Its rare in the two years I have lived in San Francisco that I have gone to a restaurant and thought the place seemed transported from someplace else, that it was distinctly un-San Franciscan. Friday night was one of those occasions. I felt as if I had been transported to the Upper East Side, dining among old money (and older patrons), most of whom seemed to have a medical degree and a mansion in Presidio/Pacific Heights. I have not smelled so much perfume since I spent the holidays with my wifes eighty year old aunts and grandmother.
Despite the overbearing perfume, I heartily enjoyed Sociale. The room itself is small but pleasant, colorfully painted with large black and white photographs on the walls. There is a small bar with stools for walk ins and a serene outdoor patio with heat lamps. We arrived for our 6:30 reservation and the restaurant was half full. We were seated and greeted promptly, given water and bread. Sociales wine list is impressive. They highlight many Italian wines, offering a Barbera and Dolcetto by the glass. Markups are standard and corkage is a reasonable $10.
Appetizers include cheese stuffed fried olives and portabella stuffed with sausage, which was unfortunately not unavailable. We bypassed the olives and tried a Caesar salad, which was a little too creamy for my tastes. A second salad offered shaved fennel, apples, dried cherries and baby greens, topped with Gorgonzola and roasted walnuts, with a honey vinaigrette. The flavors came together nicely, with the strong Gorgonzola complementing the sweetness of the apples and walnuts.
While the salads were mixed, the entrees were better. First off was a saffron risotto with prawns. The dish was very creamy, and a little light on the prawns but the saffron flavor was just right, offering more than a hint without being overbearing. The other entrée was a lamb loin seared and sliced, served over potato strata and root vegetables. This was the ultimate comfort food. The lamb was cooked to perfection (medium rare) and extremely tender. The potato strata was awesome, filled with cheese (and probably butter) without feeling too heavy. Other entrees included pasta with a seared duck breast in a lemon cream sauce and pork loin with balsamic sauce.
Deserts were mixed. We tried a cannoli, which I did not like at all. The tube lacked flavor and the filling did not excite me. To be fair, I am not a cannoli fan. However, the other desert, in individual warm chocolate cake with molten chocolate inside served with vanilla gelato, raspberry and caramel sauce was fantastic. The chocolate flavor was rich and deep and the gelato tasted fresh and homemade.
Service was warm and professional if a bit stretched. As the night drew on and the restaurant became more crowded it became a bit harder to find our waitress. Also, I think the busboy took my dessert order. In addition, the room was quite noisy by the time we left (around 8:30).
As it got later, the clientele seemed to change from older with money to younger with money, but still never attained a San Francisco feel. Then again, maybe this was a typical San Francisco crowd and I just dont go out in the Marina/Cow Hollow enough to notice. Whichever, it still reminded me of New York which is not a bad thing, just odd.
As we exited the crowded restaurant and stepped out onto the hushed patio warmed by heat lamps I realized I would definitely return to Sociale. Perhaps next time I will choose the relaxed atmosphere of the patio over the more frantic inside. Regardless of where you sit, the food at Sociale is worth trying and is a relative bargain. Dinner for two with three glasses of wine came to $91 before the tip, which is quite a deal.