Rice Is Nice

Especially when it's cooked according to a Spanish family's long-held recipes

Think of it as a treasure hunt–and the reward is golden rice.

To eat at Venga Paella, first you have to clear your weekday lunch plans–or Friday dinner, the only night the restaurant open. Next, drive to Oakland. Using GPS is recommended, because Venga is located on a random corner in the warehouse district.

The paella at the journey's end is made by Barcelona-born Eduardo Balaguer, who's just carrying on a family tradition. "We would have big paella parties two to three times a year," he says.

A decade ago, Balaguer started catering using his mother's recipe as his base. Now that he has a commercial kitchen and many Brobdingnagian pans, the operation has gone public.

The dining room (Photo: Venga Paella)

Venga's short menu mostly consists of rice dishes. There's a vegan paella with squash and kale ($10) and an arroz negro ($10)–clams, mussels and squid embedded in charcoal-gray rice.

You really just want the Balaguer family paella ($12): The rice is marigold-hued and al dente, with squid rings and peppers curled around the grains. There are mussels, prawns and clams to fish out, and the occasional umami bump of chorizo, but the flavor mostly comes from a long-sautéed sofrito of aromatics, smoked paprika and saffron.

Should you nap after lunch? Only if you return to the office.