There are certain things one doesn’t expect to see these days, and among them are new, huge restaurants with fairly pricey menus. But that’s exactly what Social Vinings (3621 Vinings Slope Drive, Suite 4100, 770-432-9772) is.
Of course, it’s true that Paul Albrecht (of Pano’s and Paul’s fame) and his son Patrick have struggled to get Social open for a year – before the economy began its unprecedented dive toward Ramen noodles and canned soup. Social joins their other restaurant, Paul’s, as part of their Great Food Group. A third is planned next year, like Paul’s, in Peachtree Hills.
The new restaurant is located in the Vinings Main development. It is 6,500 square feet with a large bar space, a dining room replete with a sushi bar and several private dining rooms. It was open only a few days when I visited and a sign had not even been installed.
The restaurant’s website describes the décor as “a combination of old European style such as heavy wood and plaster-like textures to burgundy-colored glass and some iron work.”
Um, OK, but to me it looked like a gigantic, relatively barren hotel restaurant with more windows than the Crystal Cathedral. It’s nice that you can tuck yourself away in a comfy booth and have a conversation, but the ambiance is really chilly. Perhaps the place being virtually empty when we visited contributed to that effect.
I do not know who's actually cooking. I asked several staff members and got a considerable run-around. They said Paul Albrecht was the chef and when I expressed surprise that he was doing the actual cooking, I was told that, well, he wasn’t there right then but that Patrick was. Was Patrick cooking? They weren’t sure.
That was the only annoyance I encountered in a staff that was obviously well-trained and doing well for the opening weekend.
The food, unsurprisingly, is good and focuses on comfort-style dishes. You’ll find Albrecht’s signature batter-friend lobster tail available as a starter or combined with a steak as an entrée. The sushi bar features the usual rolls, including one made with eel that Wayne ordered as his starter. It was plenty for two and well-executed if not unusual.
My own starter was ravioli stuffed with truffle-spiked white beans in a pimento sauce with shaved Parmesan. It reminded me of a similar dish I had at Serpas a few weeks back. I liked Social’s ravioli better but I preferred Serpas’ shellfish butter as a sauce. You can conjure the usual adjectives of earth and sea, al dente and custardy.
The entrée menu is relatively brief. I was torn between osso bucco and sautéed calf’s liver with caramelized onions, bacon, apples and mashed Yukon potatoes. I asked our server, Wes, for his opinion and he directed me to the calf’s liver. I asked him what in particular he liked about it.
“Oh,” he told me, “I would choose it because it’s a rainy night and that’s the kind of thing I liked to eat when I was a kid on these kind of nights. It’s very comforting and nostalgic.”
“Good enough!” I said. I loved liver and onions when I was a kid, too.
The advice, whatever its rationale, was great. The liver was almost creamy, the bacon was completely crispy but not overcooked, the onions were thickly cut and cooked until golden, the potatoes were luscious. Honestly, I’d return just for this dish.
Wayne ordered saltimbocca, made with chicken. My usual experience with this dish is with the Roman veal version. Although I found the prosciutto-wrapped chicken tasty, I was put off by the extremely heavy use of sage. Yes, I know sage is an important component of saltimbocca, but it was over the top for me. I also found the Marsala sauce kind of weak.
The rest of the entrée items are similarly classic: grilled beef tournedos, a grilled pork chop, a crab-crusted trout filet, grilled salmon, crab cakes and steak and frites.
Desserts are also straightforward. The fried Oreos, virtually a staple on menus these days, are almost like chocolate tempura. I ordered something described as a “chocolate spasm” — a take on Rocky Road ice cream over a gooey brownie with nuts and marshmallows. It reminded me a lot of that dessert at Chili’s that Men’s Health magazine named the most calorific in America.
My first impression of Social is that it displays competence but not much sizzle. But, considering Paul Albrecht’s resume, I presume that he wasn’t looking to challenge the Vinings (i.e. suburban Buckhead) palate with unconventional cooking.
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