The choice of names for Spanish restaurants in New York City is an interesting matter. El Chico, one of the oldest (established 1925) was intended to evoke the figure of Boabdil el Chico, the last Moorish King of Granada. Jai Alai, also established in the 1920s, was named after the Basque sport which had also become rather popular in Cuba in the early twentieth century and even made some inroads in the US. Another spot from the 1920s, El Faro (the Lighthouse) is still in existence, and its name probably alludes both to the restaurant’s proximity to the Hudson waterfront, and to the owners’ Galician origins, a region whose rugged and treacherous coasts are dotted with lighthouses.
The tremendously successful restaurants in the Spanish Pavilion at the New York’s World’s Fair in 1963-64 were named after cities: Madrid, Toledo and Granada. This might help explain the tendency of naming Spanish restaurants after cities from the 1960s on: through these decades, New Yorkers, without ever leaving the city, may have eaten in Pamplona, Seville, Alcalá, Segovia and Barcelona.
Socarrat is the unusual name of the Spanish restaurant with a chic Chelsea flare on West 19th Street. Jesus “Lolo” Manso, who also owns La Nacional Tapas Bar on 14th street, made sure to give Socarrat a unique look to go along with its unusual name. Compared to other Spanish restaurants, Socarrat has a very high ceiling and bright lighting. They didn’t design their restaurant to resemble “old spain”. The restaurant’s design and location caters to a younger crowd, looking to have drinks and a small meal. One might describe Socarrat as La Nacional’s cool younger sister.
The best time to go would be the early afternoon. Prices increase during the dinner hours. There aren’t too many people dining or stopping by for an after work sangria. Most Lunch entrees range from 7 to 10 dollars, with the exception of Paella. If you’re going with an empty stomach, make sure to order more than one entrée because portions at Socarrat are uncharacteristically small, in keeping with the restaurant’s ambiance and modern twist. Even the bread, normally a central and abundant component of any Spanish meal, was given a modern twist. Instead of bread, Socarrat serves what appears to be crackers; delicious and quick to disappear.
So what does “Socarrat” mean? It is the Valencian word for the golden crust of toasted rice that adheres to the bottom of the pan when a paella is made just right. And at Socarrat, the paella is made just right.