My youngest sister is spending the summer in Barcelona, Spain, enjoying lots of lavish meals full of paella, potatoes and of course, sangria. To say I was jealous about Amanda’s culinary adventurous is an understatement. I absolutely loved my time in Spain a few years ago, developing a serious appreciation for seafood paella and an undeniable weakness for patatas bravas.
The one place I actually trust in the city for the most addictive, authentic paella is Socarrat Paella Bar, appropriately named after their signature dish. I enlisted the help of my sister, Leigh, and friend, Izzy to help me devour a gigantic, crispy pan full of paella.
We made our way to Chelsea on a lovely, summer evening to the narrow restaurant.
Half of the restaurant, marked by a long bar area was closed off for a private party. It made the wait a little bit longer then usual, even with a reservation. The hostess was beyond attentive and extremely apologetic for our troubles, making the time pass quickly.
About 30 minutes later, we were lead to one of the many communal tables where two parties of six fill the table. Just a something to note, it’s not the best place for larger group, due to seating restrictions. Communal seating is really common, but the high quality of service and comfortable environment makes you forget this quickly. In addition, large, steaming hot blackened pans whizz past with the sweet, seafood and buttery smell of paella filling your lungs, making you excited to finally place your order.
Leigh and Izzy glanced over the cocktail list, while I opted to stick to my favorite drink, sangria.
The sangria at Socarrat strikes a nice balance between bitter and sweet. Cinammon is the key spice to this sangria, elevating the red wine mixture. The fruit inside is generally a combination of green apples and oranges, which is a second thought. Many times I found the sangria is all about fruit, whereas this version is truly about the wine.
After glancing over the appetizer menu, I asked the girls about some traditional Spanish dishes. They both looked at me like I was speaking a different language. I decided they needed a great cultural tasting of my favorite tastes of Spain.
You also need to order the paella at the same time as your appetizers, since the rice dish is made to order. It takes about 35 minutes to prepare, so I highly recommend getting some snacks to start. The paella is portioned per person, with a minimum of two portions per order. You don’t have to stick to the amount of people at your table, so I always order Paella for Two when dining with Three individuals. I learned this from a few earlier mistakes and lots of delicious left overs. We ordered the Pescados and Mariscos Paella, which is filled with shellfish, scallops, squid, cuttlefish and shrimp.
For our starters, we ordered Patatas Bravas, Croquettes, Fried Artichokes, and Pan Tomaca.
Patatas Bravas are crispy, square potatoes doused in a spicy aioli. It’s a simple, rustic dish that has a much more complex flavor profile then it looks like from the oustide. There’s a reason this delightful treat quickly became my absolute favorite from my Spanish adventures. The dish has an innate creaminess with the spiciness of the aioli cutting through the rich potatoes. The crispy potatoes are absolutely addictive and delicious. If you ever see patatas bravas on a menu, order it quickly.
We next turned to the Pan Tomaca, which is the Spanish version of a bruschetta.
Pan Tomaca is created by rubbing tomatoes and garlic onto warm pieces of bread until it creates a paste-like coating. I consider to be Spain’s reaction to Bruschetta without the mess. It’s an easy to eat appetizer that has an unusual freshness with all of the tomatoes on top. It’s not nearly as heavy as you would think, since it’s a bread dish.
Next, we turned to the fried artichokes and kale with a lemon aioli dipping sauce.
The lightly breaded and fried artichokes have a warm, creamy interior. The aioli is acidic, light adding a surprising freshness and depth of flavor to the fried artichoke. While it was one of the lesser traditional dishes, it’s still a great one that highlights vegetables in a very different way.
Finally, we turned to the crispy croquettes.
The crispy outside provided a contrast with the creamy and warm pureed potato inside. This variety was simple and classic. It just melted in your mouth, as you tried to savor each bite. You dip the croquette into the slightly acidic and sweet aioli, adding an additional depth of flavor. The sweet and crunchy croquette is a delightful little treat, highlighting the multiple uses of potatoes in Spain.
With our palates excited and in the Spanish mood, the steaming hot, wide, black pan of paella arrived at the table.
The waiter instructs the table to wait a few moments to allow for the rice to crisp up at the bottom of the pan. This creates the most crusty pieces of rice, known as Socarrat, hence the name of the restaurant. They have specially designed pans at the restaurant to maximize the surface space, so all of the pieces of rice crisp up. With a gigantic spoon, you scrape the bottom of the pan to break off the rice that might have stuck. Turn the spoon over, and the scoop the rice onto your plate. Add a bunch of the fish and you have the most ridiculous, flavorful paella this side of the Atlantic.
The rice itself is crispy and sweet, even more delicious when small pieces of light seafood makes its way into the mix. The scallops, squid and cuttlefish are especially delightful with the contrast of the sweet, creamy fish mixing with the crunchy rice. As time goes on, the softer pieces of rice crisp up, making every bite filled with the socarrat. We started to fight our way for the last bites of the large, black pan. This is easily the best, most authentic paella in the city hands down.
I’m officially obsessed with Socarrat for all of my Paella needs. It’s one of the most authentic Spanish meals in the city, giving you a taste of Barcelona in New York. The wait staff is always friendly and attentive, serving consistently great food and incredible sangria. If you haven’t been here yet, I suggest grabbing two or three of your closest friends and heading down here for a steaming hot pan full of paella. Now you know how and where to get a taste of Spain on command.
Socarrat Paella Bar – 259 West 19th Street – New York, NY
Socarrat Nolita – 284 Mulberry Street – New York, NY
Socarrat Paella Bar
Location: Chelsea, NY and Nolita, NY
Type: Spanish, Tapas
Perfect For: Impressing Foodies, Authentic Dining, Small Plates, First Dates
Reservations: Recommended via OpenTable
Favorite Dishes: Pescados and Mariscos Paella, Croquettes, Patatas Bravas, Pan Tomaca