Socarrat259 W. 19th St, 212-462-1000 Price range: $30-$44 Rating: 4L's
Socarrat is the second venture from restaurateur Lolo Manso, owner of La Nacional at the Spanish Benevolent Society. Unlike that piece of private expat heaven, Socarrat is open to the public. Yet despite the transition, the food is just as authentic, a long, narrow slice of Catalonia in Chelsea.
Socarrat is the word for the transcendent crust that forms on the bottom of a perfectly crafted paella, and that’s what Socarrat the restaurant specializes in. But unlike other restaurants that specialize in a certain dish — I’m talking to you, Baked Potato Bar — this isn’t a gimmick. By offering only one class of entrees, along with a plethora of expert tapas, the quality of that paella, and its all-important socarrat, is preserved.
The dining room is dominated by a long mirrored bar, running the length of the restaurant, its gleaming surface reflecting a rustic wide-plank ceiling and gleaming white cabinetry. This is communal dining, so expect to hear your neighbors, and to smell their alluring paella and tapas but not necessarily understand the multitude of languages being spoken.
Socarrat — BYOB for now — offers six paellas, full of clams, cuttlefish, artichoke, rabbit, snails, duck and much more, and two fideuas, a similar dish substituting noodles for paella’s rice, all priced from $21 to $23 per person. We chose the house version, paella socarrat, with chunks of chicken, beef, shrimp, cuttlefish, green beans, mussels and clams. Each was perfect, coddled and tender, yet paled in comparison to that rich rice, each slightly firm grain bursting with land, sea and umami, only intensifying in the deeply satisfying crust.
We had started with some tapas. As much as I longed for the jamon Iberico, newly legal in the U.S., I couldn’t justify $22 for a few thin shards...this time. Creamy seafood croquettes ($8) were exactly as advertised and a bit boring, but melty pork belly ($10) with sweet date puree, roasted potatoes and tart granny smith apples was a symphony on the palate.
If you didn’t know Socarrat was there, you’d be hard pressed to stumble upon it, but judging from the crowd struggling for entry into the rustic modern space (from the same team that did elegant Allen & Delancey and Elletaria), the word has gotten out. Is Socarrat a gimmick or a love note to democratic, timeless paella (of a sort previously unavailable in NYC)? My vote’s with the latter.