The Scoop: Many couples seek unique experiences outside their normal dating routines to help them connect in a more meaningful way. That’s why many adventurous partners choose to eat at Socarrat, an authentic Spanish paella and tapas restaurant in New York City. Couples can share a traditional meal that will transport them to the streets of Spain. For its dedication to providing couples with a delicious, authentic experience, Socarrat earns our Editors’ Choice Award.
Years ago, my friend who lived in Southeast Asia gushed about her blind date with a man from Spain. She said their plan was to wander the streets of Penang, Malaysia, enjoy the street art, grab a cocktail, and perhaps have a bite to eat.
She said he was funny, charming, and took her by the hand as they walked on the crooked boardwalk along the waterway. Then he saw a Spanish restaurant tucked into a small space between Malaysian shops. He got excited and wanted to introduce her to traditional fare from his home country.
Spanish cuisine encourages people to share the tastes and textures of each dish. Couples order sangria, tapas, and paella, a hearty rice dish with meat and vegetables to share, and that small act of sharing food can help people get to know each other better.
My friend learned that when she had a traditional Spanish meal, and it made an impression on her. She said “yes” to a second and third date.
Americans looking for that authentic Spanish experience can make a reservation at Socarrat, New York City’s traditional Spanish tapas and paella restaurant.
The restaurant operates three locations, and the Spanish owner seeks to create a romantic, exciting experience designed to transport couples to another place on date night.
“Everything is shared, so you have a new experience,” said Mercedes Manso, Socarrat Human Resources Manager. “You learn about the person you’re with and what they like since you have to share the meal between the two of you.”
Traditional Spanish Fare That Many Find Familiar
Socarrat is named after the savory crust of slightly burnt rice that cakes the bottom of the paella pan. According to Mercedes, the restaurant was founded by Chef Jesus Lolo Manso, whose goal was to transport diners from New York City to the streets of Madrid, Spain.
Today, that premise attracts many daters as the COVID-19 pandemic has limited international travel.
“He wanted to bring Spanish culture, wine, and food to New York and provide a unique and fun experience,” she said. “Diners can find the same food culture that they can in Spain.”
Daters will notice a difference from other restaurants as soon as they open the menu. Usually, people order individual meals, but at Socarrat, diners typically order a variety of tapas, which are traditional small plates. They can also order steaming, hearty paella to share. It all pairs with sangria, a traditional Spanish wine with chopped fruit.
Mercedes explained that many people feel comfortable with Socarrat’s meals, even though they are different. It’s an international menu, but nothing is intimidating to order.
“Our menu is diverse, so if you’re vegetarian, gluten-free, or a meat lover, there’s something for everyone,” she said.
The menu is the same at each of Socarrat’s three locations, including Midtown East, Chelsea, and Mulberry Street in Nolita. Couples can easily make reservations online to secure a table on one of Socarrat’s heated patios.
Start With Sharing Tapas for a Memorable Date Night
The restaurants are open for lunch, dinner, happy hours, and brunch on the weekends. Mercedes said couples should plan to order at least a few tapas to share.
“Our menu is a mix of traditional Spanish tapas like you would find in a bar in Madrid and also some modernized ideas of tapas,” Mercedes said. “If it is a couple’s first time at the restaurant, I would recommend the traditional Spanish tapas.”
Popular tapas include the Chorizo … Chorizo!, which is a traditional chorizo sausage flavored with paprika, white wine sauce, and a fava bean pesto. Mercedes also recommends their Gambas Al Ajillo, a Spanish shrimp dish served sizzling with olive oil, garlic, and guindilla peppers.
Less traditional tapas are also worth a try, including Socarrat’s Pulpo A La Gallega, a Galician-style octopus served with creamy potatoes and paprika oil. For a vegetarian option, couples can try the Champiñones Asados, which are roasted seasonal mushrooms in extra virgin olive oil, or the Coles de Bruselas — crispy Brussels sprouts served with chopped almonds and a sweet and spicy glaze.
Along with the small plates, Socarrat also offers boards designed for sharing. The Jamón Ibérico board, for example, features a Spanish black foot pig that’s been fed a diet of acorns and aged 36 months.
Or couples can choose share-worthy snacks like the Pimientos De Padrón, which are Shishito peppers in sea salt, and Boquerones En Vinagre, white anchovies and cherry tomatoes in olive oil.
Socarrat Paella Keeps Couples Coming Back
Once couples order a few tapas, and perhaps a bottle of Spanish wine, the next step for a memorable evening is sharing a piping hot pan of paella. It can be prepared for three, four, five, or how many other desired servings. The minimum is two servings because the paella is served in an authentic paella pan. Couples should order at least two servings, so they can taste more of what Socarrat has to offer.
The most popular option is the namesake dish, with free-range, bone-in chicken, chorizo, shrimp, white fish, squid, mussels, cockles, fava beans, peppers, and tomato sofrito. Meat lovers can try the Carne paella, which includes short ribs, boneless free-range chicken, chorizo, snow peas, and mushroom sofrito.
The restaurant also offers a vegetarian option called De La Huerta, which comes packed with eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, snow peas, chickpeas, tomatoes, artichokes, peppers, and tomato sofrito.
“There’s nothing more satisfying than hearing that people come and have such a great time and say they love the food, atmosphere, and service,” Mercedes said. “It’s what drives us to keep doing what we’re doing. That’s the best thing to hear, after a meal, that everything was delicious.”
While the heated patios are open for service, Socarrat also offers takeout paella and even holiday feasts that people can order to enjoy at home. Whether couples enjoy an evening out or want to stay in and connect over good food, Socarrat offers a memorable experience.
“It’s unique. People work together to cultivate their meals,” Mercedes said. “You have a fine dining experience, but you don’t have to be prim and proper.”