Monday, May 11, 2009

Socarrat Paella Bar

53. Socarrat Paella Bar
259 W 19th

What's not to love about paella? Oily, meaty, filling, and with so many different versions, it's pretty easy to find one that you like. At Socarrat Paella, the dish is the star of the show. It seems like the word is out on this new restaurant, and after reading a number of reviews online, I knew that I would have to come early just to get a seat at the long communal table where bumping elbows is commonplace.

For me, paella is usually made with clams, mussels, shrimp, chicken and sausage, and while I was tempted by all of the items, the TONY dish was the paella valenciana, using pork rib, rabbit, snails, scallions, sugar snow peas and asparagus ($22 per person). After ordering only the paella we were reminded that the dish takes about 40 minutes to prepare, as the waiter double checked that we didn't want to order any appetizers. For $22, aren't you already taking enough of my money? We waited patiently and were probably looked down upon by the noticeably pretentious staff for only ordering an entree but I wasn't about to be intimidated.
As if the service wasn't bad enough, what was incredibly distasteful was that the staff actually had the nerve to encourage diners to finish quickly to surrender their tables to waiting customers. I thought we were paying customers at a restaurant eating at a normal pace...

After watching other tables for quite some time, we noticed that most people ordered appetizers, and they did in fact look pretty good, though still a tad pricey for my taste. The paella arrived and if it's true that you eat with your eyes first, I was already stuffed. A marvelous display of cuisine, presented in a cast-iron pot was placed before us and I couldn't wait to dig in. I was pretty satisfied with the dish, as it had all of the elements that I was looking for; plenty of flavor, lots of food and complimentary ingredients (the snail, rabbit and snow peas actually worked). But it wasn't the best paella I've ever had, I didn't care for having to eat around the bones on each piece of meat and when the bill came to about $30 after tax and tip per person, I realized that it's not even close to being worth the cost when other restaurants have perfectly good paella for $30 total. The paella valenciana is good, but not worth the price or the wait (whether for a table or the prep time), or the poor service.

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