342 Howard St.
Cross: Fremont St.
San Francisco, CA 94105
Dinner Sun-Thu 5:30pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 5:30pm-11pm
15, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO
This SF hotspot is coming up on three years in business, and it's
still roaring like a popular newcomer on the scene. Some of my favorite
mid-level restaurants execute a continuity of concept in almost
every detail, a quality that is more common at higher-end restaurants;
it's something I acutely feel at Range, and Quince, and most
definitely at ~TOWN HALL~. Everything feels considered,
from the embossed menu upon your arrival to the check arriving in
a book at the end of your meal.
space has a rich Arts and Crafts-meets-East Coast vibe, with classic
wainscoting, dark-stained wood floors, exposed brick walls, and
wood tables that forgo the white tablecloth (or even butcher paper)
treatment. Town Hall, true to its name, feels historic and classic
in a way very few restaurants in San Francisco do. It's a narrow
shotgun space instead of a large square room—the stunning
vintage light fixtures (salvaged from an old Spanish Harlem movie
theater and later restored) run the length of the room and cast
a flattering glow.
note: as soon as you walk in, you'll notice the buzz. Like I said
above, it roars. The place is definitely alive. But you can totally
hear your dining partner at the table—it's just not exactly
an atmosphere I'd call romantic. Unless getting sloshed on potent
cocktails and speaking at a higher volume and stuffing yourself
on hearty dishes with jalapeño cream dribbling down your
chin is your idea of a romantic time, which it very well might be.
I say it's better for group dinners, double dates, friends out on
the town, business dining, and certainly ladies night out. It's
also a great place for folks visiting the City—I think it
offers an authentic taste of urban SF.
miss a cocktail at the bar. If you have to wait a few minutes for
your table, you'll almost say thanks. They make one of my
favorite Sazeracs in the City, if not the best. Yeah, it'll
put you back some bills ($13) but it's made with 18-year-old
Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey that will literally wet your whistle;
most of the other cocktails are actually around $9—leave it
to me to love the expensive one. For the record, if you're
having dinner here, you better not be on a tight boo-jay because
the bill won't be much fun, whether its presented in a vintage
book or not. You can always share apps and dessert, but just in
case you think the prices are like NOPA's,
Mitchell and Steven Rosenthal originally hail from Postrio. (Now
it's only Mitchell holding it down at Postrio, after twelve
years of the brothers working there together.) Although the cuisine
at Town Hall is certainly much more down-home and comfort-oriented,
it exhibits an elegance and confidence that showcases their training
and deep food knowledge. The menu at Town Hall changes often, so
don't get your heart too set on something because you might
not see it again. (I still pine for the rabbit three ways, with
one of those executions sporting a coffee rub.)
are a few signatures that hold it down, like the appetizer of Faith's
Cheese Toast ($12.50), an irresistible combination of Smithfield
ham and a poached egg perched on a thick slice of buttery cheese
toast, topped with a dousing of jalapeño cream and little
crispy bits of cornmeal-crusted okra. No, you can't order an angioplasty
on the side. But you can take your pick of fantastic whites by the
glass (there are, like, nine) and celebrate this new American version
of a croque madame.
had a few readers and friends comment that the food at Town Hall
feels too heavy or rich to them. Well, if you order dishes like
the wicked cheese toast, why yes, that statement is partly true.
And there is a Southern and New Orleans slant to their cooking,
which can give birth to appearances of ingredients like crab butter,
or hello, gingersnap gravy. But then again, you need dishes like
this to exist in this world, and especially for difficult moments
in our lives like break-ups, lay-offs, and not scoring the last
pair of gold lame Louboutins at the Neiman Marcus "Last Call"
sale. Or perhaps you just need a good night out on the town with
some soul-satisfying eats. I strongly encourage regular indulgence—but
that's not too surprising, is it.
those craving something more on the "refreshing" spectrum,
a recent addition is the seafood ceviche ($14.50), a generous portion
of calamari, shrimp, and scallops with avocado, melon, cucumber,
lime, cilantro, and mint—a punchy jumble of sweet, heat, and
the app that really bowled me over was the platter of sweet and
perfectly ripe heirloom melon ($12.50), with thin slices of Smithfield
ham (clever American option to prosciutto, very clever), little
dollops of goat cheese, and, are you ready? You sure? Okay: a drizzle
of truffle honey. (You can find this little minx of a honey at sabatinotartufi.com.)
