Some restaurants have pulled some serious Cher-facelift magic the past couple years, from the classic case study of Bizou into COCO500, Cozmo's into CIRCA, and now Hawthorne Lane into ~TWO~. (Sidebar: what's with the all caps on all three names? I see a trend.)
The twist is that facelifts are supposed to make you tighter, but TWO's was all about gettin' looser. Hawthorne Lane was most definitely a special occasion restaurant, a no-brainer for when your parents were in town or it was someone's 50th birthday. It was an important part of the city's culinary landscape, but as owner David Gingrass put it, "I felt like I was running my dad's restaurant."
Well, the imaginary dad has left for the retirement community--and after a magical two weeks of closure, you're now hanging out in his stoner surfer son's clubhouse. Dude. There are certainly plenty more young things hanging around the restaurant, starting with a primarily female crew of fun and funky servers. Amongst the clientele, $200 jeans are de rigueur--say buh-bye to the Armani suit. I'm curious if the hours will start running later--with so much happening in SoMa, I'm surprised at the 10pm close time. The vibe feels more late night to me.
The former large booths upholstered in climbing vines are now contemporary leather chairs and high-backed banquettes; the white tablecloths have funk-ified into tabletops the color of French's mustard; the walls sport wood paneling; and the bar is now poured concrete and copper, and twice the size. The kooky coconut light fixtures remind me of hula skirts made of leather--perhaps something else if I smoked out.
On my first visit, I was like, whoa, it's only all in the front room? The back room remains as is for now (you can take a peek if you want to see the "before" pictures) and is used for private functions. The second room should be all updated by the end of April, and the private dining rooms by June or so. The TWO side is now moodier and clubbier, with dim lighting and spunkier music. Although the sound system needs some help--there are some dead corners in the room. I wanted a touch more of a musical presence, actually. This would be the opportunity to do something really cool with the programming.
Loved the small hits of color, like the orange pepper grinder, the poppy check holder, and the punchy wallpaper in both the men's and women's bathrooms (no, I didn't sneak into the men's, but someone took a pic for me).
The menu: it's edict-long. (Like this write-up.) Executive Chef Bridget Batson and Gingrass conspired on a menu that's chock-full of comfort favorites. It's the kind of place you could bring a picky friend and they'd find plenty to eat. But, this is not the place where I'd bring a picky gourmand, because the dishes are more about approachability than perfection. But still tasty--almost like when a friend who's a really good cook is having you over for dinner. Easy eats for any night of the week, really. As a food writer friend put it, it's like "haute stoner food." So surfer son says have a toke, unwind, and ride the menu, bra'.
You'll only spend a reasonable amount--one night a friend and I fully feasted, with a cocktail, a glass of wine, and a dessert wine each, and the total was just over $100. It would be a good spot to take over the communal table with a group of friends, which is flanked by wingback chairs at each end, and an antler chandelier overhead. Oh, and the popular happy hour with $2 bar bites and drink specials parties on (Mon-Fri 4pm-6pm).
Starters include a hearts of romaine salad ($9) with a soft-boiled egg that comes a tad heavy with the lemon-anchovy dressing, but it's in that "good-overdressed" kind of way. Points to the house for splitting it on separate plates. The hot Spanish-style onion soup ($7) unfortunately overcooked the egg and made it tough, so the flavors didn't fully meld.
For the meatses partses lovers out there (holla!), there's a duo of marrowbones ($11) with crisp croutons and a spicy tomato sauce that's worthy of some pasta. I was all over the warm and supple house-made headcheese ($8) with a vinegary slaw of sweet onions and herbs to pause the music at the fatty animal party.
I tried the pizzas over a couple visits: while the black olive, goat cheese, and prosciutto ($14) left me craving more olives and some hot oil to drizzle on top (must be the Calabrese in me), the duck confit pizza with caramelized onions, Crescenza cheese and fried sage ($13) hit flavor perfection. Salty, sweet, savory, creamy: scrumptious. It only needed about one more minute in (a hotter?) oven--the dough could be a hair crisper and the cheese more blistered.
The pastas are all hearty and come in two (heh) sizes, like the unique and savory execution of spaghettini with sea urchin (!), brown garlic, parsley, and chili ($10/$18--the spendier of the bunch). The breadcrumbs tossed with the pasta could have been toastier, but I dug all the flavors--almost like a luxe version of clams and linguine. But the farfalle with cauliflower ($7/$13) had so much garlic I could have killed Lestat with one (petite) burp.
The bacon and egg raviolo ($9) is one of those dishes that is a marvel of kitchen ingenuity. It's one big raviolo, with spinach and bacon inside, plus an egg whose yolk runs out when you cut it open. Oh, and the whole thing has a massive spoonful of browned butter on top. Like, hold me. But both times the pasta around the edge wasn't very supple--but I see how it has to be hearty enough to hold it all. I can also see how you don't want to overcook the raviolo because of the egg.
Mains are hearty and incredibly affordable, from rich braised lamb cheeks ($16) with a creamy and cheesy polenta or potato garlic puree; or a pan-fried pork schnitzel ($18), or half a roasted duck on the bone ($17). Hawthorne Lane always had a way with duck, so why stop now? Only the Prime NY strip steak clocks in at $36. A few dishes don't have much in the way of sides, but there are plenty of to choose from, like caramelized broccoli ($5) and potato skins with bacon and crème fraîche ($4). Yo, Spicoli, pass the pipe. Let's party!
Desserts offer American classics like a Sprecher's root bear float, doughnut holes, and my personal fave, the banana cream pie brûlée with banana caramel ice cream (all $7.50). The mini ice-cream sandwiches were like the three bears: two had cookies that were a little doughy, while the brownie with mint version was just right, like a perfect little It's It.
Service has small missteps, like forgetting to replace silverware, or sometimes timing can feel a little brisk, but considering everything going on, it's pretty tight. Busboys are total hawk eyes--as soon as you're done, your empty plate is outta there. Fun to dine at the bar--and you get a wooden woven placemat. I almost wanted one at the table, actually. The cute oval plates are challenging to balance your knife against the edge, and while eating the complimentary warm biscuits and kicky cracker bread, there's nowhere to really put your uneaten pieces except on the serving plate, or directly on the table. Maybe bread plates will help all this.
The cocktails are a bit zany, like The First Punch ($11)--muddled cherry tomato and lime shaken with house-infused pepper-cucumber vodka and a touch (too much) of Sambuca, or cilantro and ginger martinis, or drinks with vodka AND gin in them. Lots of infused boozes. Definitely original--the kinds of drinks you will form an opinion about.
The wine list is super-approachable. The Fifty Under Fifty has some faves on there, and the wines by the glass also have some fab choices for every palate. (I ordered the juicy '05 Skylark Red Belly Syrah both times--purr. Kitties like birds! John Lancaster, the wine director of Boulevard, is behind this winner of a wine.)
And finally, a fun fact is the by-lottery "dinner in the kitchen" concept where you can join other diners and try out new dishes for $20.07. The Saturday cooking classes to are also back. I attended a lobster boil last year and had a blast. It's coming up July 14th. The lunch "TWO-go" program should also be starting around mid-April, with $12 three-course boxed lunches (with a choice of salad, sandwich, and dessert). And with that, aloha, Mister Hand.
22 Hawthorne St.
Cross: Howard St.
San Francisco, CA 94105