The saving grace for the new Social House Kitchen & Bar, located in the longtime home of RJ’s in northwest Bakersfield, could be its patio.
When we visited on a recent weekday night almost every table was full (they do take reservations, and one table had a sign reserving it the entire time of our visit). Of course, with the governor’s mandate no one was eating in the regular dining room, but business was so brisk that they popped up one of those white metal frame shades in the parking lot and had customers out there. It was hopping even though more customers had masks on than the staff members, so if that sort of thing bothers you, you have been warned. That was the most alarming note in our visit.
It's a shame about the timing as this is a family-owned business (Amanda Mercado is the co-owner/chef and her parents, Chris and Annette, are also owners and help out) that has a real thoughtful touch on a lot of the menu items including burgers, appetizers, salads, pizzas and entrees. For example, there’s a rib-eye steak on the dinner menu with a Mexican spice rub and chipotle-lime butter and roasted peppers. Intriguing.
There is sautéed shrimp with a spicy pesto sauce; my companion’s amazing salmon (which we’ll get to in more detail) is very different; and the restaurant's steak sandwich features Muenster cheese. Who uses that anymore? Yet paired with a garlic aioli and caramelized onions, it almost tempted me to order it.
The creativity extends to the bar menu — lots of interesting drinks, including smoked plum gin and tonics, smoked plum whiskey sours, and a blood orange “mexarita” made with mezcal. They have worked hard to make this more than a sequel of RJ’s, and I think that’s why the crowds have been packing the place. We got lucky because we went early, but doing it again, I’d get reservations.
On this visit we went straight to the entrée menu, where my companion chose the grilled salmon ($28) while I selected the stuffed pork chop ($28). We both walked away happy for reasons you will soon understand.
My companion’s salmon was large, grilled and topped with an apricot serrano glaze that was a quarter-inch thick on top, like a good barbecue sauce, sort of sweet but not too much, sort of hot, but not too much. Both meals featured garlic mashed potatoes that were creamy, thinner than you might expect as if pureed, and needing absolutely no butter or gravy to enjoy them, though I picked up some of the juices from my bone-in pork chop to enhance the flavor. The salmon had “miso green beans” that were fresh and slightly salty from the Japanese flavoring, grilled like the vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower and green beans) on my plate.
The pork chop was huge and amazing even if the sourdough stuffing inside was on the dull side. It was a cut of the whitest of pork, lean, tasty, with a light gravy on the top. It was seared perfectly, with the meat near the bone the darkest of brown and a bit crusty in a good way.
The great thing was that when you read the menu, you see some creativity and risk-taking in the design, but at some restaurants the kitchen doesn’t execute. Here they do, and I think that bodes well for the future of Social House after “normal” returns, even if it’s a “new normal.” As it is now, the staff was playing ’70s rock nonstop over the speakers with music videos on the TV screens, but not so loud that it hampered conversation.
Social House Kitchen & Bar can be recommended for a fine dining experience.
Editor's note: This column has been updated to list Social House Kitchen & Bar's owners as Amanda Mercado and her parents, Chris and Annette.