Chef Tom Herndon – Sociale, Part Deux

My second visit in a month. First 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 post), and had the pleasure to dine with folks I’ve dined with numerous times, as well as two newbies.

Once again, Sociale did not disappoint. I called ahead to request a seat on their patio under the heat lamps. We were given a lovely table for six surrounded by trees strung with tiny bee-lights. So romantic. The heat lamps were so close the table started to feel like we’re about to dine in a sauna, but our servers were happy to scoot them back. Ok, this is the secret I don’t want to get out, because the place might get overrun, but this might be the only restaurant in town that does not play music. It’s quiet. It’s actually quiet. You can talk to each other without yelling. Finally, someone is paying attention. Pushes this little neighborhood gem to the top of my list of favorites. Lovely setting, quiet atmosphere, attentive and friendly services, AND the food is outstanding. Ticks ALL of the boxes.

I ordered the same wine I had the first time because it was so good (I ended up buying four bottles over the next couple of weeks); their 2013 Barberra d’Alba from Renzo Seghesio. This time three of us split a bottle. ‘Twas yummy as before.

I had read about one of their more outstanding starters: Pork Belly with harissa, crispy chick peas, horseradish aioli and cilantro. Two of us ordered it. Tender braised pork belly, a nice bite from the harissa and the horseradish and the welcome crunch of crispy chickpeas. A delectable start to a warm, personable, fun evening. The pork was from their weekly in-house processing of a whole pig by the chef. So good.

My main was Cianghale Ragu with cavelo nero, pecorino and onion over a unique cut of house-made pasta called maltagliati (malta-liatay). The term maltagliati translates to “poorly cut” referring to oddly shaped scraps from the pasta making process. Better pasta shops in Italy sell maltagliati as a by-product and the incongruous shapes are perfect for picking up sauce, like my savory wild boar.

As I said, in this little jewel of a place, the food is outstanding. The service is excellent. Friendly, attentive and unafraid to tell a bit of story along the way. The company, though, was particularly good this evening. We had lively but warm conversations with folks who knew how to listen well.

The wine was flowing nicely and we laughed. A lot. At some wild personal stories, and at some under-the-breath comments that were made around the table about the romantic couple sharing an intimate dinner across the patio from us. He arrived late and brought her a long-stemmed rose. They sat on the same side of the table. There was much canoodling going on (younger readers will have to look that word up). At one point later in our dinner I started improvising a bit of a racy voiceover, describing the affectionate advances of the gentleman, the lady and then the waiter. Got the table giggling. It was so much fun.

Wonderful meal, wonderful company. What more can you ask.

On That Note

I thought I had made up my own music genre. I did. I was calling it world lounge music. Having grown a bit long in the tooth, the soothing, gentle rhythms of lounge better suits my mood these days. Granted, I had a long, loving relationship with the frantic, manic, clever, funny, punk, three-chord, crazy-as-fuck sounds that pushed the collective envelope, back in the day. These days, though, my nerves need something of a gentler nature; something soothing. In Northern California-speak one might say my aura is in need of fluffing. So lounge, or chill-out, is the perfect tempo. One of my very favorite genres of music is world music. Indigenous, authentic, soulful. Put those two together, world music and lounge, and it’s the perfect blend.

Maybe I was a Bedouin in one of my past lives. I’ve been in love with the rhythms of Arabic music for forever. Soul-stirring, raw, primal. I also love flamenco and good American blues for pretty much the same reasons. They reach into my heart, tweak my emotions and get my humanity to move. Soul music, plain and simple.

About three decades ago I discovered a music style called raï. The Iranian owner of the coffee house where I used to work would play this amazing music that was like listening to house music interwoven with Arabic licks and rhythms.

Raï originated in Oran, Algeria, in the 1920s as a combination of popular music and traditional Bedouin desert music. It was the music of the poor. It was rebellious. It crossed gender, religious, and social boundaries. It interrupted.  Raï evolved and adapted over time and today is a heady mix of classic Arabic licks and percussion, incorporating rock, and replacing traditional instruments with modern ones.

You can get a sense of the fusion here with one of the pioneers of raï, Cheb Khaled. Back in 1992 his mega-hit “Didi” took the clubs of Paris and North Africa by storm:

…and here (more in the spirit of the raï I prefer) in an updated cover of Didi, by Adel Wayna K:

I love most indigenous music and in particular Arabic and more specifically North African. As my tastes have evolved, the slower, more easygoing rhythms have become more and more satisfying. I’ve found bands like Beats Antique and Thievery Corporation. Slower still are Tekiu and YouRRelax.

Needless to say, I came to find out world lounge or world chill-out is already a thing. Who knew. I now have a station on Pandora in my car I call Buddha Lounge. Perfect for my morning commute. The music is meditative, even spiritual, and makes me feel connected to the ancient world. When I am confused, or anxious, or feeling my piece of the collective stress of our current crazy-ass zeitgeist, I’ll punch the Buddha Lounge music button and a slow, hypnotic voice will begin a quarter-tone, melismatic introduction before launching into a soul-catching dumbek percussion. I am transported. In my heart I go on travels to exotic lands, to share stories and smoke shisha with the locals.

From the Foodiverse: Nommery

The name Nommery comes from current slang for the joy of eating: Nom! Nom! Nom!  The company provides a wonderful online format for exploring restaurants around the city, meeting new and interesting people, often with like minds, and sharing a good meal together. They’ve been doing this for more than four years now. Over that time I have done more than forty Nommery dinners, hosting most of them myself. I love seeing familiar faces again, and meeting folks for the first time.

Just like many online services, part of registering as a user for Nommery is creating your own profile. You can submit a photo, give people some info about your current work situation, state what you might be interested in talking about over dinner and tell a story about how you came to be where you are. The algorithm they have created helps to curate tables so that you would be joined by people that share the same passions.

I am a VIP with Nommery, which means I can choose a restaurant and call for a table of four or six people. The website posts the restaurant, the date and time, and will let you know when the table has been sold out. You can always go onto the waitlist. Once the evening arrives, you show up, take a seat and meet a diversity of people from all over the Bay Area who also signed up. Each person orders their dinner, plates are often shared, conversations ensue and more often than not a truly enjoyable dining experience is had by all. Often there are the added bonuses of doing business with folks (one woman hired me to do a Team Building Cooking Class for her team at work), or doing something social (another woman joined my Supper Club and it’s now going on a year that she’s been participating).

Everyone shares stories about their experiences in life. I love the vicarious travel I get to do when meeting someone from Lancashire or Sydney or Mumbai. I love finding out what people are into like creating mobile marketing campaigns for British customers, or supplying local fashion retailers with hard-to-find mannequins, or going on archeological digs in the wilds of Ireland.

The City By The Bay

If you live in the Bay Area, or come here to visit, please consider doing a Nommery dinner. At the very least you’ll be sitting at table with a group of food enthusiasts. That in itself is a good thing. But you may very well meet someone and strike up a life-long friendship.

=CTH=

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 www.hippkitchen.com

One Response to “Chef Tom Herndon – Sociale, Part Deux”

  1. Peter Montreuil Says:

    Well done!

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