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Socarrat Paella Bar

We’ve had our eye on Socarrat Paella Bar ever since Frank Bruni awarded an enthusiastic star in October 2008. A pesky no-reservations policy gave us pause. When we plan an evening out, we generally want to count on a table at a time-certain. Many a restaurant that we’d love to patronize is buried well down the list for that reason, and that alone.

Socarrat Paella Bar closed the sale when it added a wine bar this spring in the adjacent storefront. We’d still have to wait for a seat, but at least we’d wait in comparative comfort, well fed and well lubricated. But be forewarned: even after effectively doubling their space, the wine bar, empty at 6:00 p.m., was standing-room-only by 8:00 on a Friday evening.

The wine bar serves mainly tapas, though you can order paella for parties of five or more. While we waited for two of the prized stools next door, we had the cheese plate ($15; above left) and the empanadas gallega ($8; above right), both very good.

Where most Spanish restaurants might have two or three versions of paella, Socarrat has eight, ranging from $22–24 per person (minimum of two people). The one shown above, Paella de Carne, was first-rate, with chunks of pork, chicken, duck, chorizo, and mushroom soffrito.

Socarrat, by the way, is the word for the burnt, sticky, but irresistible clumps of right that cling to the bottom of the pan. Near the end of your meal, a server comes along and helps you scoop it up (it takes some elbow grease, but is well worth it).

As the name implies, Socarrat Paella Bar is a bar, and a narrow one at that. You won’t have much room, and this isn’t the place for an intimate conversation. But sometimes it pays to be great at just one thing.

Socarrat Paella Bar (259 W. 19th Street between Sixth & Seventh Avenues, Chelsea)

Food: ★★
Service: ★
Ambiance: ★
Overall: ★★

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