enthusiastic. What's not to be pumped about when there are 30-plus paella's to sample right in our backyard? Here's a bit of what went down:

1. I need to go back to Tuk Tuk Tap Room. The eatery showcased an award-winning and excellent contemporary paella, or rather a khao hor bai bua with naam jim thaleh, seafood rice steamed in a lotus leaf with sour-charred Thai chili dipping sauce. Perfectly steamed scallops sealed the deal. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Even better, Tuk Tuk will launch brunch hours this Saturday, March 15 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and remain open through 2 a.m.

2. Jason Dady knows how to keep 'em waiting. The chef doled out servings of his crispy rice salad while he and his team prepared a frog leg, Thai-inspired paella that wasn't unveiled until 1:45 p.m. to a line of about 50-plus paella-hounds. Personally, I think the paella was worth the wait.

3. Jeff Balfour of the still-unnamed Pearl Brewery project teamed up Cesar Cervantes of El Bucanero for a fun and feisty contemporary paella that came in second after Tuk Tuk's. It was bright, playful and fresh with  just a touch of cotija cheese sprinkled on top. I'd love to see other chefs team up and play off each others strengths. Yay teamwork.

4. Screw sangria, spiced wine is where it's at. The Cured team gave out tiny servings of aromatic spiced wine that really warmed up the dreary day.

5. Anything goes with paella. Red snapper, clams, crawfish, scallops, lobster, shrimp (head-on or not) were some of the most traditional paella add-ons available, but the party didn't stop there. Frog legs, veal tongue, duck, beef, pork and a bevy of vegetables all made cameos at this year's challenge. As long as the rice is great, there's room for everyone in this rice-based dish.

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