With influences from Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and West Africa, the dishes and drinks at Rum Social Kitchen & Cocktails are bursting with flavor.
By Ashley Ryan
Dining around the globe is easy in Laguna—from Mexican, Mediterranean and Pan-Asian to French, Belgian and Italian cuisine, you can enjoy flavors from far off lands every night of the week. But few restaurants offer flavors as unique and enticing as Rum Social Kitchen & Cocktails, the new eatery that opened along Peppertree Lane in March.
While tropical themes tend to lend themselves to kitschy Tiki bars, Rum Social is anything but ordinary. Located in the former Watermarc space and helmed by Jered Adams, executive chef and director of services at the eatery, the dishes are inspired by recipes and flavors from the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and West Africa for a menu that’s as unique as the town itself.
The inspiration came from Kenneth Ussenko, one of the restaurant’s owners, who loves to travel and also designed the space, which is filled with sleek pink and mauve velvet, navy blue walls and mirrors galore. Black-and-white photographs of tropical scenes cover the walls, both in the downstairs dining room and upstairs around the opulent bar, while fresh flowers on the tables and pieces of coral decor add little touches of nature. Ussenko partnered with John Fisher and Steven Sherwood for the venture, who together are on the leadership team of nearby Gelato Paradiso.
Start with a cocktail, of which there are plenty to choose from. For something sophisticated yet fruity, try the Laguna 75, a take on the classic French 75 but with purple-hued Empress 1908 Gin and the addition of sweet lychee. Those seeking a tropical twist can savor the Rum Runner, in which rum and aperol blend with mango and lemon in a Tiki glass. The restaurant also has its own Rum Social Reserved Rum, crafted with the help of a San Diego-based distillery, which can be found in signature sips such as The R.S. Cocktail, with notes of banana and coconut, and the cherry and grapefruit-filled drink The Hemingway.
The majority of the menu is designed to be shared, so order away and delight your taste buds with an abundance of flavors. Some highlights include the fresh hamachi crudo, topped with jicama and crispy quinoa for an added crunch as well as the plantanos, fried plantains in a ginger-rum glaze that bring some added sweetness to the start of your meal with just a touch of spice from Tajín. Also delicious, and oh so filling, is the Thai coconut soup, poured tableside; the spice of the yellow curry and the Thai basil perfectly complement the sweet corn and pearl onions for a taste that you’ll remember long after the bowl is empty.
Some other sharable options include the Social Sliders, said to be a cross between a Cubano and a banh mi with succulent pulled pork, house-made mustard, carrots, radishes, spring greens, peppers and caramelized onions, as well as the Uncle Ken’s Fried Rice, named after Ussenko and made with smoked bamboo jade rice, egg, carrot and sofrito.
Those with heartier appetites can also enjoy Supper Plates, crafted with the same tropical tastes as the shared dishes. The seared Alaskan salmon is definitely a standout, served atop a bed of farro with macadamia nuts and a dark rum butter sauce drizzled over the fish. The Wanderer Farms N.Y. “Satay”—though not served on a stick—features a tamarind-peanut sauce while another beef dish, the Rocker Bros. Beef Rib, is braised in a rum jus.
And there are four desserts to choose from as well—the spiced rum toffee cake with ginger rum raisins; chocolate mousse; citrus parfait; and tropical-flavored gelato balls covered in chocolate, a nod to the shop next door that first brought Rum Social’s owners together.
While you won’t find a pirate ship, treasure map or Tiki torches here, the flavors are all you need to feel transported off to your own little place in the tropics.
Rum Social Kitchen & Cocktails
448 S. Coast Highway