Some months ago I took a look at Social 121 shortly after its opening. I recently returned for a media event to see how the place is progressing. The Social 121 concept was always bold: create a restaurant and nightclub as hip as any in town out in the exurbs at the border of Plano and Frisco. But would it be able to sustain enough business? Is the hippest demographic well-represented way up north, or are the cool kids of Dallas willing to travel that far? Almost one year after its opening, I can report: it’s solid, man.
Social 121 occupies the lower corner of a multi-story office building surrounded by lots of close-by free self-parking (or valet if you prefer). Immediately inside the entrance is a large bar area popular for happy hours with the thousands of office workers in the large Granite Park office development. Here they aim to sling cocktails as esoteric as any in town. To the right is an archway that leads to a pit-like area where the bulk of the tables are set for food service. On one side is a wall of glass behind which is the wine cellar, temperature controlled and backlit in an urban lightshow of dusty blue. On another wall is the open kitchen where chef Jason Skinner still practices his craft.
On another wall is an archway to an extension room for private groups. Perhaps most interesting are some steps near the entrance that lead up to a small platform above the pit that looks down, from the second floor, like a kind of crow’s nest. At 10 p.m., when the restaurant winds down, the tables in the pit area are moved, and it becomes a dance floor that grooves to the sounds of a DJ until 2 a.m.
We checked out the culinary offerings on this visit. Saturday night offers a prix-fixe menu of four courses for $65 as well as à la carte selections (Monday – Thursday also offers a chef’s tasting menu of six set courses for $50 – a bargain – plus $25 for an accompanying wine pairing). Both reflect solid New American favorites presented classically insofar as sauces and sides go. We opted for the prix-fixe.
For the first course, the classic caesar salad has the anchovies in the dressing, rather than at the side, which I initially worried would emaciate their taste. It turned out to be a successful way of infusing the flavors evenly. Baby spinach salad came with tart Granny Smith apple batonettes and crispy walnut pieces, as well as the taste of bacon from the vinaigrette and blue cheese crumbled on the leaves.
There are four choices for the second course, and they make for a hard decision. We had to skip the promising-sounding lamb lollipops (even with an ‘l’ missing from the menu, presumably to save calories) and duck confit spring rolls in favor of the crab cake and the braised short-rib pot stickers. I had the crab cakes on account of a vow I have taken. Recall how history is littered with famous vows. For example, religious vows of abstinence, or Paul Masson’s vow “to sell no wine before its time” (so much for that). I have vowed to always eat crab cakes when they are on the menu until I find the best interpretation of this classic dish in Dallas. The current title is held by a friend who makes one involving no binding agents (he uses anti-matter to hold the whole together). Social 121’s version could not wrest the title from him, but was enjoyable nonetheless. The pot stickers were a winner.
We hit the seared scallops and the bone-in pork chop for our third (and main) course. The picture of the scallops atop their bacon and scallion risotto and tomato butter sauce speaks to Social 121 owner Scott Siers’ ability to live up to his name – that’s a perfect sear. While the scallop dish was light, the pork chop
dish was for hearty appetites. The sides were fingerling potatoes, creamed spinach, and wild mushrooms lapped with port demi-glace. Recommended on cold winter nights.
Desserts are Love Cake (a chocolate cake), bread pudding or crème brulée. We had the latter, which came with curious cookies with hearts on them.
I strongly recommend that you check out the wine list, which may be the best value in North Dallas. Most selections are about twice retail, versus the 3-times in other restaurants. Some are even lower. For example, 2006 Cain Concept (a Cabernet Sauvignon Blend) is $58 (vs. $50 retail). And the 100 selection list has a strong domestic slate as well. Outside the US, you tend to be stuck with one selection from each wine region (with nothing from Alsace or Barolo, for example) but there is a selection of six sparkling wines, three dessert wines, and 14 by-the-glass selections. I would be hard put to get bored by the selection here given those reasonable prices.
Social 121 offers solid food, great wine prices, a large cocktail selection, and a night club, all in pleasant surroundings, to a part of town that is otherwise not well served by this combination. Its second year looks promising.