The meat itself, still on the bone, was fine if not remarkable, but we carefully sopped up all of the sauce with rounds of white bread from the continually replenished basket.
The paella de carnes y mariscos ($26 for two, but plenty for four if sufficiently preceded by tapas) arrived in due course and was inspected. We noted the traditional two-handled pan, the wealth of meat, mussels, prawns, and green peas, and the bright yellowness of the rice an indication that there has been no stinting on the saffron. The grains of rice were plump and glistening, a sign that they had just been cooked straight through rather than parboiled, left to wait, then finished in haste.
Best of all was the caramelized crust that had developed at the bottom of the rice layer. One of the big differences between risotto and paella is that the former is stirred more or less constantly, with a creamy result, while the latter is stirred hardly at all. The result of this stasis is the crust, which is something of a delicacy, though scraping it off and folding it into the rest of the dish can be an indelicate operation.
Paella is one of life's more festive dishes, and Esperpento, despite its advanced age, has to be one of the more festive restaurants in the not-exactly-somnolent Mission: large parties wait at the door, tables are pushed together, cheerful voices are raised, plates laden with tapas fly from the kitchen (to return a few minutes later, stripped clean), service staff move nimbly among the tables like performers in some high-wire circus act. It is chaos, yes, but functional chaos, absurd as that might sound. *
Lunch: Mon.Fri., 11 a.m.3 p.m. Dinner: Mon.Fri., 510 p.m. Continuous service: Sat.Sun., noon10 p.m.
3295 22nd St., SF
Beer and wine