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Friday, August 18, 2023

La Socarrat Poolside Paella Bar and Grill: Your Ultimate Destination for Paella, Grilled Delights, and More


Ask any expert foodie and they’ll tell you that some of the best restaurants are hidden gems tucked away in quiet neighborhoods. While popular and well-advertised restaurants certainly have their merits, and are often backed up by awards and reviews, there's an element of excitement and discovery associated with finding a hidden restaurant that often adds to the overall dining experience. 

And last Sunday, my partner and I were able to discover this quaint Paella Bar tucked inside one of the posh villages in Quezon City. 

La Socarrat Paella Bar and Grill is also a fairly new one, having just opened its kitchen doors early this year, but for the residents of Acropolis Greens, they’ve already been enjoying the dishes of Coach Vince Garcia.

ENTREPRENEUR - CHEF - COACH 

Okay, you read that right. He is a chef, who is also a coach when he is not busy running their businesses.

So as much as I’m excited to tell you about their specialties, the story wouldn’t be complete without first getting to know, the Coach / Chef behind La Socarrat.

Coach Vince Garcia is a man of many hats and aprons. A businessman by profession, he is also an adrenaline junkie, a triathlete, and the coach of the Philippine PARA-triathlon team. They even refer to him as the “godfather” for giving our para-athletes the chance to compete in various tournaments. 

His culinary journey began in highschool when he was living in the US. Over dinner he told us that he was living with his uncle and his family who were all basically Americans. Having grown in a household who loves cooking and enjoying cuisine of their Spanish-Filipino heritage, he said he called his mom and told her he wouldn’t survive on hamburger meals and cereals for breakfast.

“What my mom did was send me a Nora Daza cookbook, as if to tell me, ‘you want to eat different foods, then learn to cook yourself.”

And he did. This was way before the internet, YouTube and TikTok era of self-taught chefs. He said he leaned the cookbook by heart and had to spend lots of hours experimenting on different recipes.

The first ‘complicated’ dish he perfected? 

Paella.

From then he started to cook for family even becoming a consultant and partner with friends who started their own restaurants. 

BUCKET LIST

The bar and grill is actually located at the pool area of the Acropolis Clubhouse where he coaches swimming and trains PARA-triathletes. He said started out as a hangout where they would cook and hangout after training.

Putting up La Socarrat Paella Bar and Grill he says finally ticks off one of the items on his bucket list—have his own restaurant.

A self-confessed adrenaline junkie, Coach Vince said he’s done 138 bungee jumps, did motocross and  drag racing, and was a triathlete who competed all over the world—but cooking he says is how he deals with stress and finds peace. 

“I love slow cooking and I’m very patient when it comes to cooking because that is how you get the flavors out. I don’t like those “instant” things.” He said. 

Proof of this are some of the best-selling items on the menu—their Pollo Iberico (Iberian chicken) is cooked for at least 3 hours, while their ribs and beef brisket are smoked for 16 to 18 hours. 

He prepared a special meat platter for us—which included Pechuga de Ternera (Smoked Beef Brisket) Costillas de Ternera (ginormous Smoked Beef Dino Ribs)  Costillas Cerdo (BBQ Smoked Bone In Pork Ribs), and Alitas de Polla (BBQ Smoked Chicken  Winglets) these are served with several dips such as a special Texas Style BBQ sauce (which many customers often requested to buy), garlic aoli dip for the chicken, jalapeno and another bbq sauce with beans.  

As much I wanted to avoid eating too much and waste my gym hours, I had to break my diet as each piece, each bite was so tender flavorful and perfectly evenly cooked. 

Oh I almost forgot that he also served us Boquerones en Vinagre –pickled marinated anchovies on top of chips, Beef Salpicao but unlike others these are garlic wagyu cubes, and Acertunas y Champinones—olives and mushrooms. He said these tapas are quite popular for pulutan and its not hard to imagine why. He told us that their Sisig is also another best seller as it has a Spanish twist-- something we definitely need to try out on our next visit. 



While most of the menu are Spanish legacy dishes but with Chef Vince’s own twist, they also serve pizza, which he says has even become as popular as paella. 

You can choose from Margarita, Quatro Quesos (four cheese), Pepperoni, Extremos Quemados (smoked brisket), Barbacoa de Cerdo (BBQ pulled pork Pizza), Chorizo, Setas con Aceite de Trufa (three mushrooms with truffle) and Prosciutto which we were able to try. And true enough, just as he promised our plates were clean as even the crust was too good not to eat.

PAELLA MUY PERFECTO

A good paella is a harmonious blend of flavors, textures, and aromas, all expertly woven together in a single dish. But the real secret to cooking good paella is the rice.

Chef Vince says they have two options available, the regular paella rice and the bomba rice which is for special requests as it is quite pricey at almost P1000 per kilo—and what we tried. 

I think this is the first time I’ve ever heard bomba rice, and really makes a lot of difference. Bomba rice, often referred to as "Arroz Bomba" in Spanish, is a premium short-grain rice variety that is highly prized for its exceptional qualities, particularly when used in paella. It is considered one of the best rice varieties for making traditional Spanish paella due to its unique characteristics. 

Bomba rice has a remarkable ability to absorb liquids while retaining its structure and integrity. This makes it perfect for paella, as it can absorb the flavorful broth, stock, and spices used in the dish without becoming overly mushy or sticky.  Bomba rice also remains firm and separate, with each grain maintaining its shape. This results in a paella with distinct, individual grains of rice, which is a hallmark of a well-made paella. The unique structure of Bomba rice allows it to absorb and hold onto the flavors of the ingredients and spices used in the paella. This enhances the overall taste and aroma of the dish. And most importantly Bomba rice is well-suited for creating the coveted socarrat, the caramelized layer of rice at the bottom of the paella pan. Its ability to absorb liquid while maintaining its texture helps create the perfect balance of tenderness and crispy bits.

Chef Vince cooked the Paella Negra right in front of us so we were able to see how it was cooked from start to finish. He also shared that they only use a special broth they prepare themselves. A flavorful broth is essential for cooking the rice and infusing the dish with depth. Traditional Spanish paella often uses seafood or chicken broth, but vegetable broth or a combination can work well too.

They also use a special paellera, a wide, shallow pan, over an open flame or on a stovetop. Most of their stoves are imported and were meticulously chosen to make their paellas as authentic as possible. This is also true with each ingredient they use choosing only the best and freshest meat and vegetables. This is one of the reasons why some of the dishes might not be available as Chef Vince says he doesn’t want to offer something that doesn’t meet his standards. 

I must say though that their paella Negra was well worth our Sunday drive to La Socarrat. What I liked about their paella is that it isn’t too oily, the ingredients are fresh and cooked evenly and there’s no fishy after taste. As for the rice? Well it also lived up to Chef Vince’s promise it was very flavorful, and the socarrat had just the right crunch without being that burnt bitter aftertaste. My only complaint was that we were already too full to order any of their other paellas—well, that’s what a return trip is for right?

La Socarrat Paella Bar and Grill is located at Acropolis Club House.   Follow them at @lasocarrat on facebook, TikTok and Instagram for updates. 

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