By Frank Sabatini Jr. | Restaurant Review
The baseball season has arrived and Social Tap brings you as close to the bustle of Petco Park as you can possibly get without holding a ticket into the stadium.
On game days, you can see the big center screen hovering over the playing field from Social Tap’s back patio, which looks out to the grassy lawn leading to the main gates. The front sidewalk patio comes alive as well as fans enjoy drink service from a portable bar.
And during non-home games, you can cheer on the San Diego Padres (or your preferred team) in the glow of giant flat screens while imbibing from a choice of 25 beer taps and a drink menu boasting abundant tequila, scotch and cocktail options.
The libations, along with a host of upscale bar food, are available year-round. They define the sporty concept of Social Tap, which operates additional locations in the College Area, Ventura and Scottsdale, Arizona.
With an out-of-town visitor in tow, we dined in a comfy oversized booth on a low-key night and zeroed in on the establishment’s famous filet mignon tacos and “trifecta” chicken wings, which are baked, then grilled, and then fried.
We started with the “chicken & nuts” salad topped with a boatload of chilled breast meat that tasted divine when it began mingling with the balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Sliced pears encircled the plate, and a wellspring of candied walnuts, craisins and bleu cheese crumbles surfaced as we forked along. If there’s a mother of all chicken salads, this is it.
The wings had everything going for them with their baked-in juices and charred, grilled skins. We couldn’t tell that frying was part of the process since they were devoid of oil except for the small measure of butter that likely went into the Buffalo sauce. Other flavor options include Jamaican jerk, teriyaki and sweet chili.
Tender, minced filet mignon was piled into the tacos (served in pairs) along with an invisible mix of micro-chopped mushrooms, poblano chilies and crispy fried shallots. The contrasting textures and compatible flavors are well conceived — better than many of the innovative and often-glorified tacos put forth by other kitchens.
In the lead up to an entrée we shared — rosemary-thyme chicken served over bacon risotto — we imbibed on beer and cocktails.
The coconut porter from Maui Brewing I ordered delivered a teasing sweetness from the coconut and a strong, desirable coffee flavor. My companion’s Skinny Press cocktail with Ketel Citron, muddled blueberries, mint and agave nectar was summertime fruity with refreshing citrus notes.
On the down side, the “Mmmm Mojito” made with Captain Morgan she chose as her second drink was largely missing the star ingredient of a mojito. Only a single sprig of mint was in the glass — not enough to perform its magic.
From the “plates” list, which includes items atypical of casual sports bars such as hand-cut rib eye, wine-braised short ribs and penne pasta with Cajun shrimp, we continued feeding our mood for chicken with an airline cut (the breast and first wing joint) accented with basil cream sauce. But it was the tender rainbow carrots and excellent bacon-kissed risotto served alongside that stole the show.
The pitfall of the dish was the chicken skin. Though delectably crispy, it was “crazy salty,” as my companion described before bringing it to the attention of an apologetic manager. He offered a redo, but we declined after already extracting the tender meat underneath.
Social Tap’s over-the-top dessert, called Holy Sundae, combines a chocolate chip cookie and brownie with Oreos, cinnamon crunch fried ice cream, bourbon caramel and chocolate sauce.
We passed in lieu of the simpler deep-dish chocolate chip cookie crowned with vanilla ice cream made by Moo Time Creamery in Coronado.
It marked a happy ending in a well-designed space where hearty food, bountiful drinks and good vibes prevail, regardless of how the Padres perform each season.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.