How now, Town Hall?

Posted by Anita on 09.10.05 10:12 AM

Another unfortunate instance of a Top 50 restaurant that isn’t even close to hitting the mark: Town Hall.

Our server was nowhere to be found for the first 15 minutes we were seated. We weren’t even offered water or drinks. When he finally did appear, he brought the cocktail list (oh, so they do have one! why wasn’t it left with the menus?) that listed some pretty bizarre combinations, including a gin-based drink called The Big Easy — um, gin? New Orleans? — and a margarita-like tequila concotion made with cointreau, lime juice, and Falernum. They all sounded so poorly conceived that we stuck with wines by the glass.

My starter was Smithfield ham and cheese toast with jalapeno cream…. which really tasted like something you’d get at TGI Friday’s. It was positively sodden with pepper-infused bechamel (interesting but about 10 times the amount needed) and sprinkled with cold, flabby rings of jalapenos that had been breaded in the style of fried green tomatoes. Cameron’s appetizer, billed as “barbeque shrimp” was also served on toast, also with a drenching of sauce. He definitely got the worse end of the deal: his pool of brown sauce tasted of nothing except salt and worcestershire. Ew.

My main was a peanut-and-tasso-crusted Niman Ranch pork chop. The chop itself was brined to within an inch of its life… it was overcooked but still eerily moist…. spongy, salty, blech. The elements of the crust were so large that they fell off as soon as I cut into the chop. The accompanying mashed potatoes were good, but such a small serving that I literally had to lift up the pork chop to see if they’d been forgotten.

Cameron had a a trio of rabbit: hilariously tiny frenched rack of ribs, roulade of breast with unidentifiable stuffing, and another roulade of leg wrapped in bacon. What was billed as mustard spaetzle were scattered across the top as garnish. The vegetable was lightly-mashed peas and a celeriac puree. All of the meat was completely unsalted and basically tasteless, and the breast roulade was utterly overcooked and dry. Needless to say, neither of us ate much of our mains aside from the vegetables.

Since we were still hungry at this point, we split a butterscotch-chocolate pot de creme, garnished with buttercrunch. Sadly, this as the highlight of our meal, and it wasn’t even good. The “pot” was actually a two-layered cereal-size bowl of pudding (nothing creme-y about it) and the top layer tasted exactly like butterscotch pudding from a box.

Service never improved from the early missteps: Plates were dropped off uncerimoniously — it might have been nice to have an explanation of what the trio of rabbit included, for example — and we got the distinct impression that our server would have rather been somewhere else for the evening. At least we had that in common.

The high-ceilinged space is decorated in an eclectic vein that feels historic without degenerating into old-timey kitsch. The light fixtures in particular — including a Rube Goldberg-esque chandelier over the bar — are particularly striking. The entry area was jammed with people waiting for tables and having drinks at the ill-placed bar, but the restaurant tables were only a little bit crowded. On the downside, the lack of booths and window coverings combined with brick walls makes for a very loud space with unforgiving acoustics — there’s no prayer of ignoring the coversations of the people on either side of you. Still, it managed to feel warm and urban and inviting… I only wish the food had been the equal of the space.

Town Hall
342 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
415.908.3900

downtown SF, restaurants
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