Tom Herndon – Chef Tom -Sociale: a Hidden Gem

I’ve been living in San Francisco for over four decades. In the last decade and a half the food scene here has turned The City into a Worldwide Culinary Destination. For every Michelin starred place there are a couple of dozen non-tweezer-palace’s that serve really excellent fare from nearly every region on the planet.

Some of these smaller mom-n-pop’s build their menu around a single food item, like grilled cheese, or a cooking technique, like shabu shabu.  Some specialize in recipes from a particular location, like Calabria or Georgia or Burma. Some marry a couple of styles, like Sociale, with recipes and cooking methods from Northern Italy while taking advantage of the abundant ingredients from California.

Even though Sociale has been in The City for over seventeen years, I had never eaten there. The neighborhood’s a bit posh, but I was to meet a good friend at the local theater and decided to treat myself. As a chef and an avid foodie, this was one of the most soul-satisfying meals I’ve had a quite a while.

The restaurant is located at the end of a small alley off the main street. I walked between the buildings and rounded a corner to find a beautiful little outdoor patio surround by trees and plants, strung with tiny white lights. To the left behind wood-framed windows I could see into a lovely, well-appointed dining room with tables and antiques. Straight ahead was the hostess station and another dining area. I wanted to sit outside under a warm lamp in the glow of the Christmas lights, so I was shown to a small deuce next to the landscaped garden with a nice view of the entire patio.

By this time I’m loving this place. Exactly the kind of hidden gem experience I crave when I want to do something special.  I hoped the food would match the aesthetics.

My server was warm, funny and personable. I felt the need to “come out” as a chef early on so he’d know he was talking to someone in the profession. That opened the flood gates and he started talking about technique and ingredients and the fact that the chef butchers a pig on a weekly basis. More detail than I would think most customers get. I was in foodie heaven.

I told him of leading a food tour called Ten Days to Tuscany (I know, brag brag) and that the one dish I ate most often was papardelle with some kind of ragout; wild boar, pork, beef, I tried them all. On the menu they had a braised duck ragout over papardelle so my choice was made. He said it was one of the dishes the chef is famous for and that it was an excellent choice. He seemed sincere. I didn’t care. So far the evening was hitting all the right notes.

A few minutes later the sommelier came over and said, “Good evening, Chef.”  Loved that. He asked what kind of wine I would prefer with my Braised Duck. I said I like big reds, something with personality. He recommended a 2013 Barberra d’Alba from Renzo Seghesio. I saw a Super Tuscan on the list (I’ve had some pretty memorable ones before) and he offered a taste of both to compare (did I mention that I really liked this place). The Barberra won, hands down.

I came early and enjoyed the patio all by myself, for at least the first half hour. I took a minute to drink in the atmosphere. In the space over my head, between the patio arbor cover and the main building, I could see the moon glowing through fog that misted around the cypress tree tops. Feeling warm under the heat lamp, protected from the cool of the fog, a globe of swirling red in my hand, this was most definitely a San Francisco moment.

My server set a wide, shallow bowl in front of me holding a tall swirl of house-made papardelle laced in a sumptuous crème of porcini, peas, truffle, and tender duck. He offered a grating of aged parm to which I said, “By all means.”

Simple, elegant, toothsome, rich, and in perfect harmony with the wine.

I didn’t have time for dessert and coffee, but I will be returning with a table of foodie friends in two weeks. This time I want to try their popular appetizer of pork belly, house-made Harissa, crispy chick peas and horseradish aioli, and finish with a sweet that’s created quite the buzz: Chocolate Oblivion Cake, drizzled with olive oil and dusted with sea salt.

I don’t have the recipe, but I do have this. One of my favorite online vendors for most excellent charcuterie is D’Artagnan. Here is a recipe for Duck Ragout with Porcini. This would work very well over papardelle.

On That Note

This NYC subway band caught my eye – and my ear – about a year ago. I am addicted. They have dozens of videos and a new CD out, but this one is my favorite. The lead sax player is a guy named Leo Pellegrino (just follow the threads). His smaller band (two, sometimes three) is called Too Many Zoo’s. Love watching his raw quirkiness as he pounds out one compelling toe-tapper after another.

His bigger band with an interchange of up to six members, is called Lucky Chops. These guys are completely hot! Their medley of Funky Town and I Feel Good just drives me crazy. They also do a sexy version of Stand By Me.  In this vid I love the big guy back behind the bars. He watches, then leaves for a few seconds, then comes back and begins to dance. Leo and his counterpoint Tuba player do this wild thing with their feet. Hilarious. Completely manic. This is my favorite ear worm of all tim

From the Foodiverse

Thrillist is one of my favorite foodie sites online. Their style is fast, funny and hip and they’re always on top of the latest and greatest happenings the foodiverse. If you consider yourself a food enthusiast, you probably already know about them.

They just started this little segment called Operation Five Buck Lunch where they send a young guy named Prez out into New York City to find something yummy to eat – for five bucks. He’s done about a dozen already and he’s so fun to watch. I love the format of the segment.

This one will give you a taste:

Tom Herndon, aka Chef Tom

Hipp Kitchen
236 West Portal, Ste. 505
SF, CA 94127



Chef Tom is currently Resident Chef for a small tech firm in San Francisco. He also teaches cooking classes, caters small parties and leads overseas culinary tours. His specialty for the last twelve years has been cooking for people with food allergies and sensitivities. His motto is “Food should give you pleasure, not pressure.”

Check him out at

8 Responses to “Tom Herndon – Chef Tom -Sociale: a Hidden Gem”

  1. very cool, thanks! So this pappardelle .. it’s a bit like a broad egg noodle? Looking at a pic on google, that would be what it reminds me of ….
    Welcome Aboard!

    • Yes, but because it’s the heavier style of good durum pasta, it’s more toothsome than an egg noodle. Usually 1/2 inch wide, so wider than fettuccine but not as wide as lasagna

  2. Peter Montreuil Says:

    What an excellent column! Welcome aboard.

  3. Yummy….the restaurant sounds delightful. Love the dancing guy in the rear. It’s wonderful to see people enjoying and feeling the music. Welcome to the “writing crew”…..

  4. […] was solo and one of the most soul-satisfying dinners I’ve had in a while (you can read about it here). This second time I hosted a table through Nommery, a dining-out-with-new-friends company (see […]

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