Paellas and fideuas (baked rice and baked noodles for two) and simple tapas—toasted tomato bread, griddled squid, an unassuming brandade, chunks of fried artichoke with a squeeze of lemon. That’s what comes out of the kitchen here. But this could be the best paella I can remember. It is lushly rich in socarrat—the marvelously crusty rice I’m scraping from the pan, coached by owner Lolo Manso. He stops by, urging us to let the paella rest before eating. “It needs a rest to release the juices.” So rare to find a paella with just-cooked seafood and that irresistible baked-in crunch too. Slices of scallop, bits of fish and squid, ribbons of pepper, and bright-green lima beans are perfect. Not even slightly rubberized shrimp can spoil it. Manso, a transplanted Spaniard, did not want the communal table for twenty, which runs the length of this shockingly narrow space, but he had no choice. “Two different women told me I had to do one table,” he explains. “And I respect the intelligence of women.” A short, stocky, chatty host, he is everywhere, engaging, challenging: “Do you want meat or do you want adventure?” he asks, suggesting the fideua negra of seafood—small macaroni baked with seafood and black with squid ink. Yes, I want that too. “Next time you come, I will have a way to serve half-and-half,” he promises. Later he admits, “I am still working on desserts.” The house-baked plum flan tart à la mode is a fine start.
Socarrat Paella Bar
259 W. 19th St., nr. Eighth Ave.; 212-462-1000.