Venga Paella: A Slice of Barcelona in Oakland
Venga Paella, a small Spanish restaurant recently opened in the up-and-coming warehouse part of Oakland, occupies a cozy corner of two refreshingly un-crowded streets with plenty of parking and wide sidewalks, suitable for summertime al fresco dining.
Even in the cold season, San Francisco Bay Area paella lovers are not complaining about the wintry weather. It’s nice and cozy inside the restaurant; the walls, painted matador red, emit warmth in the soft glow of table candlelights, and the service is good-looking and friendly.
In fact, Venga Paella patrons tend to spend many an hour here sipping, chatting, and nibbling on Barcelona-style tapas such as sliced tortilla de patatas y cebolla (potato and onion frittata) or gambas al ajillo (prawns with garlic).
House special sangria tinta or a glass of Tempranillo (2011 Vina Gormaz) are as good as any other vino from a short but very Spanish list to begin an evening of unhurried culinary enjoyment.
Executive chef and owner Eduardo Balaguer, who transferred the name of his establishment from his popular catering company to this new restaurant, offers a concise, well-designed menu prepared with local seasonal and often organic ingredients.
“I’ve opened Venga Paella,” said chef Eduardo, who is originally from Barcelona, “inspired by fond memories from my youth of festive gatherings of family, friends, and many a stranger and the chance for all of us to slow down, eat well, and enjoy one another’s company for more than just a moment.”
The chef’s paellas, moderately spiced and served with organic mixed greens, are indeed conducive to sitting together and sharing food, thoughts, and laughs—and that’s what people tend to do here, be it at the bar, at a long communal table, or at a little table for two.
Paella Tradicional, reddish from various peppers, hot and sweet, is made with prawns, calamari, mussels, clams, and Prather Ranch pork chorizo; Paella de Arroz Negro is tinted with black squid ink and contains mussels, clams, and calamari. There is also Paella Vegetariana on the menu, prepared with seasonal vegetables. No matter which one you choose, the rice is perfectly friable, the sauce if fragrant, and the shellfish is perfectly fresh.
For dessert, there is a wonderful cheese-and-quince Manchego con membrillo. A few slices of Spain’s most famous cheese covered with a thin layer of aromatic fruit paste create a low-sugar sweet course no one can resist.
For a real sweet tooth indulgence, there is Flan Casero, eggy and soft and bathed in golden caramel sauce.
Venga Paella is open Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. and on Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Happy Hour is 4:30 to 6 p.m. The restaurant is located at 229 Brush Street, at the corner of Third Street, in Oakland, California. For more information and for reservations for parties of 10 or more, call (510) 628-0018.