Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Sociale & Cafe Press Reviewed by Crains and Chicago Reader

Deep-fried olives and wood-fired flatbread (via Chicago Reader)
We've had a chance to get carry-out from Cafe Press, but still haven't made it over to Sociale at the SW corner of Polk and Clark.

The Chicago Reader review had some initial doubts but seems pretty positive by the end:
I almost passed on Sociale. Why? It has no website. It has a Facebook page on which a barely readable photo of its menu was posted a full month after the restaurant opened. It has that ubiquitous vaguely urban upscale-sexy-nighttime-barstaurant vibe that really does it for the ladies of the SLoop. And for their dudes? Flat-screens, of course. There's that ridiculous lisping name in a wispy font typically reserved strictly for nail salons. It's got that something-for-everyone approach—coffee shop, bakery, cafe, tapas bar, brunch spot, with smoothies, craft cocktails, and a wood-fired oven—that indicates it's probably not good at any one of them. Cosmetically, it's as if it doesn't want to be noticed. 
But it also has at its helm John McLean, the Levy Restaurants vet who opened two competent but unremarkable restaurants near the unnavigable North/Halsted/Clybourn clusterfuck: Burger Bar and Sono Wood Fired. And, well, Spanish is the new pizza these last few years, so why not? For that McLean tapped a relatively unknown veteran of Mercat a la Planxa as his chef de cuisine: Mark Sabbe, a former sous chef who should be noticed. 
Turns out the food at Sociale is far more than the sum of its cosmetic parts. Sabbe's menu, dominated by hot and cold truly shareable small plates, is augmented by five small pizzas and five large entrees. While not purely a tapas bar in the way of Wicker Park's Bom Bolla, for example, Sociale has accommodations for big eaters that don't get in the way. In fact, there are some outstanding big plates for those who want to commit to something more substantial than just a drink and a snack.

The review goes on to give highlights and low lights and is worth a read if you're interested in the newish spot.

Inside Sociale (via Crains)
The Crain's review is also positive (however only gives it 1.5 stars) and says it screams "internationalism":
Sociale, an airy space with a see-and-be-seen bar area, well-spaced tables, a serious wine program and a menu that doesn't always stick to conventional routes, has an aura of cool internationalism. More edgy than cozy, decor-wise, it was masterminded by business partners John McLean and Martin Murch of Chicago-based Good Eats Group (Burger Bar, Sono Wood Fired), who were inspired to create it by extensive travels abroad.  
Opened for dinner in September and serving lunch since late October, the 120-seat restaurant is a good choice for a midday meal with pals who live and/or work in the neighborhood. If smoking were still allowed in restaurants, it would be easy to imagine a lot of dawdling afternooners nursing a postprandial espresso and a Gitane here. Office? What office?  
Luckily, the smoke is gone (even from the center-stage wood-burning oven, which is well-ventilated), and lunch service is quick enough for anyone on a tight schedule. The global menu consists mostly of tapas-like hot and cold small plates, sandwiches and flatbreads. The cuisine skews Mediterranean, but, like many culinary descriptors, this one is hospitably broad.  
Among small plates, brandade fritters ($6 for two) stand out for their unusual presentation—the salt cod mixture is formed into croquettes and then deep-fried, presented with pistou alongside. We like brandade but think a little goes a long way; this portion size is perfect as a first course.

Seems worth a try - we hope to get there soon!  Has anyone been?  Care to share your take?

(Hat tip: EH, TB!)

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