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#SoHoStillNeedsAFilter

This University hotspot has great drinks, but isn't quite ready to graduate

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It seems like my Twitter feed goes through phases where, for weeks at a time, it's constantly bombarded with Instagram pictures of food, shot with smartphones and appropriate photography-ruining filters applied. Generally it's a mix of pictures of homemade dishes and shots from appropriately hipster-chic locally owned restaurants around town, boasting über-local ingredients, delicate preparations and unique fusions of flavor.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not judging my friends who do this ... I'm just not among them. I'm definitely guilty of the occasional food-related tweet or picture, but I'm not an Instagramming, filter-loving smartphone photographer.

Social House, or "SoHo," because acronyms are painfully cool right now, seems the perfect restaurant to be depicted in this manner, though. The interior is funky and sleek, with a few TVs dotted throughout, but it still offers an intimate dining experience if that's what you're looking for. The menu differs for lunch and dinner, and both have a smattering of delicious-sounding offerings that I would have liked to have tried, given the opportunity, but there's only so many dishes one can reasonably order and taste on two visits.

SoHo is big on presentation, concept and overall flavor, though there were some issues with details, execution and service on both visits. The drink menu is one area where there are zero problems —there's a wonderful selection of several dozen craft (and noncraft) beers on tap (ranging from $3 to $10), as well as four draught wines (two are $6, two $10), and a reasonably priced and varied selection of well-chosen wines, available by both the glass and bottle. The signature cocktails ($8 to $12) are inventive, creative twists on classic drinks that pay lip service to the classics—we tried a few on our dinner visit and were not disappointed in any, though the Soho Mule and the Scarlet (both $8) were the clear favorites.

The lunch menu is fairly salad-and-sandwich-centered, with a few options for entrée-style dishes and a decent selection of appetizers (or "Share" plates). The artichoke dip ($10) was phenomenal, and the portion was huge—definitely sharable. It was piping hot, creamy and had great flavor, especially topped with crispy melted parmesan. The grilled flatbread was lightly salted, which was a perfect detail. I decided on the Cuban belly sandwich ($12) with fries, because I can never resist pork belly; and Ted went for the bacon-wrapped chicken sandwich ($11) with fries. Unfortunately, the appetizer far outshined the sandwiches, which were beautifully presented but mediocre. Mine was grilled too much and came with burnt bread (yuck), which marred the flavor of the pork belly, ham, gruyere, mustard and pickles. Once I picked apart the sandwich innards, it was quite tasty. Ted's sandwich also suffered from some degree of mediocrity—the chicken was dry; the bacon was overcooked and burnt on one side (it's wrapped around the chicken breast, pre-cooking); and the guacamole tasted mostly like avocado without much added to it.

Fortunately, dinner was a better, though pricier, experience. The dinner menu tends toward the more creative—we ordered spiced venison carpaccio ($11) and a roasted tiger shrimp relleno ($9) as appetizers, and both were superbly flavored and absolutely beautifully presented. However, they were also really, really small. The carpaccio was four paper-thin (as carpaccio should be) slices of venison, about the diameter of a golf ball, with a sprinkling of fried capers and pecorino cheese. The menu says "spiced" venison, but whatever spice there might have been was undetectable, as was the truffle in the truffle aioli. However, the dish didn't suffer for it. The venison was flavorful and not at all gamey, but there were only two small bites per person.

The relleno was much the same—for $9, you get one small pepper stuffed with two medium-sized shrimp, corn, avocado and cotija cheese, atop a bed of ancho chile mole sauce. It was, flavorwise, one of the best rellenos I've had in Tucson, with great smoky flavor and lovely balance; but the portion was teeny tiny, especially when you're sharing it with another person, or a party. (It's listed under the "Share" section of the menu.)

Our dinner entrées suffered from some serious execution flaws—first, they took nearly 25 minutes to come to the table after our appetizers had been cleared, and when they arrived, it was apparent that my bistro steak ($19) had been sitting in the hot window for quite some time—the plate was smoking hot; the sauce had separated; and the steak looked like it might have once been medium-rare, but was now quickly venturing past medium. Ted's dinner had also been sitting in the window, but not the hot one, apparently—his crispy ahi tuna ($17) was just barely lukewarm on the outside when it arrived at the table, and the tempura asparagus were downright cold.

The ahi made up for the execution errors in flavor—and the ahi steak itself was perfectly rare on the inside. The apple kimchi had a pleasant tang; the asparagus paired surprisingly well with the tuna and kimchi; and the soy caramel added a necessary bit of sweetness to the dish. My dish, on the other hand, suffered from way too much salt. The sweet onion potato gratin and the bordelaise sauce were both nearly inedibly salty, while the steak had hardly any seasoning at all (or maybe it did, and the potatoes and sauce killed my palate before I could taste it). The fried marrow balls were a cute idea, but didn't add anything to the dish, and the delicate marrow was so overwhelmed by the thick batter that it wasn't even good on its own.

A passion fruit margarita panna cotta ($8) ended the meal on a high note, at least. The gluten-free citrus sponge cake was a little dense for a sponge cake, but the flavors were excellent and the panna cotta was pleasantly tangy—a great palate-cleansing way to end the meal. But, until SoHo can work out the details, their food might be better on Instagram than "IRL."

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