New pub taps into Ventura's beach scene
New kid on the block
By Nicholas Franklin 01/31/2013
Social Tap Ventura
1105 S. Seaward Ave.
$5.75 - $20
Few things bring to mind Ventura’s image conflict like a new restaurant. With the brand-new Social Tap occupying a great location steps from the beach, you have to consider where it falls in. Does it exemplify creeping Santa Barbarization? Is it a trite addition to “Ventucky”? Or is it a welcome, fresh creation that fits the spirit of Ventura?
Restaurants that operate in any of those veins can stay open here, but when a place opens that really fits Ventura, the excitement is tangible. That was clear after a few visits to Social Tap, which already feels like a pub in the classic public house sense — a place where locals come together and, as the slogan here encourages, “Eat, drink, (and) be social.”
Though pushing through some inconsistencies in service and food during its opening weeks, Social Tap shows an enormous amount of promise and is already bringing vibrancy into a block that really needed it. After months of remodeling, what stands there now is a handsome building crafted around a clean, minimalist-industrial sensibility that is warmed by beachy weathered woods and inlaid rock.
It feels nice but unfussy and welcoming, even if you are in sandals with sand between your toes. With a great street-side outdoor patio and lots of light coming through windowed roll-up garage doors, the space brings the outdoors in and reminds you that you’re right next to the ocean, which is visible from the perimeter seating.
Signs of the new-restaurant blues are plain to see, however, partly in the food, but mostly in the service. The mole black bean soup arrived lukewarm, and lacked the depth of flavor that a batch had on our second visit. Tacos also arrived tepid. The service was spotty, with water and beer glasses empty for too long. And at one point I was looking over my shoulder longingly for nearly 10 minutes at the Moscow Mule I’d ordered, which was sitting at the bar waiting for our server, who didn’t appear busy. (Luckily, it was worth the wait.)
On a second visit, our party of eight was seated then ignored for 15 minutes before the general manager noticed our bare table and asked if we’d been helped. But that said, it was a slammed Saturday night and the situation was quickly rectified with complimentary chips and chunky guacamole, plus an immediate and noticeable shift in the tempo of service.
The food is priced a bit above average, but then again the quality is also above average. Executive Chef Adrien Nieto’s offerings are firmly grounded in bold California flavors. They are American favorites done with a Latin bent and sophisticated flair — food that goes great with the local brewery-dominated craft beer selection and the trim yet sensible wine list.
The sandwiches are a highlight. Each is piled high on a cornmeal bun and barely held together by a long skewer. We tried the grass-fed beef burger with cheddar and the free-range chicken burger. I couldn’t pass up adding the ground bacon patty to my burger for four dollars. It was thin-pressed with a nice smoky bark from the griddle, wasn’t too salty, and it turned this into a decadent sandwich plate that could feed two. The chicken burger had a nice char on the edges of the cilantro ranch breast, which went great with the mild heat of the pepper jack cheese and roasted jalapeño aioli.
The little “gourmet street tacos,” however, had moments of inconsistency. The braised meats were best, with pull-apart tenderness, stewy juiciness and a different approach to spiciness for each meat. The seasonal veggie taco with quinoa, on the other hand, was under-seasoned and bland, mostly tasting like tortilla. On two occasions the shrimp tacos were too dry to carry the promising herb flavors described on the menu. But the grilled fish taco, achiote red snapper (offered as a sandwich, too), was very moist and flavorful with earthy annatto and chilies balanced against tart citrus.
Of the plate options, the fish and chips is definitely noteworthy. Two cod filets had a thin, crispy panko crust and were fried to a pleasant flakiness. They were served over a large mound of crispy shoestring fries, and carried a chili-sauce drizzle that was atypical for fish and chips and a tasty tweak. The bright, caper laden tartar sauce with dill was delicious, as was the purple kale and micro-green slaw.
The steak of the house is a flat iron cut, prepared with a chimichurri sauce. The presentation was odd, and somewhat annoying. There was a pile of baby arugula on top of the fries, which made the arugula warm. And the steak was pre-sliced, which I can’t stand — especially when it makes it obvious that it’s off the requested temperature. But the herby chimichurri was deeply infused into the meat, which was tender at medium and had zero gristle, so the presentation was easy to get over after a taste.
Even with missteps here and there, the most noticeable ones were the clumsy errors typical of new restaurants. For now, whether it’s for crowded, loud pub fun at night or for day-dreamy tacos and beer lunches under the sun, Pierpont has a nice new place.