I have found my new date night restaurant. Soca is in Cameron Village in the former space that Faire occupied. Their sister restaurant is Buku in downtown Raleigh. The experience started off great with complimentary valet and being promptly seated at a shaded patio table. I’m not sure what their maximum capacity is, but it looked like the patio itself could hold at least 80 people.
I am a recent vegetarian so my boyfriend and I each got our own appetizer and entrée. I chose the Trinidad Pholourie ($7) as an appetizer, which is split pea fritters with mango chutney, tamarind, cilantro, and lime. I’m sure this doesn’t sound extremely exciting to most people, but each component of the dish tasted super fresh. The cilantro is diced and placed at the bottom of the dish and reminded me slightly of a gremolata with the lime juice mixed in. I appreciated that the pea fritters were dense in texture but did not retain a heavy grease flavor. Topped with a light tamarind sauce, fresh herbs and mango chutney, it was the perfect balance of sweet to savory.
My boyfriend got the crab cakes ($14) for an appetizer, which was their special of the night. The crab cakes contained large pieces of crab, mango chunks and red onion. They were plated over a jalapeño and cilantro aioli which had a subtle spice. The cakes were topped with radishes and a pickled cabbage and jicama slaw that was not overpowered with vinegar at all. It more so just added a fresh and cold component to the dish. My boyfriend usually doesn’t go for cilantro or red onion but he totally approved of this dish.
My entrée, Churrasco ($22), is chili-rubbed cotija cheese with charred sweet potatoes, chimichurri, sweet peppers, cilantro aioli, and pickled cabbage. You guys, this is one of the best dishes I have ever had in my life. No exaggeration here. A great dish will contain these different components somehow – spice, sweet, sour, bitter, and salty or umami, plus, a variety of textures. This hit all the marks. Let’s start with the star of the show – the chili rubbed cotija cheese was honestly much larger than I thought it was going to be. It was salty with such a nice crunchy outer layer. Below the cheese was a roasted sweet potato and sweet peppers, which is the sweet component. The sweet potato was roasted just enough to have a charred skin but the flesh still maintained its body so it wasn’t mush. The sour component is the chimichurri on the bottom of the plate. It was so flavorful – tons of fresh herbs, oil and lime juice. I think I could drink a cup of it without shame. A slight spice came from the cilantro aioli that was dolloped on the plate. The somewhat bitterness came from pickled cabbage and carrots, but once again the vinegar wasn’t too overpowering. This dish alone makes me want to return to Soca if nothing else.
My boyfriend chose the Brazilian Feijoada ($20) which is marinated short rib, black beans, chorizo, pork shoulder, farofa, collard greens, jasmine rice. Since I don’t eat meat anymore, I’m taking my boyfriend’s word on the short rib, chorizo and pork shoulder. The short rib was cooked to a medium-well temperature and was so tender that you could shred it with a fork and he said all the meat had good flavor. The white rice was pretty standard, nothing special about it. The black beans were cooked until they were soft but not a pile of mush, and were topped with farofa, which is a toasted Brazilian flour mixture (looks like bread crumbs). The beans were seasoned with pieces of bacon so it added some depth of flavor. The collards tasted like they were initially soaked in a vinegar mixture and then cooked because the sauce didn’t have a vinegar taste, but when you bite down on the greens themselves, you get a vinegar taste. This was my favorite part of the dish.
The restaurant is so relaxing and beautiful. I also must admit that the service is impeccable. The restaurant is quite new and I was impressed with how knowledgeable my server was about the cuisine, menu items, specials and beverages. My boyfriend and I were too full to order dessert so our server brought us out a sample of truffles from the pastry chef. I wish I could remember his name to give him a shout out. You know who you are! I thoroughly enjoyed everything at Soca and I can’t wait to return.
Alexis Raynor works in the restaurant industry in downtown Raleigh and is obtaining a degree in Public Relations. She enjoys creating healthy, yet flavorful recipes at home and trying unique food everywhere she travels to. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @everyday.alexis.