I've always thought reincarnation is an interesting concept. You live, you die, and you return smarter and thinner and full of snappy comebacks that are always ready right when you need them. (Or something like that; check with the Hindus for a more complete explanation.)
These days, restaurants are as eager for a second chance as anyone. In mid-January, David Gingrass and Bridget Batson, the owner-and-chef duo behind Hawthorne Lane, reopened their staid SOMA restaurant as TWO. The décor and the New American menu have both been revamped, and they're a lot more casual and more fun than they used to be. If Hawthorne Lane was a graying matron who insisted upon using china and crystal at lunch, TWO is a swinging single with a penchant for slamming tequila body shots.
The décor is part Tiki lounge, part Brady Bunch. Coconut lights hang above a massive copper and concrete bar, walls are paneled in wood, and banquettes are covered in a groovy olive and tan fabric. Mustard yellow tables come with psychedelic orange peppershakers, and the ladies' bathroom is papered in giant retro red and silver blossoms.
The first time I went for dinner, my boyfriend and I sat at a table. The second time we took friends and perched at the bar, where service was better. Per Restaurantland's New World Order, the cocktail list features housemade infusions like lemon blueberry tequila. I chose the Royal Hound ($12), a drink Anna Nicole Smith would have liked. It was pink from muddled ruby grapefruit awash in vodka, Cointreau and a splash of bubbly, and a candied grapefruit rim sparkled like diamonds.
Eighteen wines are offered by the glass, including two reds served "en vrac" (in bulk). These wines are stored in barrels that have been lined so the wine doesn't pick up unwanted flavors or aromas. Prices are a few bucks cheaper than the other options, and the Syrah/Petite Syrah/Cabernet blend was a very drinkable mixture of fruit and spice.
Servers insist the food is made for sharing, and some of it is, but there's too much cutting and reapportioning needed to split most plates. Chilled asparagus on sourdough crostini with ricotta and prosciutto ($9.50) is a case in point. A veritable jungle of greens sprouted from the gigantic toast, and cutting it in half was annoyingly messy. Though I liked the touch of lemon and the al dente asparagus spears, eating it made me feel like a cow with wild clover hanging out of my mouth.
Two that are easy to split are the crispy-fried Hama Hama oysters ($11), which arrived nestled in a bed of rock salt. The oysters were plump and hot, the dough was light (if a touch thick), and the celery root remoulade was a delightfully bright take on tartar sauce. Pizzas ($13/$14) were a runaway favorite on both visits. The crust was thin but pleasantly chewy, and both versions we tried (black olive, goat cheese, and prosciutto; duck confit, caramelized onions, and Crescenza cheese) offered an appetizing blend of toppings.
The best dish bar none was the bacon and egg raviolo with sage brown butter ($9). One oversized ravioli was filled with bacon, spinach, and an egg yolk, which was softly poached during cooking, resulting in a rich, gooey slick that spilled out when cut open. Truth be told, I wouldn't have minded more bacon for my buck, but it was still glorious.
The pork schnitzel ($18), however, was an unmitigated flop. It was greasy and so large that it looked oafish and clumsy on the plate, and the braised escarole underneath was too salty to eat.
Both veggie sides we tried were a hit. Caramelized broccoli with garlic, chili and lemon ($5) was admirably charred with well-balanced flavors. Despite suffering from a dreadfully unappetizing name, the stewed broccoli rabe ($5) tasted deliciously bitter.
Desserts were playful. Chocolate peanut butter and double chocolate mousse cupcakes ($7.50), the latter styled to resemble a Hostess creation, outperformed the mini ice cream sandwiches ($7.50) like Gwen Stefani and this year's crop of American idols. The crumb was moist and rich, and the icing hovered on the restrained side of sweet. We actually licked the wrappers clean, I am mortified to report.
Before we left we asked the bartender what the old crowd thought of the new place. "They came in once or twice when we reopened," he said, "but most of them haven't been back." You can't please all the people all the time, I guess, so you might as well suit yourself. Maybe that's a lesson Gingrass and Batson learned the first time around.
22 Hawthorne Street
Open for lunch & dinner 7 days a week