We went to one Socarrat of the chain of a few. It was my dear friend’s birthday and she wanted to celebrate with family style food and wine. And that is what we did. Sometimes it is hard to separate myself from the food , but I wanted to live up the paella bar for my friend’s celebration!
However, there are some things I do remember about the little cozy spot on Mulberry Street in the City.
This place was really chill, really cozy and the atmosphere was great. It is a little restaurant with no more than 15 tables, and that Wednesday night, it was filled with people looking to enjoy themselves and a great meal. There were some groups of people, ours of six included, catching up and celebrating birthdays, friendship, life or whatever, over Spanish style tapas and paella.
The lighting was dark and moody, but also warm and inviting. There was just enough light to make out faces and words on the menu, but the food blurred with memories and laughter. There was the trendy exposed brick, stark white walls and black furnishing. Some black iron accents, like fences, added to the kind of exterior as interior motif, joining hands with the exposed brick.
There were just a few waiters, humming around the place, carrying large cast iron pans hot with fresh paella, or bottles of wine from the bar. The bar was simple; a straight line right at the front of the restaurant looking out onto the quiet side street, the front door almost hitting the few stools that strolled around the wooden counter.
It was comfortable.
We ordered some tapas to appease our yelling bellies and our wine minds. The tapas list was quite varied, but in the end mostly familiar. My friend’s friend ordered them for us, and he chose a healthy grouping of diverse tapas.
One of the tapas we tried was the croquettes of the day. It was really hard to discern what the soft interior was, but it was quite delicious. It was so much softer than the crispy outside. There was some thing stringy embedded in the fried doughy inside, mysterious and delicious. I wished I knew exactly what was in them, but I am pretty sure they were vegetarian for that night. It appeared that that was one of the favorite starters for the night.
We also tried a few others. One of my favorites that brought up a lot of discussion and culinary questions was the chorizo. I am a sucker for sausage, and chorizo is a fatty salty decadent Spanish sausage that most times does the trick. This chorizo however was not the same as the flavors nor texture that I am used to. Instead of the intense fatty tastes and mild sweet heat that chorizo often has, this tasted more like a generic hot dog to me. Some of the table really liked the little meaty pieces, while others were questioning the taste.
We also indulged in a cheese plate, with three different kinds of cheese, all of which had distinct tastes but not distinct names in my mind. They were accompanied by a fig paste, sweet grainy and thick, like a condensed jelly, and some candied almonds. The sweetness of the fig and the nuts contrasted the punch of the cheeses, creating a beautiful play of sweet and salty. The nuts added a nice crunch and rounded out the flavors with their meatiness.
Now, initially the six of us only ordered two different [aella, each meant for two people... for those failing at the math, that is fourish servings. We picked meat and the vegetarian varieties. The meat dish had rabbit, pork, duck and snails, though in the end, all those potential flavors were lost. I was longing for the tastes of the various meats. The meats that are far from familiar to me would have been a treat, but they were lost to salt, the unifier. I know paella is almost like a stew in that most everything is cooked together for a long time, which could potentially result in a melding of flavors. This is true, and not always a bad thing, but most times the individuals maintain most of their integrity. In this paella, that was not the case. Everything became one.
The vegetarian one was much better, each vegetable held their own, and did not let the rice conquer.
Later, after a little more wine and the contents of the other two paella pans were demolished, a third was ordered, for those (me), who were still hungry.
In all three though, had one unanimous issue: the crunchiness of the rice. The texture of the rice was both overcooked and undercooked (I know). Undercooked; the inside of the rice was dry at its core and had that crunch at its innermost spot. The rice of the dish felt like it had not absorbed enough water, liquid or fats to soften the grains of rice. Overcooked; the rice was a crispy crunchy texture, and mostly the grains on the top and the bottom of the pan, were obliterated. This time rather than being dry on the inside, these overcooked morsels were dry from the outside. This was probably from the high temperatures of the ovens and the black iron pans they were cooked and served in. Some of us at the table liked that, though others (me) were not amused.
I was a little disappointed. I guess I am used to the Portuguese paella found in the Ironbound area of Newark, where the rice is soft and yellow, and almost bland, allowing for the other ingredients, namely seafood, meats and a few vegetables to be the star. Here in the City, I think that Socarrat is trying to make paella, which is family style and a staple in some places in the world, something too trendy and upscale.
My favorite part, other than seeing the giant smile on my friend’s face in celebrating, or when she blew out her candles, or even when our table rang with laughter at inappropriate banter, was deffo the creme brulee. It was much lighter than any I have ever had. It was not a stiff dense custard, but it was looser, cut with lime and other citrus notes, heavy vanilla, with a perfect crust of bruleed sugar on top. A great end to a great evening.
It was so much fun going out and indulging for my good friend’s birthday. I got to try new (or not quite so new) things, and chill, laugh and celebrate with really great people. I really hope she had as much as fun as I did. Happy (late) birthday lady!