The Hottest Restaurant in O.C. – Social Costa Mesa
Social Costa Mesa is white hot.
Within two months of opening its doors, Social Costa Mesa has quickly become one of the most talked about and Instagramed restaurants in Orange County. What is driving their success? Let us find out.
Social Costa Mesa is located off 19th street, in an unassuming strip mall in East Side Costa Mesa. Their neighbors are a Dollar Store /Smoke Shop, Games Plus Pool Hall and a modest homeless camp. As I pulled into the parking lot, the pool hall bouncer gave me stern looks when I glanced at the parking spot in front of his establishment. Parking is limited, I recommend you use Social’s valet service and avoid the parking sillyness. Don’t let the location concern you, this is one of the best restaurants in Orange County and progressive restaurants located in nontraditional locations is actually a restaurant trend.
There was number of people waiting for a table and I watched as the hostess turned away several walk-ins. Social was the place to be. Beyond the new restaurant buzz, Social is nailing it because of the food, service and the X factor of happy customers creating a buzz in the dining room.
Food and Chef at Social Costa Mesa
The food at Social Costa Mesa is described, on their website, as “Chef Driven” and “Ingredient Focused” Modern American cuisine with a Southern influenced. Yeah I know you heard this description one before, right? Social rides the modern American wave, but nails it better than some of my favorite restaurants in Orange County.
Why? The menu takes chances and has something for everyone, including adventurous eater and the fussy “veto vote” eater.
Executive Chef Jeffry Boullt spent time in New Orleans and Southern California restaurants. Most notably he worked at Commanders Palace in New Orleans, arguably the best restaurant in NOLA. His cuisine has a southern influence, but focuses on California fresh ingredients. His dishes typically use only 4-5 main ingredients. From my perspective, the approach is extremely effective. The food speaks for itself.
What we Ordered from Social Costa Mesa Menu
For those who are not from the South, Pimento cheese is essentially a cheese relish. It is sometimes given the cheesy moniker, “The Caviar of the South.” Typical Pimento cheese is is made with cheese, mayo, pimentos and spices. The menu listed the cheese they use as “Aged Oregon Cheddar.” It is safe to assume this pimento cheese is made in the classical technique.
The dish was also served with Bacon Jam. Although we all really enjoyed the pimento cheese, the bacon jam stole the show. By smell it had hints of BBQ sauce. Bacon jam is typically prepared by rendering bacon and processing it with brown sugar, vinegar, and bourbon. The spreads were served with crunchy grilled bread.
My wife is a cheese head and insists on ordering cheese whenever it is on the menu. When she ordered it, she had no idea what ingredients go into pimento cheese. I just sat back and watched to see if she would like a cheese and mayo spread. She loved it and grew a little too possessive of the pimento and bacon jam jars (cue your best “my precious” Gollom impersonation here) … The entire group was happy with this dish as well $10
When you see the name of this dish on the menu, you assume that this is a butternut squash dish. The expeditor brought out the dish and we thought that they had brought someone else’s dish to our table.
The dish is constructed with farro grain risotto that is infused with the flavor of butternut squash. It tastes like the squash was cooked into the faro risotto. The farro risotto is topped with a leg of duck confit and sprinkled with shaved Pecorino cheese. The duck confit was incredible with deep flavors, juicy meat and crispy skin. The cinnamon creama dollops completed the subtle nod to the fall season. This was a really good dish for sharing, although I could have eaten it alone. $22
Octopus is one of my all-time favorite dishes and Social Costa Mesa makes one of my favorite octopus preparations of all time. This is no small statement considering the previous title was given to a small restaurant in Santorini Greece called Kapari Taverna. An arm of octopus tasted like it was sous vided and then lightly grilled. The result was an extremely tender octopus that was loaded with flavor.
I was able to cut the octopus with a simple butter knife. The dish is served with cannellini beans, braised greens, ripe Fresno peppers, and smoked romesco. Even if you don’t think you like octopus, I highly encourage you to try this dish. It has amazing flavors.. $18
Brussels sprouts have hit a saturation point in the restaurant industry, so only the best Brussels Sprouts should be acknowledged. Although I like my Brussels sprouts savory, I was impressed by the sweeter tasting sprouts at Social Costa Mesa.
They are roasted and covered in honey, house made Tasso ham, hazelnuts, and crispy flash fried sweet potato ribbons. The sweet and salty flavor of this dish is worth a try. $10
Two of my four tablemates identified the wild mushrooms as their favorite dish. The dish consists of pan sautéed wild mushrooms served atop Ason Mill grits, goat cheese, mushroom jus, and toped with an immensely delicious “slow egg” over easy. This dish has a wonderful play on nuttiness and umami flavors. $14
Duck Confit Poutine
Probably my least favorite dish was the duck confit poutine. The dish by itself was excellent, although in comparison to other dishes it was just o.k. The fresh cut fries are covered with puddles of duck confit shreds and dark duck gravy.
The loaded fries are topped with a fried duck egg cooked runny over easy. The dish is festooned with battered and fried cheese curds. I like the concept of the cheese curds, although they felt a little disjointed from the rest of the dish. I would like to have more duck gravy so that it would be easier to dip the fried cheese curds. $16
What we Drank from Social Costa Mesa Cocktail Menu
The cocktail program at Social Costa Mesa is perhaps one of the more sophisticated and customer approachable in Orange County. Social Costa Mesa poached some of the best barmen in Orange County, including Bar Manager Mike West from Pie Society. The cocktail program is craft, using house made cordials, fresh juices and house made whatever possible. The cocktails allow the barman to show off his skills, yet remain very approachable to the average customer.
Whiskey Business #2
This is a smooth whiskey cocktail with fruit overtones. It is made with whiskey, pomegranate molasses, lemon, aperol, and apple bitters.
Say “Peace Co.”
The Say “Peace Co.” is a modern take on the classic Peruvian pisco sour. It is made with pisco, blueberry, lemon, egg white, and a orchid flower. The drink was sweet and sour, with the fruit juices and the egg whites creating a balanced palate.
Yoga pants was our favorite cocktail of the night. It is made with kiwi juice, lime cordial, Cointreau, meringue. The flavor reminded me a creamy kiwi jelly mold in a cup. It was silky and up front on the Kiwi flavor. The merengue gave the drink a smoothness and contrasting flavor.
Belching Beaver Brewert Peanutbutter Milk Stout
An amazing milk stout effort from the boys at Belching Beaver Brewery. This stout is easily drinkable. Although it is a little thin, the drinkability of the beer allows you to bring your nose back to the ground and really enjoy it. The peanut butter flavor is a nice bonus, but very subtle.
My Final Thought About Social Costa Mesa
As you can see from this review, it was very positive. As full disclosure I only visited once, yet I was very impressed. For the haters out there, yes I did pay for my own meal, so don’t jump to conclusions. I found their menu to be cutting edge, while still being approachable. I liked the subtle Southern influence in the food, it added novel character without going over the top.
The service was efficient and friendly, although I think their only opportunity is to encourage the servers to show a little more of their personality and join the conversation where appropriate. This change would definitely amp up the experience.
After 10pm, Social turns into a bar/lounge with the 20/30’s crowd descending on the restaurant for cocktails, late night snacks and face to face Tindering. If this is your scene, stay after for cocktails.
Tom’s Foodie Blog highly recommends Social Costa Mesa. With that said, I will be returning in three months to reevaluate the restaurant to make sure they are still on their A Game. How was your experience at Social Costa Mesa? Leave a comment below and let me know.
Produce Trends from 2014 PMA Fresh Summit