But Begoña isn't through with me. She returns with a small plate of vegetable paella—rice enhanced with eggplant, artichokes, onions, peas, and peppers. I summarily revise my rankings: This is my favorite paella. But before I can ask for the check, she brings yet another one—a paella, full of squid, whose rice has been cooked in a concentrated fish stock instead of water. I stuff more rice into my mouth, under the guise of research.
As I finish, Begoña's father, Pascual, comes to my table to lecture me about rice. "There are 32 kinds of rice and not all are equal," he tells me. "Far from it! In most of the other restaurants, they use cheaper rice, but I use bomba especial. It's five or six times more expensive, but worth it, as you can tell." But, like Polo, Pascual Campos also stresses the importance of the water. "The water makes a big difference," he says. "There's stronger water, weaker water, more alkaline, less alkaline. That's why I would never order a paella away from Valencia; I'd have no confidence in it."