The City is full of hidden and tucked-away restaurants. One of my favorite late-night haunts is the subterranean Ryoko's; there's Bix, down its lonesome jazzy alley, and don't forget Chez Spencer, an industrial cool Frenchie oasis on a gritty stretch of 14th Street. And then there's ~SOCIALE~, a nice restaurant that's actually hidden off an even nicer street (so don't worry, no one is going to hotwire or key the Beemer).
You feel like an (upscale) alley cat, slinking down the flower-laden alley to an enclosed Euro-style courtyard, which is a primo spot for an alfresco lunch, especially if you are there with your mom--it's beyond ideal for mom lunches. The c-u-t-e patio is outfitted with umbrellas and heat lamps, making it quite a cozy spot for dinner, even on a typical rainy/foggy/misty/my hair is getting frizzy night.
The interior of the intimate dining room is warm and well appointed in a way that would make a WASPy in-law proud, with cheerful red and white striped banquettes (complete with a little circus dog in the fabric), while the white tablecloths signal refinement. The lighting is flattering, and the room, while lively, isn't loud. Service is knowledgeable on a variety of subjects and gracious, just like a good debutante.
Tables are filled with (mostly) moneyed couples on dates, both young and polished and photo-ready for Gentry Magazine (Peninsula edition), or a bit older and from the neighborhood. I also saw a young couple out with her parents (it looked like the guy got along with his in-laws, good going, dude), and there were a few tables of ladies out to indulge with their gal pals. It's all so, uh, pleasant. Which is exactly what makes this place ideal for functions like family dinners, when the aunt is in town, for first, second, or third dates, and where to take your prissy friend from Nashville (or Walnut Creek). It would also be a primo location for a bridal rehearsal dinner buyout.
Speaking of dates, there are dishes for two offered on the weekend (monogram not included), but I also saw plenty of solo diners perched at the back bar, and some strangers sitting together at the tall communal table with room for six, seated on the high stools.
Executive chef Tia Harrison is now a partner in the restaurant, and has put together a rustic Italianate menu with a sprinkling of some spunky flavor pairings. Almost everyone starts with the classic dish of fried olives ($7), salty and juicy green olives that are breaded and stuffed with oozing, molten Fontina cheese. Even the "ladies who lunch" indulge in these puppies--the fried olive tractor beam really is that strong.
Harrison also has some decadent duck meatballs ($10) on the menu, resting in a smooth sauce of tomato with undertones of sweet cherry from dried cherry mostarda. The meatballs were served a tad lukewarm, and I missed the juiciness you get from pork in meatballs, but the gaminess of the duck with the cherry was a good pairing.
Okay, vegetarians, the asparagus lasagna ($17) is for you, but you know what? It was so good it was totally for me, too. A large square features layers of fresh pasta, asparagus, and spinach, plus a cheese-a-rama of béchamel, ricotta, and aged provolone, and is topped with a nicely browned layer of Grana Padano, plus a roasted tomato. It was a little crusty on the edges too, just the way good cheesy pasta should be. Purr.
There are four other pasta dishes, including pappardelle ($18) with braised duck, porcinis, and peas that was sadly doused with truffle oil, overwhelming the dish. That damned truffle oil, when will she leave the City for good? Brazen hussy, messing up dishes up all over town. I wish her pimp would just retire her, she is seriously tired.
We tried the whole roasted branzino, a special that night--you also get the option of having it de-boned for you after they present it. Uh, yes please. I love the simplicity of a perfectly roasted fish with lemon and olive oil. It came with a tasty parchment paper present (For me, really? You shouldn't have!) stuffed with leeks, cherry tomatoes, and Yukon Golds--however the leeks were stringy and the potatoes needed a serious salting. What was on pointe was the juicy brick chicken ($20), which comes de-boned and with a crispy exterior, plus smoky pancetta and red chard. Killer, that chicken. Buh-wok.
There is a strong focus on local and organic ingredients, especially regarding the meats, but a few items were out of step with the season, like the tomato soup, or the cherry tomatoes in the veggie parchment package (this was in April).
All the desserts are house made, and my spoon was at one with the jiggly wiggly vanilla bean pannacotta ($7)--it comes with candied kumquat on the side, and where Harrison adds her fun little twist is the drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, plus a hit of black pepper. Exquisite play of flavors. The coffee and doughnuts ($8) with the decadent espresso milkshake didn't totally turn my crank--the concept is cute but the doughnuts were a little too chewy. I leave the donuts to Bob's on Polk.
Co-owner and GM David Nichols really has a passione for Italian wine. The list has some lovely and special selections (there are also a few Cali wines here and there) but overall all that special-ness translates to a list that can veer on the spendy side. Be prepared to splurge on the good stuff, you will be tempted. Your wineglass is primed here, something you may know from Maverick (Michael Pierce, the GM/wine director/co-owner of Maverick was part of the opening team at Sociale).
A fun component to the by-the-glass program (there are 19) is most are also offered at a 3 oz. or 6 oz. pour, so you can actually pair to your courses without averaging $9 or $10 a glass, if you are so inclined and not so loaded. There is also a nice half-bottle selection for those who don't want a full vino commitment. Although that nice girl you bought here for dinner might want a full commitment of another kind.
3665 Sacramento St.
Cross: Spruce St.
San Francisco, CA 94118
Lunch Tue-Sat 11:30am-2:30pm
Dinner Mon-Sat 5:30pm-10pm