I was saddened by the recent closing of Sol Fire as it was one of my favorite restaurants in the City however two things made me feel a bit better. First, I had the recipes for the steak frittes which was published in the Journal and the fish tacos recipe, which I requested and received from Carrie Torres, one of the owners. She also gave me permission to reprint it on EatWisconsin, which I will do sometime in the near future. The second reason that I felt better is that some of the dishes such as the steak frittes are available at The Social, which is under the same ownership as Sol Fire.
I had only previously drank at The Social and hadn’t had a chance to check out their food. Recent postings on OnMilwaukee.com as well as negative comments about the decline in service and the quality of the food I heard from friends and on the monthly Dennis Getto Chats on Jsonline kind of made me question my desire to eat here. A few weeks ago I had some time to kill so I decided to check it out for myself.
When I walked in around 5:30 on a Monday night the place was empty except for a group of people enjoying drinks at the bar. I was seated in the dining area which has a modern bistro look complete with the requisites banquette along the wall that separates the bar from the dining area. There is a blank wall where they show movies (be sure to check out their Movie Nights where they show a classic move and have drink and food specials).
I was presented with the menu and to my surprise a happy hour special menu which offered small plates of some of their most popular dishes. For $2.95 you can get a basket of allumette potatoes with garlic aioli, some hot wings, a Caesar salad, or fried calamari with harissa aioli. Step up to the $4.95 menu and you can get the goat cheese macaroni, which is what everyone raves about, a bratwurst, Parmesan frittes, or roasted mussels. They also offer 6o cent oysters as long as you order two drinks.
Speaking of drinks, this is a cocktail lounge and the menu reflects it with several cocktail offerings includng their namesake drink which is lemonade with Stoli Raspberry vodka and chambord. It is very good and a nice refreshing summer cocktail. They also have a good wine selection and a very impressive collection of different microbrews and imports including some great Belgian ales and Bell’s Two Hearted, one of the best pale ales available.
The main reason I came to the Social was to try their sweetbreads with truffled grits. I have never had sweetbreads as I am unaware of any other restaurant in Milwaukee, let alone Wisconsin that serves them. Unfortunately they were no longer on the menu. I am guessing that nobody really ordered them. However the menu does have some adventurous dishes that you will not find at other restaurants in Milwaukee. One dish that caught my eye was an appetizer of Bone Marrow and Oxtail Marmalade. I was tempted as I love bone marrow, but I wanted to try a couple of different things so I decided to order off the Happy Hour menu and tried the macaroni and cheese as well as the mussels. The waitress then said they had a special which was three grilled oysters with a ceviche topping. I think it was 7 or 8 bucks. It sounded good so I ordered that as well (see photo below).
As I waited I was presented with a fairly pedestrian roll and some olive oil. The roll was good, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, but it was nothing special. The oil was flecked with some pepper and other spices but they were not noticeable and the oil was nothing to write home about. I preferred the hummus offered with the same rolls at Sol Fire.
The oysters were ever so slightly grilled just barely cooking the morsel of meat in its own juices, which was good because over grilled oysters tend to be rubbery. Then it was topped with a delicious ceviche of scallops, mango, cilantro, peppers, onion, and what I believe was tilapia. It was awesome and hearkened back to the Latin inspired dishes at Sol Fire. The cold ceveche gave a nice acidic and fruity balance to the briny oyster, kind of like a mignonette on steroids. The waitress informed me that they had extra ceviche from a catering order and decided to create this appetizer. I think that it was so good they should put it on the regular menu. My only complaint was that there were only 3 oysters. It was great for one person but for that price they should maybe up that to four or five or have a per-oyster cost (say 2 bucks each) so can tailor it to the size of your group and how hungry you are. Actually I had another minor complaint about the dish, that nice pile of mixed greens in the center should have had some kind of a dressing. They were simply a garnish that easily could have been tossed in some cilantro lime dressing or something. I dredged them through any juices left on the plate.
The macaroni and cheese didn’t look like it would have a ton of flavor because it appeared that the only cheese was what you see on the top. There was no indication that there was any chicken in the dish either (sorry for the blurry picture). The noodles appeared to almost have no sauce on them and I feared the worse. Thankfully, looks can be deceiving. My first bite filled my mouth with the tangy taste of goat cheese and just a hint of rosemary. Rosemary can easily overpower a dish but the kitchen at the Social added the perfect amount. The cheese had dispersed between the noodles and there were plenty of chunks of tender chicken. This easily was some of the best macaroni and cheese I have ever eaten, but it wasn’t the best dish I tried, that distinction goes to the mussels in coconut curry broth.
The mussels were very fresh and there were about a dozen or so in the small bowl (not bad for 5 bucks!). The broth was loaded with the tastes of coconut, curry and lemongrass and I made sure that each mussel was saturated in the broth before I put in it my mouth. I would love to have this as an entree with a side of frittes. Simply put this dish was outstanding. My only complaint was that there was really nothing to mop up all of the broth that remained at the bottom of the bowl. I had some of my dinner roll left but that barely put a dent in the remaining liquid. Maybe a chunk of baguette or even some Naan bread would have been excellent.
The menu for the Social truly has something for everyone. There are the unique interpretations traditional bistro dishes such as the mussels, steak frittes, pot au feu (seafood in a fennel broth), dover sole, and charcuterie & cheese plates as well as pastas, vegetarian options, steaks, and just about any other kind of meat you can imagine. They also serve Sunday Brunch which I cannot wait to try. The Social has received rave reviews from the local and national press and I can see why. After this visit my worries about the quality of service (it was attentive without being annoying) and food (everything was great) I am eager to return to work my way through more of one of the most creative and unique menus in Milwaukee.