Castles in Spain

Paella dreams at La Bodega Gourmet

Eric Paz of La Bodega Gourmet (photo by John Anderson)

The gentle rolling hills southwest of Austin have long been home to the upscale suburbs of Rollingwood and West Lake Hills. As development has increased, gated enclaves of glamorous homes now dot the landscape all the way to the burgeoning village of Bee Cave at the confluence of FM 2244 and Highway 71 West. Neighborhood dining spots are still few and far between, but the new food shop and deli run by chef Eric Paz is quickly developing a neighborhood following since opening earlier this year. Area residents drop by to pick up imported foodstuffs such as meats, cheeses, and olive oil, but the main attraction is paella prepared by the chef himself.

Born in Panama to Spanish parents, chef Eric Paz has a lilting accent and Iberian charm that brings Antonio Banderas to mind. Warm personal hospitality is the hallmark of the cozy shop stocked with coffees imported from Guatemala, Colombia, and Mexico, Spanish meats and cheeses, oils and vinegars, spices, tinned foods from Spain, plus condiments and beverages sourced locally or made in house. On the Saturday we visited, we sampled slivers of cheese paired with a spicy red pepper jelly and a swoon-worthy cup of the house eggnog spiked with dark Panamanian rum. Look for bottles of that during the holiday season.

In keeping with his passion for paella, Paz sells his signature paella mix as well as a selection of paella pans and utensils in various sizes. His daily prepared food menu includes a paella variation or a hearty entrée in addition to simple sandwiches made on fresh house Catalan bread loaves. The sandwiches bear names like Dali (serrano ham with Manchego cheese), the Picasso (Idiazabal cheese with pimento and aïoli), and Madonna (spicy dry coppa with Pecorino Toscano and fresh tomatoes) and are perfect for a quick, rustic lunch. We happened by on a day when the chef had prepared paella with shrimp, clams, and green peas for a large party and were able to bring home ample dinner portions paired with buttery garlic bread. We finished off our meal with a small assortment of tiny, crisp Argentinean alfajores, filled with a dollop of dulce de leche, and miniature chocolate truffles.

In addition to the selection of prepared foods available daily in the shop, Paz also offers an impressive menu of tapas for catering events and is well-known for his monthly paella parties. (He distributes his signature paella mix to retail stores around the state, including Whole Foods Market and Central Market here in Austin.) He and his personal paella team, Los Piratas del Sabor, have won the annual Paella Lovers United cook-off more than once, and now his store is one of the sponsors of the event. The day we visited the shop, he was speculating about what type of paella to prepare for the sold-out party on Nov. 14 – maybe a version from Provence or perhaps Extremadura? His next paella soirée will be held under a tent in the shop parking lot on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 28, and only 40 seats are available. Guests will enjoy bites from the tapas table and sips from the wine bar before the entrée of holiday paella made with turkey is served. There will be live music and conviviality, and at only $25 per person, it sounds like a steal.

La Bodega Gourmet

11500 Bee Caves Rd. #200, 512/263-8844
Mon.-Fri., 10am-5:30pm; Sat., 10:30am-5pm

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Eric Paz, Paella Lovers United

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