‘Laissez le bons temps rouler’ (Let the good times roll) is the slogan of the week as Mardi Gras begins for 2015. And even though there may not be parades, floats and drinking and dancing in the streets, SOCIAL in Costa Mesa brings all the excitement and flavors of the Mardi Gras season to Southern California. The festivities begin Thursday, February 12 and continue until Tuesday, February 17, when the Fat Tuesday celebration happens with live jazz to accompany the evening. I was invited to try some of Chef Jeffrey Boullt’s dishes that he will be preparing for the Mardi Gras 2015 menu. If anyone in Southern California knows how to make a proper Mardi Gras menu it is Chef Boullt. Growing up in the South, his family still resides in Alabama, home of the first Mardi Gras ever, in Mobile. Eventually his cooking education led him to New Orleans and the iconic Commander’s Palace, where he worked under famed Chef Tory McPhail. Chef Boullt said, “the most important thing I learned was that it’s not all about me. It’s about a superior experience, from the time the guest enters the restaurant to the time the guest walks out the door. Obviously I went there to learn how about how to cook their way. I left with not only a lifetime of culinary knowledge, but cooking there taught me how to carry myself, and how to challenge myself creatively, and to want more out of myself everyday”. Following in the footsteps of other Commander’s Palace alumni as Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse, Chef Boullt is now bringing a taste of New Orleans to SOCIAL.
Chef Boullt has been incorporating several Creole and Cajun inspired dishes into the menu to augment his popular dishes on the current menu. One of the dishes that is appearing on the Mardi Gras Menu are Fried Frog Legs. The Chef explained that the frog legs, a very popular dish in the south, started as a special until the demand rose so high that he put it on the regular menu. The frog legs were excellent, with a nice remoulade topping the crispy legs. Similar in taste to chicken and reminiscent of chicken wings, the crispy legs are a treat and make an excellent appetizer. Another excellent dish and one that is designed strictly for the Mardi Gras Menu is the Seared Foie Gras. Perched on a slice of pain perdu, the New Orleans equivalent of French Toast, the luscious foie gras is celebrated with a light sear and then topped with a smoked cherry jus and chopped hazelnuts. The rich and silky foie gras gets a nice contrast from the other elements on the plate. For those who enjoy foie gras, this is a delicious way to celebrate its availability and for those who have never tried it, this is a great way to introduce your tastebuds to one of the great foods of the world.
There are several other dishes that the Chef is serving on the special Mardi Gras Menu. According to Chef Boullt, “Since we aren’t in New Orleans, I stuck to the hits. Gumbo and Shrimp and Grits are always really popular at SOCIAL. But for this event, we are flying in Crawfish from Louisiana for Peel and Eats, and are also making Etouffee w/Buttermilk Biscuits and Pork Cracklins. Don’t underestimate the Po Boy’s either – we will be doing my version of a Peacemaker w/Corn Fried Oysters, Dry Aged Bacon, Pimento Cheese and Pickled Red Fresno Chili”. The Shrimp and Grits were certainly a highlight of my meal, the plump shrimp sitting on a bed of grits that the Chef brought in especially for this menu. A wonderful Tabasco Veloute sauce covered both the shrimp and grits, with a Green Tomato Mostarda adding just the right touch of acidity to the plate. Having had shrimp and grits throughout the South on my travels, I have to say that this certainly was one of the best renditions I have ever had.
A dish that, while not on the Mardi Gras Menu, certainly is an item that would be extremely popular for any Mardi Gras meal, are the charbroiled oysters. Four freshly shucked oysters were charbroiled with a delicious smoked tomato butter and then topped with some crispy shallots. The fried shallots gave an excellent textural contrast to the silky oysters. This is definitely a dish that will make oyster lovers happy. For the Mardi Gras Menu, the Chef is also adding a popular New Orleans dish, Oysters Rockefeller. Deep fried in a cornmeal crust the oysters are sauced with an Absinthe Mornay on a bed of spinach and then topped with dry aged bacon.
For beef lovers, there is a 48-Hour Wagyu Brisket, served with Creole Mustard Potatoes, Collard Greens, a Worcestershire Carmel and Crispy Shallots. Another dish reminds Chef Boullt of his visits back to the South. “It’s hard to beat the Roast Beef Po’ Boy at Parkway Tavern. Every time I visit it’s my first and last stop”, said Chef Boullt. To celebrate that tasty sandwich, the Mardi Gras Menu includes a French Fry Po’ Boy, which includes the Wagyu beef brisket shredded and mixed with a Dark Roux Gravy made from the pan drippings of the brisket. Another dish for beef fans, although not a Mardi Gras Dish, is SOCIAL’s version of Roasted Bone Marrow. Topped with a Beef Tongue Marmalade for a touch of sweetness, the popular Southern herb that is extremely popular in traditional New Orleans coffee , along with pickled shallots and garlic chips. The rich beefiness of this dish elevates the marrow into a feast for the senses. Served with toast, it is an ideal dish to share between friends.
A tradition in New Orleans is a ‘lagniappe’, a Louisiana Creole tradition. Loosely translated, a lagniappe means ‘a little something extra’, essentially a small gift. Showing his Southern heritage, Chef Boullt made up a dish of Prince Edward Island Mussels, made with a simple sauce of San Marzano tomatoes, andouille sausage, smoked tomato sauce and grilled toast. The andouille sausage added a nice bite to the sweet tomatoes and briny mussels. Chef Boullt is proud of his cured meats, saying “We cure and smoke our own Tasso Ham in house. We also make our own Andouille and Cajun Boudin here at the restaurant”. It is hard to not think of New Orleans without thinking of beignets, so for dessert I tried SOCIAL’s Beignets with Coffee Ice Cream. This was the perfect capper for a delicious dinner.
SOCIAL also has an excellent bar and goes all out in creating drinks as well as improving the old standards. One standard, the Moscow Mule, was an absolutely amazing version of this drink. Served in the requisite copper mug, SOCIAL’s bartenders replace the ginger beer with a house-made ginger syrup and add spices to really kick up the flavor. For Mardi Gras, they will be introducing the Last Day of Sin Cocktail, with the name denoting the last day of Mardi Gras before Lent and the last day to really let loose and enjoy yourself. The brink is based upon a foie gras infused cognac, a little rye, some Armagnac, apple cider shrub, Herbsaint and a dried apricot garnish. The drink was not overpowering but instead very smooth and flavorful, well worth trying as an accompaniment to a Mardi Gras celebration.
With a full regular menu including everything from a DriveThrough Burger, Steak Frites and Short Rib through Brussels Sprouts, Cioppino and a Bay Scallop Pot Pie, SOCIAL has a little something for everyone. Indeed, there are several large tables to accommodate groups and it was fun to watch the table next to mine passing around dish after dish in order to try many of the delicious dishes on the menu. For Mardi Gras, SOCIAL will be the perfect place to get the feeling that you are in New Orlaeans for the celebrations. As Chef Boultt said, “When we started talking about opening SOCIAL, one of the first things I wanted to do was a Mardi Gras celebration. In California people have a different perception of what it really is. I want people to see, taste, smell, feel, and hear how it really is – a full sensory experience.” Indeed, SOCIAL is a great place to come for a delicious, creative dinner, whether it is Mardi Gras or any other time of the year.
SOCIAL 512 W. 19th Street Costa Mesa, CA 92627
PH: (949) 642-2425
Special Mardi Gras Menu added February 12-17