Baked pasta is as familial as food gets. Ziti with gooey mozzarella cheese is the stuff Sundays are made of, the definition of a “one pot meal” that’s as satisfying as it is practical. That said, Italians don’t exclusively own the movie rights to spaghetti. Sure, it’s only natural to associate pasta with Italian food, but by doing so we’ve already limited the possibilities to what can exist, to what already exists. Take fideuá, a baked seafood dish with Spanish roots that’s being served at Gabi James in Redondo Beach.
Think of fideuá like a paella, but instead of bomba rice it utilizes short noodles. There’s still the recognizable amount of shellfish you’d expect in a paella (they use a trifecta of clams, mussels and squid), and it still gets cooked in a rather large skillet, but at Gabi James there’s more nuance and character throughout their Spanish port city classic.
This fideuá doesn’t fit the narrative of “a gluttonous sea captain with a penchant for rice was duped by his crew into eating pasta.” No, you’ll immediately notice the jet black, ultra-rich squid ink aioli that snakes its way across the surface of this seafood bake.
They also prepare tomatoes confit, the kind of appreciated extra step that goes a long way in adding flavor. Chunks of crushed garlic smashed with the back of a knife are also spread throughout this elevated casserole, reminding us that this is still a dish with humble, rustic roots. This isn’t a bunch of ingredients thrown into a pot and cooked at the same time. What the team at Gabi James understands is that a dish a complex as fideuá is best when the components are cooked separately. To make something special you have to treat each ingredient like an individual.
The pasta in fideuá isn’t Italian, so don’t walk in thinking you’re going to get waves of pappardelle or tanks of rigatoni. Gabi James uses fideos, a small, thin, golden Spanish pasta. The appearance and aesthetic of fideos actually does bear a similar resemblance to paella, so it’s not jarring or even a long walk to go from short grain rice.
Simmered and baked in seafood stock, the fideos swells up with wonderfully aromatic, oceanic stock flavor. Then, once blasted in the oven on high heat, the fideos sears and sticks to the edges of the pan, like it’s been glued there with its own starch. The sticky, charred-like flavor and texture is going to have you scraping the sides of the pan with your fork to extract every last bit.
One more dish that is a can’t miss: The aesthetic of Gabi James is coastal Spanish and French cuisine, and you’ll find no better example than their grilled bread and anchovy. Vinegary, Spanish anchovies and grilled bread are a classic, but Gabi James takes it a bit further. The anchovies are topped with caperberry, minced shallot, chili and, get this – a thick, abundant layer of shaved frozen butter. The butter completely hides the aforementioned ingredients like a pizza hiding its pepperoni under a layer of cheese.
Peculiar, yes, and the visual presentation of the dish immediately becomes butter, but it’s one of the most delicious things I’ve had in recent memory. Loveable are the Spanish ingredients and an exaggerated take on French technique. This dish was a true delight. It epitomizes the French and Spanish influence at Gabi James, but also the fun, off-the-cuff atmosphere that is dearly appreciated in restaurants. I get the sense that there’s a lot to discover at Gabi James, and if these dishes are any indication, the team there is full of delicious tricks.