"Lolo Manso has proven that paella and tapas can travel as well as pizza and General Tso's chicken."

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Photographs by Robyn Lee

Socarrat Lunch and Take-Out

259 West 19th Street, New York NY 10011 (b/n Seventh and Eighth Avenue; map); socarratpaellabar.com; They deliver between 9th and 29th Streets from 5th to 11th Avenue
Service: Slow in the restaurant, food was delivered in a half-hour
Setting: Long two person-wide bar that's usually uncrowded at lunch
Compare It To: La Nacionale, Txikito
Must-Haves: Paella de Carne, Fideua, steak sandwich, chorizo, fried artichokes, canneloni with shrimp and spinach
Cost: Lunch for two (paella for one and a sandwich): $29 plus beverage, tax, and tip
Grade: A-

When I think of delivery options in New York, I round up the usual suspects: pizza, Chinese, and maybe the occasional foray into Indian or Japanese food. So I was certainly intrigued, and perhaps a bit skeptical, when Lolo Manso started delivering tapas and paella from Socarrat, his fine Chelsea paella bar.

Serious questions abound:

  • How would paella, with its mix of fresh, delicate seafood, meat, and crunchy rice (that's actually what "socarrat" is—the crunchy rice you scrape from the bottom of the paella pan) travel, separated from the paella pan itself?
  • What would it be like eating tapas out of plastic containers in SE World HQ, with no bar and crowds in sight?
  • Would my beloved sizzling shrimp still be as tasty twenty minutes or more out of the saute pan?
  • Would the croquetas and the fried potatoes stay crisp en route?

So many questions, so many tapas and tasty grains, so little time.

First Robyn and I first went to the restaurant to try the new single-serve paellas and fideua on the newish lunch menu.

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The Paella Socarrat ($18)—with chunks of chicken, fish, and beef, shrimp, cuttlefish, green beans, mussels, cockle clams—came out in a smaller-but-not-small-at-all paella pan and was enough for two, especially if you augment it with a tapas or sandwich. The chicken and the cuttlefish were slightly dry, but the the shellfish was perfectly cooked, and the socarrat was insanely delicious.

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Paella de Carne ($20), with its chunks of pork, chicken, duck, chorizo, in a mushroom sofrito, was a melange of ridiculously tasty flesh or meat, and the mushroom sofrito added even more flavor impact.

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The Fideua ($19) had shrimp, cuttlefish, mussels, and fish atop the crispy fideua noodles. The protein and the fish were all fine, but the crispy noodles on Mano's fideua are the thing of food greatness. I wish every restaurant served them, even Greek coffee shops

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The Bocat (all sandwiches are $9) we had in the restaurant was a pork loin with bacon and green pepper—a kind of pork-squared sandwich that was not exponentially more delicious than its individual parts. Nonetheless, it was a sandwich I would gladly order again.

The tapas delivery system (you get three tapas, soup, and an apple for $18) worked surprisingly well. Each plastic container contains three tapas, all in their own neat little compartments. Think of these trays as space-age TV dinners you might find in Sevilla or Barcelona.

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Fried tapas worked surprisingly well, though they weren't piping hot. Bravas en Dos Salsas (crispy, spicy potatoes, accompanied by garlic aioli and guindilla sauce), could have been crunchier, but were nonetheless satisfying. Chunks of chorizo tasted like they were sauteed in good Spanish olive oil. The croquetas were slightly limp (the travel time did them no favors), but retained their creaminess.

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Canelones (cannelloni) pieces of pasta tubes stuffed with shrimp, spinach, Manchego, and vizcaina sauce were surprisingly light and suffused with a shellfish stock. Pisto Manchego, (sauteed vegetables topped with Manchego cheese), tasted like Spanish ratatouille. The sizzling shrimp had just enough garlic and were, mercifully, not overcooked.

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The tortilla, potato, and egg omelet was light with a slight crispy veneer. The Alcachofas fritas (fried artichokes) were room temperature but still mighty fine. The Menestra de Verduras, a melange of sauteed vegetables that included snow peas, asparagus, and Serrano ham, tasted like the advent of Spanish spring.

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Steamed mussels in a roasted pepper vinaigrette traveled light and flavorful and arrived at just the right temperature. Albondigas (veal and pork meatballs), were toothsome, meaty, and just a tad heavy.

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The shocker was the delivered paella de carne. It had plenty of that socarrat I can't get enough of, and was perfectly cooked and ready to eat when it arrived.

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The meat in the Palomilla con Setas y Cebolla (a steak sandwich) looked hopelessly burnt as you can see from the photo, so why was it so delicious?

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The soup was a creamy gazpacho thickened with egg and bread.

So what's the verdict?

On the face of it, Socarrat's $18 tapas or paella lunch is not the cheapest lunch deal in town. But overall, it represents really good value for food as seriously delicious as this. if you order a paella or tapas and a sandwich, two people can eat really well for thirty bucks, and that's in fact a good deal. Lolo Manso has proven that paella and tapas can travel as well as pizza and General Tso's chicken.

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