Costa Mesa is fast becoming the foodie mecca of Orange County with restaurants popping up left, right and center every week or so. Some are good, some need work, while others, well, those we won’t even mention. Social falls into the first category — the good — but it is even better than good.
First off, the strip mall it sits in is a little shady, but if you can get over that, you’ll find yourself in an astonishingly cool space. I really like the use of wood throughout, giving it an edgy environmentally-sound atmosphere all around.
Secondly, the cocktails are pretty damn good, and it is hard to say no to them when you have to contemplate a passage home. I drink responsibly because at some point I have to drive myself home. However, it is still early, so we start with a Moscow Mule ($7) — ask for the copper mug — and Paloma ($7) with tequila, a house-made grapefruit cordial, lime and “bubbles” off the “Social Hour” menu which is offered between 4pm and 6pm from Tuesdays to Fridays.
Once happy hour is over, there is a list of “Bespoke Libations” to choose from, including Peace Co ($14), a play-on-word for pisco — which is an ingredient in the drink — with blueberry, lemon, egg white and garnished with an orchid. Border Patrol ($14) is a tequila and mezcal cocktail with deliciously fragrant pineapple juice, lime cordial and chocolate bitters. It is hard to stop drinking this.
The menu is simple and straightforward making it pretty easy to order. We select Louisiana Seafood Roll ($13), a pillowy brioche bun stuffed with crab and shrimp tossed in remoulade. A fried oyster accompanies. The sandwich offers meaty chunks of seafood in every bite without an overabundance of dressing — very nice!
Spanish Octopus ($18) is the first thing which catches my eye when I am perusing the menu. I never bypass the opportunity to order octopus and the one here is fantastic. Splendid in texture, it is perfectly seasoned and pairs fabulously with cannellini beans and braised greens.
If you love mac n cheese but don’t want the carbs, Cauliflower Gratin ($10) is the best thing for you yet. We agree that this tastes just like mac n cheese, but without the carb guilt. Sinful in taste, the aged cheddar mornay is gooey rich, and the use of red fresno gives it just a hint of heat to whet the appetite even further. Definitely thumbs up all around.
If I have to pick one dish as my absolute favorite, I will have to say the Mussels ($18) wins hands down. Meaty green lipped mussels are plump and succulent, leaving me feeling so utterly satisfied bite after bite. The lemongrass, ginger and coconut broth it is served in is intoxicating and slices of red Fresno chiles add a welcoming heat to the finish. The only issue is that the menu states crispy rice, but we didn’t find any of it in our dish. I would come back for this alone.
Wild Mushrooms ($14) is umami-filled with mushroom in its own delicious jus over Anson Mill grits, and a slow runny egg to add even more depth to the end result. However, as good as this dish is, I think the others are just phenomenal in comparison, leaving the mushrooms somewhat in second place to the others.
The same goes for the Chicken and Waffles ($16). While the Jidori chicken oysters blows us away, the waffles do not. The Louisiana hot sauce with its spicy sweet flavors is absolutely addicting. I wish they offer the chicken on its own because that’s all I want. It is a winner through and through, but just as simple to eat the chicken and leave the waffles on the plate.
If you’re debating on which entree to choose, I highly recommend Akaushi Skirt Steak ($29). I love the use of red Fresno chiles throughout the menu, and here, it is infused within the chimichurri, leaving my mouth with a lovely kick at the end. Bone marrow butter adds another level of unctuousness to the perfectly executed medium rare steak.
The flavors at SOCIAL appeal to all my senses, and when you’re adding heat to many of the dishes in subtle and effective ways, you’ve definitely piqued my interest. This is one of the most satisfying meals I’ve eaten this year and I hope to return again soon to indulge in those mussels, octopus and the chicken oysters. Next time, I hope to meet the chef who has cleverly tantalized my tastebuds in more ways than one.
512 W 19th Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92627