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First bite: Social Bar & Grill on Tacoma’s Foss waterfront

Post by Sue Kidd / The News Tribune on Aug. 19, 2011 at 6:02 am | 2 Comments »
August 19, 2011 1:56 pm
On the deck of Social Bar and Grill, Anna Birch serves dinner to Courtney Robinson and Zach Hansen. The Museum of Glass is in the background. Photo by Peter Haley/Staff photographer

Complimentary savory cassava root doughnut appetizers, Ahi poke with a tangle of seaweed, swordfish skewers coated in chimichurri, sublime roasted duck, pitchers of sangria – all with a waterfront view of the Foss Waterway. I’m ready to move in for the rest of the (pseudo) summer at Social Bar and Grill, the newest restaurant that opened July 26 on Tacoma’s urban waterway.

With this-is-why-we-live-here views and a lively dining room made over with a floor to ceiling picture window fully framing the display kitchen, Social is a buzzing restaurant teeming with movement … and noise. Despite the name, socializing becomes truly frustrating when the restaurant is even at half capacity. Noise respite? Sit outside. The outdoor patio doesn’t come with brushed concrete floors, high ceilings and countless hard surfaces to reverberate the din. The dining room may be loud, but it’s also beautifully modern, sophisticated and casual enough to come as you are. Comfortable seating will make you want to stay awhile.

Service? Darn good for a brand-new restaurant. Staffers could learn the menu a little better because the stark menu descriptions didn’t tell me enough. When two of three dishes showed up with the same style of chimichurri, it would have been nice if our server intervened with a warning of the crossover. But drink refills kept coming, the servers remained effortlessly friendly and our food, even on a busy weekend night, arrived quickly.

A trio of Matador alumni are the crafters of Social. There’s Philip Panagos, who most recently worked as the general manager of Tacoma’s Matador, and Jason Bailey, who worked on the opening crew for five of the Tex-Mex chain’s restaurants. Rodel Borromeo, who until recently was Matador’s corporate executive chef, is the third owner.

The menu is broken into shareables and more substantials, with choices for all budgets. Nothing costs more than $19. The food is flavorful and eclectic, with influences meandering from Spain, the Mediterranean, South America and even Asia. It’s all enjoyable, beautifully plated and clearly the kitchen is working hard here, but a warning: they lean heavy on the spice. If heat bothers you, speak up to your server.

From the salads menu, wilted and grilled romaine hearts ($7) with a spicy lemony-parsley chimichurri was tasty, if not overdressed. Exactly the opposite, the sweet pea and mint salad ($7), was understated, the mint and peas shimmered with mild spring flavors.

From the “shareables” menu, soy and sake kissed ahi poke ($9) offered slippery, velvety cubes of raw tuna punched up with a tangle of seaweed and pops of white and black sesame seeds. Grilled octopus ($8) over herbed potatoes won’t find a fan in tentacle haters, but I liked the parsley chimichurri with salty pops of fried capers. Beef satay skewers ($8) would be a fabulous pairing with the ahi. The soy and lemongrass marinated skewers tasted beefy and tender, a jicama-carrot slaw on the side.

Sandwiches were hit and miss. A pork belly sandwich ($7), with slaw on the side, was too bready and dry, the meat chewy tough, not supple as it should be. An a la carte burger ($8) made my burger lust swell – a char-grilled half-pound patty on a substantial roll with melted cheddar, chewy bacon, fresh cilantro and jalapeno slices, a roasted red pepper standing in for the tomato. The chile aioli, strangely, came on the side.

From the substantials menu, meaty swordfish skewers ($14) equally impressed. It also came with the same chimichurri sauce, leaving my palate fatigued on chimichurri (which is a parsley-based condiment similar to pesto). Bacon penne carbonara ($10) over potatoes wowed with rich, chewy bacon, a buttery sauce and salty olives.

A braised duck ($14) made me dream of Spain with a thigh and leg portion swimming in a bold tomato-olive sauce heady with cinnamon. If you order one thing at Social, make it that.

Social Bar and Grill

Where: 1715 Dock St., Tacoma
Hours: Open for lunch and dinner daily
Information: 253-301-3835 or

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