Bone Marrow and Figs, Spinach Tagliatelle with Fresh Corn, Pear Galette with Mascarpone
Occupation: Textile Painter
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Sociale
Reviewed Sociale: Friday, September 15, 2006
Sociale is a wonderful restaurant hidden in an alley off of Sacramento Street in the Laurel Heights neighborhood. My family and I have been eating there since they opened. Sociale is a unique restaurant in that it can fill many different needs. I often meet friends there for lunch. I can come straight from a workout or be more dressed up, either way I am just as warmly welcomed. It is the type of place where it is common to see a baby or bridal shower taking place in the charming courtyard, with lots of greenery surrounding you as you dine. Since it is nestled off the street, it is quiet and private, and at night they have the heatlamps burning, so you are warm and cozy, feeling much like an evening in Tuscany.
My mom and I arrived at 6:30 on Friday night. We parked right in front of the restaurant, a common occurrence in this neighborhood, especially at night. I had made a reservation, and we were seated immediately. David, the owner, is very welcoming and always makes his customers feel special. Our server Sheila greeted us as we sat. My mom and I surveyed the menu, which was filled with housemade pastas, different cuts of meat, chicken, and fish. Sociale’s menu is filled with wondrous and varied Italian delights.
My mom and I decided to start with the Bone Marrow and Figs, a recommendation from our server. Wow, was she right! It was melt in your mouth, rich and decadent, perfection. The figs were a perfect foil for the intensity of marrow. We also shared the soup of the day, which they were kind enough to split for us without even being asked. This is just one of the details that makes this one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco. The soup was hearty and light, all at the same time. It was tomato-based with chunks of perfectly cooked potatoes and pancetta, very satisfying.
We ordered lasagna bolognese and the lamb chops for our entrees, and they were beautifully presented, as are all of the dishes at Sociale. The lamb chops were cooked perfectly, medium rare. Another sign that Sociale knows what they’re doing in the kitchen is their ability to cook meat to the desired temperature. The lamb chops were seasoned with rosemary and other herbs, so that the flavor of the chops were complemented and not overwhelmed. My mom had a wonderful glass of Pinot Noir to accompany her lamb chops. Sociale has an extensive wine list, many of them available by the glass. They also offer special flights of three featured whites or reds at very reasonable prices. The lasagna was layered with a yummy bolognese sauce and a creamy béchamel sauce, a very delicious and uncommon combination.
We managed to save room for dessert, of course. We shared a rustic pear tart with whipped mascarpone cheese and a caramel crème brûlée. The tart was served warm, which brought out the flavor of the pears, and crisped up the crust to give it just the right flakiness. The caramel crème brûlée had a thick cover of caramelized sugar on top, which, when broken, revealed a perfectly creamy and caramelly custard underneath. Wholly satisfying, and the perfect end to a perfect meal.
I would recommend Sociale for a special occasion or an everyday restaurant — it has the ability to morph into any need that you have for a delicious dining experience.
Occupation: Former Mayor Pinole, CA
Favorite Restaurant: Pear Street Bistro
Reviewed Sociale: Saturday, September 16, 2006
What a charming setting and great way to have outside dinner service in San Francisco.
You enter the from the street through a real live hole in the wall, and down a brick path you go, and then this beautiful courtyard opens up in front of this small restaurant. They have done well to maximize the space they have in this almost Pacific Heights, Laurel Heights charming neighborhood.
The staff was warm and inviting, as we sat under the numerous heating lamps surrounding the courtyard tables, which make up over half the total tables. Service was slow but steady. They obviously don’t mind the three-hour dinner, neither do I!
Fried olives jumped off the menu as a starter, so we started there. They were huge and we enjoyed. They wine menu was just as huge, so we needed some time to navigate it. Much to our surprise, their bar was not a full one. We finally made our selection, and it was so good, we needed a second one before we where done.
The food was hit and miss. We all loved the halibut, but all found the soup and the lamb to be way too salty to eat. The homemade spinach pasta was a surprising smash hit homerun with the fresh corn and tomatoes mixed in abundance.
The rib-eye was not the best cut of meat we had ever seen, but the pork chops were delightful. We just had to have the Brussels sprouts and they were perfect. These are always a big hit, so why are they always so hard to find?
We ate family-style as we always do, and this seemed to throw our server a curve, because he did not know what to do. Nice and all, we just wondered if he was new. We did, however, never get our crème brûlée as ordered. You should never short a party on the sweets! On the up side, it did not make its way to the bill.
We liked the cake, but the doughnuts took the cake — warm, soft, and gooey. The cheese plate is the way to end a nice meal, in my mind, and this one hit the spot.
I am not sure I would leave the Marina or the drive past North Beach for this one, but it was better than just about any place not located in those areas.
Occupation: Political Advocacy Writer
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Presidio Bowling Center Grill
Reviewed Sociale: Monday, September 18, 2006
Sociale is a bit hard to find — it’s down some alley in Laurel Heights. (Having just laid down a brick patio in the backyard, I must remark that that’s some fine brickwork on the walkway!)
We gambled and brought our four-month-old infant daughter with us and dined outside under a warm heat lamp on an initially quiet Monday early evening. Denise, our server, took fantastic care of us throughout the night, and all the staff were friendly. We started with the stuffed, fried olives, which were filled with melty cheese and had a salty taste as a starter. I opted for the “Tasting Menu,” choosing between two options in each of four categories. The endive Caesar salad was small and piled up high with a pair of real anchovies on the peak, my favorite. My wife ordered the heirloom tomato salad, which was served with a different cheese than usual, and she thought it was disappointingly plain.
Next I had the ravioli with wild boar, which, as a phrase, seems to me to be both an oxymoron and redundant. There were three good-sized delicious ravioli that were robust and meaty. Next up was the grilled quail on top of polenta in a red pepper. The quail was juicy and well-spiced. The polenta tasted buttery, and the cheese left a hint of extra flavor. Now, at this point, I must admit to helping myself of my wife’s duck pappardelle, which reminded us both of an upscale beef bourguignon from our childhood, no small praise indeed.
For dessert: two words: “Fried Dough.” I ordered this with my tasting menu, and then my wife talked us into trying both the tiramisu ice cream (a strongly espresso-flavored ice cream), and Denise talked us into her favorite dessert on the menu: a delicious flaky pear galette that my wife declared to be the perfect dessert — crisp pastry with a warm, juicy filling that was not too sweet. The galette was the star of the night’s feast. We rolled out of that fine alleyway onto a quiet sidewalk with our sleeping baby, and walked back to our happy dog, waiting in the car with her head resting on the back seat to watch for us.