Dear Food Diary:
A slightly sweet and well balanced white sangria was the start of a great dinner date. Socarrat Paella Bar was crowded on a chilly Monday night, a good sign of what was to come. Waiting at their Socarrat Bar de Vinos next door, our conversation was interlaced with noteworthy tapas.
Whenever the question Jamon Iberico or Serrano presents itself, there’s no doubt, Iberico has captured my heart and taste buds ever since that first taste. They served the 24 month dry-aged piece of good pata negra hand shaved and not machine cut, the best way to experience its texture. The fatty nutty flavors are amazing, salty with hints of sweetness that lingers on and on. A mild yet passionate love affair of cured meat and fat. Well worth every penny.
The Fish Empanada Gallega was bigger than your usual tapas portion. It didn’t really stand out in texture or flavor. The marinara sauce on the side helped, but the lack of excitement here was obvious. By far my least favorite dish of the night.
After that bland bite, I was awaken again by the Gambas al Ajillo. Common dish, not so common execution. I loved the head attached and totally enjoy sucking all that yummyness along with the garlicky oil and hot peppers. Fresh, sweet, tender shrimp, oh so flavorful, lick your fingers kind of good. No more gambas sans cabeza for me.
Tocino (pork belly) has become the star of all menus in the last couple years, a well deserved recognition. We anticipated a cube of crispy skin, braised fatty indulgence, unfortunately not even the delicious dates puree could provoke any true satisfaction. Surely we’ve had better pork belly elsewhere, for one, Blue Hill comes to mind. It wasn’t bad, but at $5 a piece, it didn’t quite justify either.
Pam Tomaca, basically toasted bread rubbed with fresh tomato is one of those simple classic tapas dish. The twist here was a fried quail egg on top. Modest and pure flavors. Best part was breaking the egg yolk and watching it run, it would qualify as some sort of soft food porn for sure.
30 minutes later, our table was ready, our paellas was pre-ordered while at the bar. We sat across from each other, a long mirrored communal table, it was tighter than tight. But paella enthusiasts sat to our left and right, assuring us there’s no greater paella to be found in the city that never sleeps.
We decided on the Arroz Negro. Ok… maybe it wasn’t an unanimous call, being a girl has it’s benefits *wink*. Truth is, I’ve had this place on my list for a while, and knowing that squid ink was involved, I just had to try it. Along with the savory black liquid, chunks of tender white fish, shrimp, squid, scallops and starchy fava beans joined the fiesta. I loved it, it was splash after splash of a sea feast, one great bite followed by another.
There was no mistaken, squid ink was present, it covered and infused every grain. The skillfully achieved pan of rice had soaked all the flavors and offered crispy deliciousness all around the bottom of the pan (the socarrat). One of the best paellas I’ve had. Wished we hadn’t munched on so many tapas, this would best be shared amongst 3 or 4 people, we finished close to 3/4.
A great pick if you love squid ink as much as I do. My dinner date on the other hand, was too polite to mention his lack of interest in this deep black fluid, obviously, he wasn’t digging it as much. Lesson learned, make sure you share this with squid ink fanatics.
The trio next to us, ordered our second option (the one I managed to talk him out of) Paella Valenciana. It smelled amazing, filled with chunks of pork, rabbit, scallions, snow peas, asparagus and snails! yes, snails, very autentico. Just for that I must return, asap.
For the 3+ hrs we were there, the food and conversation flowed. A relaxed atmosphere, where everyone’s chit chat was audible, yet we managed to hear each other. 19 Street suddenly became Calle 19, tucked away in a Callejon, somewhere in the Espana I’ve pictured. My first trip is in the works, until then, I’ve got Socarrat.
P.S. Chubby’s RATING:
259 West 19th Street