SOCA, the new restaurant from chef/owner Aaron Robins, stands for Sherman Oaks, Calif. This is a baller meatery that’s proud to be in the Valley. It’s a modern steakhouse and seafood spot that, as much as any other place, wants to elevate the bill of fare on buzzing Ventura Boulevard.
Robins, who also runs upscale BBQ joint Boneyard Bistro in Sherman Oaks, has created a restaurant with a striking glassy exterior, plush banquettes and a boulevard-facing patio perfect for people-watching. You can start dinner with a grand seafood tower before sharing a colossal 30-day, dry-aged tomahawk, but SOCA is far more than a traditional steakhouse.
Robins and chef Oliver Krant, formerly of Pok Pok, marinate a wagyu flatiron in red curry and fill Korean-style dumplings with king crab. There’s a salad headlined by Basque-style pickled beef tongue. There are charmoula lamb chops with white-bean hummus, quinoa tabbouleh, pistachio tzatziki and flatbread. There’s a Spanish-Vietnamese crepe with braised octopus and Fresno chiles. And that’s just for starters.
For main courses, you can go big with dishes like a whole fried Thai-style snapper. There’s a double-cut Kurobata pork chop “al pastor” that three people can easily share. It comes with a Mexican fried-rice chile relleno.
The cocktail list features six Spanish gin and tonics along with a tequila drink highlighting syrup made with strawberries and Szechuan pepper. For dessert, there’s chocolate babka bread pudding, chile-spiced chocolate panna cotta with candied pepitas, and a semifreddo with both curried and candied pineapple.
SOCA’s aggressive ambitions extend to its pricing. The steak frites (with monkfish-liver butter) is $50. A filet mignon is $55. But the Valley, with all of its TV-syndication money, can swing the prices if its wants. This is an area full of rich families, who spend thousands of dollars on hologram-display haunted houses and full-size candy bars at Halloween, who regularly spend hundreds of dollars eating at some of the city’s best sushi places, and who throw $1,000-plus kids’ birthday parties at play spaces including one started by the nanny who broke up Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale’s marriage. They can easily afford $75 shareable entrees.
And anyway, the Valley’s dining is only getting more upscale. Woodley Proper, the badass new cocktail lounge from Scratch Bar’s Phillip Frankland Lee is serving seafood towers, dry-aged New York strips and churro bites stuffed with foie gras mousse from noon until 2 a.m. every day on Ventura Boulevard in Encino.
At The Bellwether on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, chef Ted Hopson has recently added a large-format Middle Eastern-style grilled lamb shoulder to a menu that includes fantastic thick French fries. The fries cost $8. My toddler daughter, who likes to bring her own purse full of change to restaurants but still swipes my credit card when it’s time to pay, insists that they’re worth it. I agree.
Studio City’s Ventura Boulevard is also home to Barrel & Ashes, the BBQ spot started by Timothy Hollingsworth and Rory Herrmann, two dudes who used to run kitchens for Thomas Keller. That’s not far from Black Market Liquor Bar, where chef Antonia Lofaso is still rocking it with her shrimp toast, oxtail tagliatelle and much more.
Meanwhile, chef Ludo Lefebvre is aiming to open the bigger, badder version of his Hollywood bistro Petit Trois on Ventura Boulevard in September. Think prime-rib carving stations and dover sole filleted tableside and servers dressed in black and white pushing around a dessert cart full of cake. Welcome to the new Sherman Oaks, Calif., where the productions can be even more lavish than what you’ll find in Hollywood.