Now, I am quite fatigued with the cheap thrills of truffle all over
most menus in town—truffle oil is like a little hooker who
somehow keeps appearing, leaving her corner for every corner restaurant
instead. Come wintertime, it's completely unavoidable—you'll
see truffle with her little rabbit fur coat and bright lipstick
sitting in every freaking restaurant, sneaking into salads and soups
and pasta and meat and fries and even mac 'n' cheese.
But this combo with the truffle honey had me change my tune. A whole
different kid of "lady." You go girl.
while most mains hover around $25, unlike some places in town, you'll
definitely get more than your money's worth. The portions
are hearty, the flavors are big and gutsy, and you'll have
a hard time deciding, seriously; on a recent visit, there were no
less than ten entrées to choose from. But decide I did. A
juicy Wolfe Ranch quail ($24.50) came with a scrumptious crust (was
that pimentón I detected?), resting on a coarse potato and
corn hash (plus scallions and mushrooms), with a pleasingly salty
jus from the chunks and ribbons of ham hock. The side of carrot
puree was sweet and helped counterbalance the saltiness—once
you take a few bites of everything, you realize how the whole combination
on the plate is designed to fit together. Your mouth says thanks,
peanut and Tasso-crusted Niman Ranch pork chop ($24.50) had that
delightful porky flavor that can sometimes prove elusive. Perfectly
cooked, with a nicely pink interior. (I believe it's another
signature dish—I certainly remember it from past visits.)
me a menu in SF that has Tasso on it. (Anyone?) The side of sweet
white corn was the essence of summer. Good luck finishing that chop,
seriously—it's a beast.
chicken fans should definitely try the buttermilk fried chicken
($19.50), which is quite the deal on the menu. You get a pile of
some of the juiciest fried chicken I've tasted, with a flaky, blistered,
and bubbly skin. There's a kitchen secret behind its juice and slight
kick you'll detect… it's chicken mastery. A side of white
corn made another appearance, this time with cherry tomatoes, along
with a side of biscuits and gravy. The biscuits weren't exactly
the flakiest—they fell a bit more on the doughier side in
my opinion. Now that we're on bread, some folks can't resist a side
of the warm jalapeño cornbread ($5) and I am with them. In
fact, the entire list of sides is hard to resist.
San Franciscans have eaten at Town Hall by now, some numerous times.
So the double-decker butterscotch and chocolate pot de crème
($8) is not really news, per se, but it sure is hard to pass up.
And, fortunately, it's one heck of a portion since everyone at your
table is going to want at least one bite, but probably two.
is also a secret recipe hot chocolate for dessert, "San Francisco's
Best Cup of Hot Chocolate," ($8) which has a variety of different
kinds of premium chocolate in it, and some cocoa, and coffee. What
boyfriend you were crying over? Exactly. Meet your new and rather
hulking lover, Mister Warm Bowl of Rich Chocolate. There will probably
be some other seasonally inspired numbers on the list, like apricot
Melba pound cake—and yes, they very well might make you fat.
Viva desserts. Eat up.
because I care about you, I'll give you a little pointer.
After a couple cocktails or a bottle of wine off their engaging
list (it's seriously a fun one to navigate, and you'll
be pleased at the nice array of bottles, many hovering in the thirties),
you might wonder where the heck is the restroom? You'll need
to head all the way back into the front room, where the communal
table is (which is great for just dropping in to dine, by the way)
and look for a simple door (NOT the one to outside, silly). You'll
climb up a flight of stairs or two (follow the signs) and voila,
the facilities. Now you can look like you knew what you were doing
the whole time. While you're up there, you might want to take
a peek at their private dining room, which is great for any big
shebangs you need to host. The artwork is pretty hot too.
Hall is a friendly place, from the attractive and attentive servers,
to the swift and talented bartenders to the quintessential front-of-house
man, Doug Washington, who will always look out for you, and it's
not just because he's one of the owners. It's always
a good time there, so eat, drink, and be merry. There's also
a little patio for lunches alfresco or for warm evenings (it's
heated). Sit tight for the opening of their upcoming venture, the
Salt House, hopefully opening mid-September at 545 Mission St.