512 West 19th Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
I'm going to lead with my opinion of this restaurant. I loved this place. Now, I will have to preface this statement by letting you know that SOCIAL is not a restaurant for everyone. I could not see my parents eating here, but foodies will definitely be pretty impressed with this restaurant.
Some might find this place a little too hipster. Others might find their no substitutions policy to be a little arrogant. Some even might not like the neighborhood, or the feel of the menu. Whatever your preconceived feelings are before walking in, clear your head, and go in with a clean slate. Let the experience and the food guide you as to whether you will enjoy this restaurant or not.
SOCIAL can best be described as contemporary American food with an emphasis on southern cuisine, which is made with California ingredients. Got all that? The menu is not overly huge, with 22 options available on the night we were here, many of which encourage sharing. There were maybe 7 offerings that I'd classify as entree style meals. The southern flair of this menu can be attributed to Executive Chef Jeffrey Boullt, who worked in New Orleans for many years, before working at Jason Quinn's Playground in Santa Ana.
Located across the street from Triangle Square, SOCIAL is in a small strip plaza that houses a pool hall and a dollar store. Parking is valet, as I guess other tenants of this shopping center do not want you taking up the spaces in front of their establishments. We got here at about 6pm, and the restaurant was hopping already. Luckily, we had made reservations, and were seated immediately.
The dining room is dominated by dark woods and a lit up SOCIAL sign on the far wall. Seating is a little on the cramped side, and not entirely comfortable. There are high top tables, communal tables, and picnic tables, which are kind of too close together. It must have felt that way to other people as well, because the table to our left sat empty for the rest of our stay, even though the hostess tried to seat two other parties there, who decided they would rather wait for another spot. I'm glad I did not have to wait as I was getting hungry, and could not wait to try out a number of things.
Katie's not much of a drinker, and Ryan was still about 15 minutes away from getting here, so I was going to be drinking alone for a bit. I have heard great things about their cocktails at SOCIAL, and this Dementa #2 ($12.50) did not disappoint. I loved the presentation of this, with the curled cucumber, and the beautiful emerald green color of this beverage. This refreshing cocktail utilized Ford's Gin, lemon, ginger, honey, cucumber soda, the minty liqueur fernet menta, and chareau, which is an aloe liqueur. I did not even know there was such a thing as aloe liqueur, but I looked it up when I got home. With each drink of this, it started off sweet, and then you got a very slow spice that came over the top. It was like two drinks in one. The cucumber was very prevalent in this one. This cocktail got me excited to try others on their menu the next time I'm here.
Since we were waiting for our good friend Ryan for so long, we decided to start things off with a quartet of shareable plates from SOCIAL's menu. The first one was the Blue Crab Toast ($16). I know from the pictures that you would not be able to guess that this was crab toast, and I definitely had to take some of the watercress off of this, but it ended up being one of my favorite bites of the evening. The base of this was a very sturdy fried crab cake, and it had to be because this had lots of layers to it. Of course it had some very good blue crab, and then ginger, avocado, jalapeno, watermelon radish, and a large amount of watercress was hoisted on top of this. There was also a grapefruit slice and some cilantro leaves left on the side of the toast. Very good, but the fried crab kind of took away from the natural flavor I was expecting from the crab. Even with all of these items on here, I loved how the flavors interacted with each other. Really good start to our meal.
This Ahi Tuna Crudo ($16) was probably one of our four appetizers that I was least looking forward to, but it turned out to be pretty solid, and a lot more unusual than other ahi dishes we have had. Here they use yellow watermelon to pair with the tuna, then add yuzu, extra virgin olive oil, and benne seeds, which were popular during colonial times, and add a richer flavor profile than that of sesame seeds. Not sure if it was because of the seeds or not, but this turned out to be alright. I really liked the pairing of the fruit with the ahi, and the olive oil kind of cut the sweetness. A light and refreshing take on the usual ahi presentation.
Anytime we see Fried Cauliflower ($13) on a menu, we need to order it. We had this Middle Eastern dish for the first time at a Lebanese restaurant in Orange, and have been hooked ever since. This was a great version at SOCIAL. The cauliflower was fried perfectly, with little grease remaining, just a nice crunch. It came with a black eyed pea humus, which was smooth, and flavorful. The cauliflower was topped with feta and pepper to round out this dish. Katie described this as craveable, and she's correct, as usual.
Kind of like everything we had here at SOCIAL, this Queso Fundido ($15) was not like any other we have had. With this version cheese was not the focus, it was mushrooms, and lots of them. Joining the very mild cheese, which was used mainly as a binding agent, was wood fired mushrooms, corn, jalapenos, and their handmade tortillas. With the emphasis not on the cheese, this took on a lighter, less greasy version, which allowed the mushrooms to be the star of the show. A tasty, albeit milder version of a fundido.
Entree time, and even though we were getting pretty full by this time of the night, I could not resist trying their version of Chicken and Waffles ($16). The menu said that they use Mary's chicken oysters, which is really just a nice way of saying organic chicken nuggets. The chicken was clean tasting, with a hint of hot sauce to it. The waffles were sturdy, and could have used a lot more of the bourbon sugar cane syrup on them. With the amount of syrup used, these kind of came out a little dry. Not the best chicken and waffles ever, but if you're in the mood for this dish, give it a try.
Both Katie and Ryan got the Drive Thru Burger ($18), but served two different ways. Ryan added a bacon marmalade, while Katie selected an egg to top her burger. They use akaushi beef here, which is a Japanese breed of wagyu cattle. The beef was very juicy, even though Katie requested her burger well done. These burgers came with two patties, cheese, pickles, and and red onion. The bun held things together admirably, and this was one of the better burgers we have had in awhile. Lighter than most, and I think that could be attributed to the very good ingredients used at SOCIAL.
As I said in the first paragraph of this review, I really enjoyed our time at SOCIAL. All the food that we had kind of had a little twist to it, and was made the right way. There's definitely more that I would like to try here, like their Pork Belly, Wagyu Tri Tip, and my latest obsession, Shrimp and Grits, which I hear is amazing. Yes, there were a few things that could have been a little better, but I liked the uniqueness of the food here. I did not find SOCIAL to be over the top hipster, like I have read in a few other places. We had some pretty good service on this night, and our waitress was very helpful answering our questions. Can't wait to come back again real soon.
Out of five Hamburglar toys, (because former Costa Mesa resident, and front man for the punk group Social Distortion, Mike Ness is rumored to collect toys featuring everyone's favorite hamburger thief from McDonald's), five being best to zero being worst, SOCIAL gets 3.5 Hamburglar toys.
For more information about SOCIAL, go to their website here: http://www.socialcostamesa.com/