Social House in Uptown Minneapolis
Confession: I rarely venture to Uptown anymore. The traffic, the pain-in-the-rear parking, the crowds of pretty, young folk who remind me that I’m a very uncool suburban mom who gets up for the day around the same time they usually go to bed. A few recent trips to Social House, the latest incarnation of Zeno and Fusion at the corner of Hennepin and Lagoon avenues, might not convince me to make the big 15-minute drive on any given day, but is it worth stopping by after my semi-annual trip to Penzeys? Absolutely.
With the food definitely a notch above its Fusion days, Social House offers a menu mainly focusing on small plates — though the name can be deceiving as some offer quite generous portions — and sushi rolls. Traditional starters such as edamame ($5 with salt, $6 with chili oil garnish) and miso soup ($3 / cup, $5 / bowl) are all present, but look beyond the typical for a more interesting and flavorful meal. The chilled soba noodle salad ($7) boasted a lively vinaigrette that was enhanced by a squirt of fresh lime, and the perfectly cooked noodles were a delight to slurp. A few more wedges of mango and cucumber would balance the dish even better — we relished the sweetness of the former and crunch of the latter. The curry aioli on the shiso miso sliders ($13 for three) made a delightfully tangy schmear, and the tiny brioche-like buns put many burger buns in this town to shame, but the plate suffered from a lack of textural contrast. The miso-marinated ahi needed something besides a similarly soft slice of avocado to awaken the senses — the crunch of cabbage or slivers of carrot and radish, perhaps.
The bacon cheeseburger egg rolls ($10), featuring Kobe beef and cheddar, proved the State Fair theory that deep-frying anything makes it better. Though the accompanying habañero ketchup didn’t live up to its promised heat, we dug the rolls’ crispy exterior and umami-rich interior.
Most successful among the small plates, though, were the Asian-inspired tacos. The Korean tacos (above), which combined marinated beef, a cabbage / red onion slaw, and Korean barbecue sauce, would have rated a perfect 10 if the meat weren’t just a tad overcooked. Luckily, the fresh and crunchy slaw and spicy sauce more than compensated for the meat’s shortcomings, and at $7.50 for three decent-sized tacos, it’s a great deal. While the tokudan tacos cost almost twice as much at $14.50, the combination of the silky salmon tartar, creamy avocado, crisp cucumber, and sweet chili wasabi glaze atop a deep-fried wonton skin merited the higher price. A tad more heat would cut through the glaze’s sweetness to the benefit of the dish, but we still gobbled up the tacos without complaint.
When it comes to sushi, again you’ll be better served if you look toward the signature rolls section ($16 each) of the menu. The sourness of the cream cheese in the Philly roll ($6.50) disappointed us, as did the utter lack of heat in the spicy tuna maki ($7). We spicy tuna lovers crave that jolt when we bite into our rolls — to skimp out deflates the entire experience, and no one wants a sad sushi eater moping around the dinner table. Instead, feast on the Copasectic roll, which includes tuna, salmon, gobo, avocado, Sriracha, and spicy mayo — it’ll give your tastebuds the shock they expect while the tobiko (flying fish roe) crunch adds another layer of texture.
The line-up of ingredients in the signature Social House roll (above) may seem excessive at first glance, but the combination of shrimp, tobiko, gobo, cucumber, tuna, fried potatoes, truffle oil, and spicy mayonnaise somehow comes together smoothly. Again, the balance of textures plays a key role in the success of this roll and the lobster roll, which featured the crunch of asparagus and bits of tempura topping the pieces. Surprisingly, the pico de gallo played nicely off the spicy mayo and sweet lobster meat, and the only reason we had a few pieces left on our plate is that we were too full, not because they weren’t tasty.
It’s OK if you fill up on sushi, though, since the dessert menu’s selections “look like they come straight from the Sysco truck,” according to one dining companion. The list of desserts ($7-9 each), which includes the likes of crème brûlée, molten chocolate cake, and a brownie sundae, is no different than what you’ll find at any steakhouse in town, and the only nod to the restaurant’s Asian theme is the option to have green tea ice cream with some of the dishes. If you still have room after your meal, order another cocktail instead — the fruitier martinis, like the pineappley Funky Frenchy and the sage-and-raspberry-centric Mr. Miyagi (both $10) are not only refreshing, but they count toward your daily intake of produce (right?). And though the cocktail list ventures dangerously close to neighbor Chino Latino’s sexually suggestive drinks (Groin Punch, anyone?), it’s hard to argue against a well-made Gogi Old Fashioned or the Crouching Basil Hidden Watermelon (both $10). If a watermelon-based drink tastes this good in mid-winter, imagine what it will be like come August.
Service is friendly, though not seamless quite yet. When we arrived without a reservation at 6pm one recent Wednesday night, we were offered seats in the lounge because the other tables had been reserved — for 7:45. After assuring the host that we either would finish within that hour and 45 minutes or move to the lounge when the other party arrived, we were seated. No one came to move us at the appointed time and several tables near us were empty, which made us wonder what the worry was in the first place. But a few lulls in service notwithstanding, the staff were warm and knowledgeable about the menu.
While it doesn’t offer Origami-like consistency throughout its sushi menu, the fusion-focused small plates and more inventive rolls make Social House deserving of a visit. With its Asian-inspired decor, red and black accents, and a sleek bar, Social House offers a sophisticated scene that’s appealing to all — moviegoers, shoppers, bar-hoppers, and even moms like me.
Sushi and Asian fusion in Uptown
2919 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55408
CHEFS / OWNER: Travis Wong and Long Nguyen (sushi) / Mike Whitelaw
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / On weekends
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE PRICE: $5-15 for small plates / $6-16 for sushi
The great-granddaughter of an Eastern European Jewish baker, Jill Lewis cannot escape her genetic predisposition to carbs. Her love of baked goods, wine, cheese and chocolate may not come in handy for her day job as a Twin Cities PR professional, but it proves infinitely helpful for her gigs as a contributing writer for The Heavy Table and the co-author of the Cheese and Champagne blog. A former resident of Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin and suburban Washington, D.C., Jill now lives with her husband, two young sons and cat in St. Louis Park.