Listen: dining is human culture at its best.
We are the only animals that share meals as a form of social exchange. This is not normal. Even your friendliest golden lab will let you know how short the chain back to feral survival is once you start reaching into the chow zone. In a world where every animal but us only eats what it can, we are so blessed to eat what we want.
And if that weren't enough, we eat in restaurants, dressed up.
Last post I mentioned SuperLuckyKitty, my first great dinner partner. Since then I've been fortunate to have many others. People who thoroughly enjoy the whole experience, people who order with abandon, people who aren't afraid to stick their fork in someone else's plate, people who fear no credit card bill. Two weeks ago I found a new one. Her name is Penney.
And boy did she choose a great restaurant.
Sociale (pronounced So-challey) is a true Italian Trattoria. Lots of places use the word in their title and description but few ever capture the true meaning: the service is casual, the prices low, and the emphasis is on a steady clientele rather than on haute cuisine. It is tucked away in the middle of a city block in Pacific Heights. Half the restaurant is indoors and the other half on a beautiful small patio surrounded by nice flowering trees. All together, the place might sit 60 at the most.
Eating al fresco is SF is always a crap shoot. While the rest of California was enduring the first days of its recent heat wave, we were treated to warm days in the '80s and a string of nights without fog, but a nice on shore breeze. Penney and I started out with half glasses (yet still a healthy pour) of 2004 Verdicchio di Matelica La Monacesca. A white wine not quite like one's we're mostly familiar with. Kind of like a brighter, fruitier Pinot Grigio maybe. When I asked the waitress to recommend a wine, she chose this one- and it was the cheapest of the glasses available. Gotta love that.
For starters Penney had the friend Fontina cheese stuffed breaded olives on a bed of greens and I had the baked Ricotta with Black Mission Figs and unfiltered honey. Both tasted really good and were surprisingly large portions for the Bay Area. We watched as other plates went by, tempting but too large for just a deuce. Going back with a six pack of friends and just ordering everything is definitely something I'd consider next time out.
For main plates she had the Pappardelle with braised duck, procini mushrooms and peas. It was so damned good. I thought it might be too heavy for a summer dinner, but I was wrong. That plate went back cleaned. I had the brick chicken with white balsamic marinated peppers. Boring? Unadventurous? Probably. But, hear me out: I was already so impressed with the place that I knew I'd be coming back. So, I got to indulge in my Can you cook a chicken? snobbery test. I think that a lot of chefs and cooks want to put their best into the fanciest dish they were inspired to create- but all of my favorite cooks have given that same love to the humble chicken. I was not disappointed, it was great.
With dinner I'd brought wine:
1999 Casisano Colombaio Brunello di Montalcino $24
90 points Wine Spectator: "Very pure aromas of crushed fruits and green tobacco. Full-bodied and chewy, with very good tannins and a long finish. Needs bottle age to open. Best after 2005."
The wine had softened, I guess, it was not chewy. Instead, I found it light and fruity enough to compliment our meal. Shame it's sold out, should have bought more when I had the chance.
For dessert we shared the cherry mascarpone gallette. A lovely rustic dessert that I enjoyed because, well, I'm a cherry whore. Cherries are my favorite fruit. For two months now I've burdened my staff with pitting Bings, Brooks, and Morellos to the point we've broken two pitters.
Of course, all of this would have been just a fine experience by itself, but Penney proved herself a consummate dining companion. Not everyone would have given up more than just one of those fried olives. Tomorrow we are having dinner at Chez Panisse.
Go in Peace