Chef Aaron Robins runs the urbane SOCA in Sherman Oaks with an eye towards excellence and a knack for reinvention.
- Written byJoshua Lurie
In a sea of gastropubs, breakfast joints and sushi spots, SOCA stands out along Ventura Boulevard—and it’s not just the upscale, sophisticated décor. Sure, a field of artistic metal flower petals shields the patio, a sea-blue bar and plush apricot-hued booths are inviting, and a 10-foot driftwood sculpture graces the dining room. Still, what makes SOCA noteworthy is its fare, which strives for originality and excellence with each plate.
Chef Aaron Robins has evolved the menu considerably since the sophisticated, airy eatery debuted in March, down the street from his other restaurant, Boneyard Bistro. The original mission, according to Aaron, was to mirror the feel of a high-end Mediterranean resort. Now, however, he is casting a far wider net.
“When we started, we were really pushing the edge, being as creative as possible,” Aaron says. “The food was gorgeous and stunning, and a bit unexpected. We evolved it into more of a modern American steakhouse with global influences … We honed it in and sharpened the blade on it, and it seems to have really found its groove.”
Dinner action revolves around SOCA’s oak-fired grill. Meats range from a judiciously portioned, six-ounce Certified Angus Beef filet mignon to a gigantic 40-ounce, 30-day dry-aged, bone-in, Creekstone Prime tomahawk rib eye. Each steak comes with a choice of sauce, including an unusual ankimo butter made with rich, luxurious monkfish liver. Elevated sides include thick-cut bacon steak and duck fat potatoes, plus atypical choices like cheesy, Peruvian-style “huancaina” mashed potatoes, and roasted carrots with citrus yogurt and pepitas.
Beyond cow-based entrees, you’ll find a bone-in Kurobuta pork chop with Cuban brine and mojo de ajo, and a crispy, whole Thai pink snapper for two with palm sugar-tamarind gastrique and rice noodles.
SOCA kicked off weekend brunch service in November. Practically everything is made in-house—from pastry chef Joy Cuevas’ bagels and breads to silky ocean trout lox that’s cured, brined and cold-smoked with alderwood. The eatery even serves a play on the boat-shaped Georgian cheese and egg pastry called khachapuri. Their version features steak, fontina, mushrooms, fried egg and chimichurri drizzle on the chewy elliptical flatbread.
One area where Aaron isn’t looking to innovate: SOCA’s textbook Caesar—a bowl of romaine hearts, house-made croutons, shaved Parmesan, and raw egg, garlic and anchovy dressing that’s made by hand before every shift. This stellar Caesar matches our memory of the famed Tijuana original, minus the tableside preparation.
Even Bloody Marys are next level. Their “Boneyard Bacon Bloody” incorporates tangy balsamic vinegar, spicy jalapeño and bacon—smoked at Boneyard Bistro. Baja Bloody is more complex, combining chile-infused vodka and mescal with cumin, fresh oregano and pickle juice, with a rim garnished with cilantro salt and large curled cocktail shrimp.
For diners with big appetites, Baller Brunch is a beast of a meal that comes with a 32-ounce version of the aforementioned tomahawk rib eye with a half dozen fried eggs, sautéed onions and arugula, and Béarnaise. They’ll also fire up a New York steak or any cut they have available, but it will be cooked a la plancha, since the oak grill isn’t on during brunch.
Sunday nights, SOCA offers a three-course, $36 prix fixe menu that might star herb-roasted half chicken with chimichurri roasted potatoes or petite New York steak with wild mushroom demi-glace.
The menu changes frequently, as seasons shift and inspiration hits. With Aaron and his creative crew in the kitchen, diners should expect more strikes than spares.
14015 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks | 818-301-4300 | soca-la.com
Mirabelle Wine Bar offers a three-course, prix fixe dinner on Sunday nights in Valley Village, which is especially ambitious given their limited kitchen.