When my mom emigrated to the US from Franco’s Spain in her mid-20s, the cool place for Spanish people* to hang out in NYC was la catorce. This stretch of 14th street housed sites like Librería Lectorum, which, until it closed in 2007, was the best place to find literature and serious books en español (as opposed to translations of popular English novels or self-help books) in NYC. The Spanish Benevolent Society is nearby. Downstairs from that is the unassuming, dimly lit, cavernous restaurant La Nacional, where I’ve watched a few World Cup matches and have had delicious tapas and paella, served by brusque matrons from another era.
Socarrat Paella Bar is an offshoot of that, and I hadn’t had occasion to check it out until yesterday, for a belated celebration of my girlfriend’s birthday. It’s more refined and modern. As we entered, the host called her friend tía, typical continental Spanish for girl (literally translated as aunt) and used vale (okay) a few times. I smiled; I only hear these uses in Spain, not from my other Spanish-speaking friends in the US.
We ordered a sangria de cava, a fruity, cinammon-y, version of sangria made with sparkling white wine. Then we had pulpo a la plancha, a perfectly tender, caramelized octopus tentacle. It was beautifully presented on a square of slate, with buttery potatoes in the middle, sea salt flakes, and smoky, vibrantly red pimentón. Prepping octopus can be time-consuming, so I love to order it when I go out, and Socarrat did not disappoint.
We also ordered the paella de pescados y mariscos. It arrived in a steaming hot cast iron pan, full of moist basa fish (a type of catfish), chewy cuttlefish, cockles (small clams), squid, shrimp, mussels, and buttery fava beans. The bomba rice was perfectly cooked, with flavors of garlic and saffron, and the edges of the pan had abundant socarrat. The namesake of the restaurant refers to the crunchy, caramelized rice that is highly sought after in the dish (my Dominican friend said they refer to this rice as concón). I noted that the restaurant serves several variations of the Valencian rice dish, including a vegetarian version.
After a short paseo, we returned to the Churreria next door, and had a fat churro relleno with dulce de leche inside. Yum.
¡Lo pasamos bomba! We had a great time!
*I’m referring to Latinos and Hispanics more broadly here, as this area was also frequented by Central and South Americans at the time. In NYC, Spanish food often refers to Puerto Rican or Dominican food, after waves of immigration in the 1950s and 60s. In the Southwest, Spanish generally refers to descendants of conquistadors in the region (as opposed to Anglos). Growing up in New York, most people assumed I was Mexican when they met my mom or heard her accent.