Tom Sietsema wrote about Social for an October 2009 First Bite column.
The new Social in Columbia Heights does its best to facilitate a feeling of community. There's a moody bar billed as "the cellar" underground and a window-wrapped, drinking and dining area a flight of stairs up, where tufted leather sofas are arranged around low cocktail tables and a red-and-gold carpet covers a large swath of a buffed wood floor. With its handsome red draperies and clusters of intimate seating, the second floor looks like the living room of a host with good taste. Indeed, it's known as "the family room."
Our sense of deja vu is partly explained by the ownership. A.J. Guy and Scott Hammons are former managers at the Hotel Helix in Logan Circle, and Joe Norton, the restaurant manager here, comes to the project from the Topaz Hotel. Both Helix and Topaz are owned by the hospitality-focused Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, based in San Francisco.
Like a lot of restaurants these days, Social encourages its clientele to order a bunch of dishes to share, or, as our young server put it at dinner last month, to participate "in human interaction on the highest level."
Whatever. Much of the menu can be ordered in three portion sizes, a strategy the menu refers to as "micro-dining." Mahi-mahi tacos, for instance, can be sampled for $9, $15 or $20, depending on the size and the appetite of a party. Entrees are flagged as "self-indulgence"; they range from a salad of crab and fennel to roast chicken and grilled rib-eye. Michael Clements is in charge of the kitchen. Formerly associated with Tonic and the short-lived Red Bean in Mount Pleasant, he makes respectable, lemon-grass-flavored Vietnamese pulled pork sliders and lamb "lollipops" (chops) infused with red wine and dabbed with a cilantro pesto. Oddly, our apple and arugula salad showed up without its promised gorgonzola and pecans.
Social doesn't take reservations and doesn't care whether you order your meal in bits and pieces. That's part of the restaurant's relaxed, no-rush philosophy. So is one of its desserts: Milk and warm cookies are meant to be eaten leisurely, after all.
Small plates, $6-$10.
(Oct. 7, 2009)
Quick take: Columbia Heights's bar scene continues to grow with the addition of Social, which boasts the neighborhood's first true lounge. Like its upstairs restaurant, Social's basement-level lounge -- dubbed "The Cellar" -- is decorated as if it's someone's home, with old family portraits on the walls (courtesy of the owners), large leather sofas and ottomans and tall lamps with retro-funky shades. (All the furniture comes from designers Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams.) It's cozy, inviting and exactly the kind of place where you want to linger with friends.
The first thing you see when you come in the door from 14th Street is a large, handsome wood bar, surrounded by occupied barstools. It's nice, but I'd take those ottomans every time. (Service doesn't suffer, because the bartenders walk around to the adjacent lounge area to see if you need a fresh drink, want to order food or have any questions.)
Drinks: There are half-a-dozen cocktails on the menu, and my friends and I would happily have taken a second round of everything we tried. The CoHi Corner, which should lose points for using that abbreviation for Columbia Heights, is outstanding -- Hendricks gin gets right amount of both sweet and spice when it's muddled with mango puree and chili pepper. Almost as good was Engine #11, which drew our interest because it sounded so summery (Hanger One vodka, ginger-basil syrup and muddled strawberry). It was nowhere near as sweet as we'd envisioned; the ginger and basil combined with the strawberry had a robust, not sugary, taste.
If you're not in the mood for cocktails, there are 10 wines by the glass ($7-$12, mostly at the low end of that scale) and a handful of bottled beers at average-to-high prices, including $6 for Stella and $7 for the Victory Hop Devil IPA.
Happy hour, which runs from 4 to 7 every day, includes $3 Bud Lights, a $5 specialty cocktail of the day, $5 rail drinks (again, these are "rails" that use Stoli or Tanqueray instead of cheap stuff) and $5 glasses of red or white wine.
Food: Everything on the menu comes in three sizes -- the smallest, which our server referred to as the "intimate" portion -- is for one or two people. The deliciously caramelized Vietnamese pulled pork sliders, for example, which were piled with spicy slaw, cost $8 for a serving of three or $14 for six.
Good to know: The brand-new Sunday brunch, which starts at 11, includes the option of $15 all-you-can-drink bloody marys and mimosas.
-- Fritz Hahn (Sept. 30, 2009)