When Marta Brewer, chef and co-owner of Tasca Brava, makes a paella, she doesn’t skimp. Her rice, imported from Valencia, the original home of paella, has an amazing capacity for absorbing flavors. The saffron, which colors the rice a deep golden yellow, is another Spanish import. To cook and serve this traditional Spanish entree, she uses a “paellera” or paella pan, for which this savory dish is named.

In fact, all of the items on Brewer’s menu, are either based on regional classics of Spain or bear the essential ingredients of the locale–often with a slight twist that Brewer has turned.

“We’ve just started to make our own chorizos!” says Juan Samper, her husband, who owns the restaurant with his wife. He spent his formative years in Colombia and travels regularly to Spain with his wife, so he knows about chorizos, the well-seasoned, somewhat spicy and savory pork sausages squeezed into fat casings. “Whole Foods used to prepare them for us, but we decided to buy our own machine,” he says, pointing to the 3-foot-tall Hobart meat grinder. “Now they even taste better.” Samper grills one off quickly and then cuts into it with a serrated knife. He places the pieces in his mouth and shakes his head with great pleasure.

Tasca Brava offers numerous items on its tapas menu, including a sampler of cheeses from Spain far and wide. Samper or Brewer will usually take the time with customers to educate them–to tell them what type of milk is used to conceive each cheese, and the region in which it was produced.

“The one with the red powder rolled into its rind,” Brewer tells me, “is from the La Vera valley, a region [southwest of Madrid] that’s famous for smoked peppers.” The peppers, or pimenton, are harvested by hand in early October–the entire community participating in every step. They are then slow-smoked for 15 days, endowing the peppers with a deep, intense flavor. Then they are dried and stone ground to a velvety powder. Brewer and Samper use this special form of paprika in numerous dishes on the menu.

As Father’s Day approaches, Brewer is planning a special menu to honor all fathers–Spanish or otherwise. So far, some of her items planned for the menu include tapas of ceviche (seafood cooked only in a citrus mixture), crema de calabaza (cream of pumpkin soup), entrecote de la Cabrales (a manly piece of beef tenderloin with a sauce made from a rich Cabrales, blue veined cheese) and “Papa” au rum, her version of a sweet cake soaked in rum and syrup for dessert.

Tasca Brava is at 2422 S.W. Cary Parkway in Cary, 319-3122.

Around Town

Congratulations to the North Carolina winners in the 13th annual James Beard Awards. The Kitchen Aid Book Award for tools and techniques went to Jean Anderson, who lives in Chapel Hill, for her book, Process This! The Lexington Barbecue #1 in Lexington and
The Skylight Inn
in Aden were awarded Coca Cola’s America Classic Restaurant Award. And
Karen Barker
of Magnolia Grill in Durham won the All-Clad Bakeware Outstanding Pastry Chef award. The A&E network will show the awards presentation June 28 from 1 to 2 p.m.

Four cheers!

Restaurant Bakus, which opened in April in the Ninth Street business district, is now open for lunch as well as dinner. Bakus features a wonderful selection of tapas, and some of the menu treats include an interesting combination of sauteed spinach, coconut, raisins and apple-roast monkfish served with a cilantro sauce and thin-sliced roast duck breast served with a delicate berry compote. The flan is pretty good, too. Lovely food in a lively atmosphere!

On June 12 at 6:30 p.m., the owners of Four Square Restaurant, 2701 Chapel Hill Road, and the owners of the Connecticut restaurant MetroBis will be presenting a special book signing/dinner centered around the book, Wife of the Chef: The True Story of Restaurant and Romance written by Courtney Febbroriello, co-owner of MetroBis. The five-course dinner will feature dishes favored by the wives of the chefs from these two establishments and include wines from celebrated Sonoma winemaker Susan Selby. Cost is $85 per person. Call 401-9877 to learn more.

At The Streets of Southpoint mall on June 24, Chef Jim Anile of Il Palio Ristorante will be presenting a menu of Tuscan savories at
Williams Sonoma. Cost is $30 per person. Call 484-1706 for more details.

The Durham Arts Council presents its 11th year of all things tasty, the Edible Arts and Silent Auction June 8 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. featuring cooking demonstrations and the food of many restaurants, including the Fairview Restaurant, George’s Garage and the Q Shack. All proceeds go to the programming of the Durham Arts Council. It’s at the Durham Marriot At the Civic Center, 201 Foster St. Tickets are $35 in advance, $40 at the door. Info: 560-2787.

The Bali Hai Mongolian Restaurant, 811 Ninth St., is holding its grand opening May 29 and 31.

From the owners of the Red Dragon in Raleigh comes The Far East Grill, recently opened at 6490 Tryon Road, the corner of Cary Parkway. It’s being touted as a place to get “Asian-fusion at fast food prices,” featuring dishes such as flounder wraps with plum sauce, sugar cane shrimp kabobs, and life long noodles.

Chapel Hill

The Carolina Inn, 211 Pittsboro St., is now offering at its Carolina Crossroads Restaurant a weekly offering they call, “Fridays on the Front Porch,” featuring comfortable seating, live bluegrass, beer and wine and a tapas menu. Special events include a Father’s Day beer dinner on June 13 and a winemakers’ dinner on June 27.

There’s a new chef at the West End Wine Bar at 450 W. Franklin St. He’s chef Lawrence Kobesky, and is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and has worked at numerous well-known restaurants, including Le Cirque in New York City. Some of his current menu selections include chilled seared yellow fin tuna with grain mustard vinaigrette, terrine of chicken livers with pear chutney, and Mexican BBQ carnitas with salsa. The bar’s owner, Jared Resnick, recently opened The Cellar, a beer and pool joint with a great jukebox, in the restaurant’s basement.

Valentino’s, formerly at 100 W. Franklin St., has closed and will reopen as Valentino’s on the Pond at The VilCom Center on Weaver Dairy Road. Valentino’s replaces the Rendezvous Grill at the VilCom location, while a tapas bar is in the works at 100 W. Franklin St.

Join Chef Cory Mattson for a session of outdoor grilling and summertime favorites at the Fearrington House Restaurant’s Cooking School Retreat June 8-9. It’s an overnight extravaganza where students will socialize, eat and learn to slow cook a side of hog, poach sole, smoke trout, make fruit gazpacho and more. Price: $415 and up. For info, call 542-2121.