: views from the Hill

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

[FOOD] Town Hall

Town Hall
342 Howard Street (at Fremont -- south of Market)
San Francisco, CA 94105

Lunch weekdays. Dinner nightly.

Make a reservation. Trust me on this. If all else fails, and you show up without a reservation, you may find a spot at the communal dining table out front, but don't count on it.

We'd first snacked at Town Hall at the beginning of May, and really liked the noshes that Baseline fed us in the upstairs room. Afterwards, when we went downstairs and asked how long a wait for a table might be, we were told an hour to an hour and a half, so we walked over to One Market for dinner that night.

I'd always intended to go back, but between this and that and Aqua and Rubicon, we just hadn't returned.

Last Friday, the older younger guy and his spouse were visiting and we walked down to Belden Place for dinner, knowing we'd find a place for four without a reservation. We did, at B44, a Catalan restaurant we'd been to before which has wonderful paellas.

The guys went home on Saturday, and we were at loose ends, deciding where to eat Saturday night. "Town Hall," I suggested. His nibs called for a reservation around eight and we nabbed one for 10PM. The walk to and fro was forty minutes each way. We arrived at 10P and were seated immediately. The place was hopping and we felt kind of smug because people who'd shown up without reservations were being slightly bitchy to the room host after they were told how long a wait it would be for a table.

The meal was everything I'd hoped it would be. Service was smooth without being hovering. Water glasses filled. Wine poured.

Town Hall serves what they call "New American" cuisine. Think the old stand-bys cooked in a new way. The chefs (Mitchell and Steven Rosenthal) also run Postrio at 545 Post St, off Union Square.

His nibs chose the CL Pinot Noir from Sonoma for the meal. I started with tuna tartare and was served a healthy portion of delicious fresh fish with a spicy sauce to the side and a scattering of sprouts -- spicy sprouts, radish maybe?

His nibs opted for the cornmeal crusted fried oysters served on a salad of baby spinach with a creamy Herbsaint bacon dressing. (Herbsaint is a New Orleans liqueur, an absinthe substitute, I've been told.) We swapped plates halfway through. Both dishes were remarkable.

I had a hard time deciding on a main dish (scallops, no ... duck, no ... ribeye, no...) and finally opted for scallops, served over jambalaya made with andouille sausage. The dish came with three large, tasty, broiled scallops. The jambalaya was rich, thick and loaded with spicy sausage. Because of the season, there was a healthy amount of fresh cracked crab meat scattered along the edges of the jambalaya. I took one scallop and a third of the jambalaya home for breakfast the next day.

His nibs chose the peanut and tasso crusted pork chop, which he found delicious. The chop came with a mashed veg, potato? something else? Whatever it was was very tasty and had been mashed, it seemed, with heavy whipping cream and butter. Delish. His nibs cleaned his plate. During the walk home and for the first half of Sunday, he kept wishing he'd taken just a little bit of his dish home as well.

The dishes are hearty, filling and rich. Be warned.

For dessert I chose a half chocolate-half butterscotch pot de creme with a buttercrunch layer. Delicious. Comfort food. His nibs, filled with pork chop, didn't order any dessert so he could help me finish off mine. I couldn't have finished it on my own.

Town Hall is a remodeled old warehouse building. Some of the walls are exposed brick and although the ceilings are high, the noise reverberates. If you have more than two people dining together, carrying on a conversation might be difficult. We had problems with just the two of us.

Staff dances in and out and between diners, delivering food and clearing tables. The logistics for delivering food and retrieving plates were not the easiest. I watched as waiters stepped nimbly around people standing in their way and was amazed that no one dropped a dish on someone.

The bill arrives inside an old book, like a bookmark. The table next to us got Plays of Near and Far by Lord Dunsany. We received our bill in The Culture of Courage by Frank Channing Haddock. Hm. I just checked. The complete title is The Culture of Courage -- A Practical Companion Book for Unfoldment of Fearless Personality The delivery method was a clever touch that appealed to a book hugger like me. note: You have to give the book back.

Town Hall is on my "return when you're feeling like New American comfort cuisine" list. Definitely a repeatable experience.

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