SOCIAL: Orange County Hot Spot Reinvigorates Menu and Bar Program
OCIAL Costa Mesa, located on 19th street in Costa Mesa, is a chef and ingredient-focused restaurant, offering a thoughtfully curated menu with the freshest ingredients California has to offer. After opening its doors in 2014, SOCIAL quickly became a local favorite amongst hip Orange County patrons, winning several Golden Foodie Awards including Best New Restaurant in 2015. You do not want to miss this hot spot.
Upon entering the establishment, the first thing I noticed was the dark and warmly lit ambiance, the large family style tables, wraparound bar and the reclaimed wood wall with large glowing marquee letters that read SOCIAL. It had the unique feeling of a hip gastropub with a trendy urban vibe. This establishment doesn’t lack on cool factor, for it’s teetering on hipster without being aggressive elitist. We were greeted warmly by the musical styling of Jackson 5, as well as the restaurateur and co-owner, Andrew Dorsey.
Dorsey, who played football for Portland State and currently resides in Fallbrook with his wife and two boys, is no stranger to the bar/restaurant business. He has used his upbringing and life experiences to help create the foundation in which he has built this project on. With his father being a driving force for his initial interest in food at a young age, and his mother and grandmother both born and raised in Italy, Dorsey had a head start in the food world with his thorough understanding of unique flavor pairings and intuitive trend spotting. Growing up in a robust family, with a sensory-filled upbringing, he likes to instill those things in his two little ones. Anytime they are involved in the kitchen; he insists that they touch, taste, smell and feel everything. Along with being the SOCIAL projects’ brainchild, Andrew also likes getting in behind the scenes, being in the back of the house occasionally. Keeping himself well aware of all the happenings at every nook and cranny of SOCIAL.
“We’ve completely overhauled our culinary and cocktail programs since opening in 2014, and our reinvigorated menu truly showcases our take on the social dining experience,” said Andrew Dorsey, owner of SOCIAL Costa Mesa. “Our guests are intrepid diners who appreciate seasonal, quality ingredients and we aim to deliver an experience you can’t find anywhere else. With Chef Brian in the kitchen and David behind the bar, we’ve really upped our game and can’t wait for people to come back and try our new offerings, including personal favorites of mine like our Lamb Lollipops and Spanish Octopus.”
Immediately warming up to our conversation, Dorsey had a good sense of the things he knew would be savored. Not moments later were we greeted with Brussels Sprouts and Burrata Raviolini. Brussels Sprouts have become a bit of a trend in the food scene that has stuck; however, this was an entirely different take on the trend. Large chunks of house Tasso ham, hazelnuts and drizzled honey married nicely with the perfectly seared vegetable morsels and the sweet potato bird’s nest that was gently placed atop the dish. Although separate dishes, it paired perfectly with the accompanied Burrata Raviolini. The pasta was cooked to perfection and stuffed with just the right amount of fresh burrata and walnut pesto. The warm butter and olive oil were light and airy as the compressed kumquats danced alongside, leaving a slightly rich yet tangy finale. Next up were the Wood Fired Lamb Lollipops. The ingredients were to the point; tarragon, cherries and mustard seeds, yet there was nothing simple about the complexity of the layers that encompassed this flavor map. Perfectly butchered, cooked and dressed with a savory reduction sauce and whole cherries that entertain all different parts of your palate. The same could be said of the combination of the Spanish Octopus, featuring Pamplona chorizo, fingerling potatoes, gremolata, chicharrones and smoked romanesco — an interesting mix of ingredients that make complete sense after your first bite.
The real showstopper here was the presentation and delivery of the Branzino; one of SOCIAL’s most popular dishes, and for a good reason. It is a full fish with the head still on; served on a cutting board and offered with forbidden rice, citrus, blood orange glaze and watercress. One unique element is the presentation that accompanies it; it is prepared right in front of you! The waitstaff removes the backbone and neck collar, which holds the fatty portion and happens to be the most tender of the whole fish. After being instructed to dive in, we discovered that the fish was so moist, it surrenders and falls apart with the touch of a fork. It is rich and tender, with the underbelly slightly seared and a bit of a salty crunch to the taste.
In addition to the fare, SOCIAL hosts an all-star mixologist team that creates one-of-a-kind craft cocktails using only house-made syrups, cordials and bitters. Everything on this menu is seasonal and fresh. SOCIAL also allows the guests to help influence the direction of the menu and has been a unique element to ensure SOCIAL remains a household name. Creating new behind the bar recipes and rotating in new crafted cocktails helps keep the menu interesting, with there always being something new happening.
Although SOCIAL is still cranking, and for a good reason, Andrew Dorsey is already thinking up his next move to integrate into the scene. His idea is none other than a coffee concept, serving up craft caffeine libations. Belly up to the bar and whether it’s alcohol infused or not, you’ll have the opportunity to get a buzz with this unique experiential representation of a different kind of “bar.”
The food at SOCIAL Costa Mesa is described on their website, as “Chef Driven” and “Ingredient Focused” Modern American cuisine with Southern influences. While this may sound like they are riding the American food trend wave, I promise you; they are a cut above the rest. The creative menu takes some serious chances, and the ambitious fare has very bold and unique flavors. SOCIAL’s success is attributed to the passion put forth with the food, consistent service and satisfied patrons creating a social trend with staying power.