Social Restaurant + Wine Bar: aging like a fine wine
By Deidre Schipani Special to The Post and Courier | Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Terroir is a term used to describe the special characteristics of geography, geology and climate that result in unique qualities of taste found in food and wine. The same term can be used to describe Brad Ball, the owner of Social Restaurant + Wine Bar.
The DNA of the restaurant and hospitality industry courses through his veins. His family has owned six restaurants.
At age 12, at Poogan’s Porch, he set himself on the path that would result in Social. He earned a degree in philosophy from the College of Charleston; graduated from the French Culinary Institute in New York and apprenticed at Jean-Georges and Momofuko restaurants.
He was mentored by Olivier Sardoni during a stint as sommelier at Aquavit. He went on to earn advanced certificates and levels of certifications in the rarefied world of sommeliers. And he managed to find the time to earn an executive MBA at the Bordeaux Ecole de Management.
It is clear he has found his passion, and it translates into the wine constellations and cellar that he has curated at Social Restaurant + Wine Bar. This love child of grapes and grafts provides Ball with an opportunity to educate, inform and sustain small producers of the juice we know as wine.
This year, Social celebrates its fifth anniversary, and Ball’s wine bar is in the capable hands of Zach Smith as general manager and new executive chef Jesse Sutton. Sutton earned his culinary chops as sous chef to the talented Nate Whiting, initially at the Woodlands and more recently at Tristan.
Sutton has reinvigorated the menus. From cocktails to charcuterie, the bar to brunch, the offerings have been transformed to serve the muse of wine.
Ball is a fan of acidity in wines and any chef knows that acidity opens the taste buds and allows the full flavors of food to percolate the senses through smell and flavor.
Sutton’s pantry is global and his menu reads like the passport of a well-traveled foodie.
On the menu: salty snacks and multitextured small bites. Potato chips with blue cheese fondue ($6) or flowery jasmine rice balls ($7) in a red curry sauce. Charcuterie, bruschetta, confit and carpaccio. Pizzas ($13-$16) are made traditional with tomatoes and mozzarella or contemporary with truffle oil and goat cheese.
The tastes are small, designed for sharing and are served in random order.
We began with a Carolina “cocktail” ($11) that pretty much deconstructed a shrimp cocktail to its essential elements: gently cooked shrimp, seasoned cherry tomatoes, leaves of celery and a mild horseradish sauce. Rose was the suggested wine pairing, and we had a half glass of this classic from Provence ($4). It partnered well with the shrimp.
Next up: a pizza, the most traditional, a classic Margherita ($13). Thin crusted and topped with a smear of tomatoes, the cheese melted in a New York pizza-style as opposed to the traditional orbs that melt on this Naples favorite. The crust is soft and blistered. The basil leaves wilted under the heat and with a needed sprinkle of salt, we deemed the pizza worthy.
Sutton’s way with fish is to be commended. The local catch from Crosby’s Seafood was tilefish ($16). It was seasoned and seared with a steady hand and served with a warm fingerling potato salad, rich and herbal Picholine olives and wood-roasted scallions.
The overall menu reveals the efforts that were made to marry the food to the wine. Each item is matched with an appropriate wine flight or you can engage the expertise of your server or the floor sommelier to venture beyond.
Sutton not only attends to the fundamentals of food and wine pairing but also the plate accompaniments: chicken roulade with ratatouille ($14), flatiron steak with roasted root vegetables ($17), an herbed ricotta ravioli with peas, carrots and tender pea shoots.
The menu also offers a nicely balanced dessert menu with “sticky-icky” Ports, Madeiras and sherries.
And then there is La Bubbly, part of the portfolio of Brad Ball’s La Wine Agency that includes La Chard and La Pinot. Or if you are feeling flush, pop a Krug for $575.
The interior has not changed much over time. This modern-industrial repurposed warehouse brings the right edge to the interior that Ball and Co. bring to the wines.
A “Starved Artist Program” changes monthly and celebrates artistry across all media: print, audio, visual, craft and more.
The upper lounge has become a multipurpose space. Tables, sofas and chairs are rearranged as required.
Our server was well-informed and attentive. The last of the happy hour crowd fueled by the “La La’s” created a lively noise that could be an issue in this space of hard surfaces. There is a crush from 5-7 p.m. and late night. Be prepared for that.
Social is a tough tour of duty for a server because the guests are not dining in the order of traditional eating. Patience and attention are prerequisites.
In operating a wine bar, one could be dismissive of the food, but Ball and his staff have galvanized the kitchen to patiently create a menu that balances the dichotomies of food and wine.
Curbed has recently selected Social as one of the “10 Essential Stops in Historic Charleston.”
If it has not been on your personal GPS for a while, now is the time to drink up some culture and meander through garden, sea and pasture for Sutton’s edible harvest.