This is one of those places that feels like a big hug when you walk in. Everyone, from the hostess, to the wait staff, to the guy who fills your water glass, is professional, gracious, and welcoming without being stuffy or pretentious. This is exactly the kind of experience I want when dining out.
Three of us started with one of their specialty cocktails, these are a treat -- beautifully presented, and not for the faint of heart, as they can pack quite an alcoholic punch.
Since I’m well aware of their hearty entree sizes, our table spilt three appetizers. We ordered the tomato fondue, which my niece and nephew promptly scarfed down, the crispy tempura-battered squash blossoms bursting with four kinds of gooey cheese, and my favorite appetizer in the world: Faith’s warm ham and cheese toast with the jalapeño cream, topped with a perfectly poached egg (probably a heart attack on a plate, but worth the coronary every time).
The braised short ribs were my entree choice. As expected, it was a generous portion, fork tender, beautifully presented, and yummy. My sister had the fried chicken. Tasting one bite wasn’t nearly enough, I now want to go back ASAP and order it all for myself. (If I close my eyes as I write this, I can almost taste the crispy, blistered skin, and the super tender meat -- excuse me as I wipe the drool off my keyboard). Each one of us cleaned our plates, which is no easy feat.
Over the years, I have developed a scientific "hierarchy of desserts" ordering protocol -- a gal has to have a system for important decisions.
In order of preference:
1) Anything you have to order BEFORE the meal (this is rare)
2) Anything served warm
3) Anything chocolate-based
4) Anything that is "seasonal" (e.g. pumpkin at Thanksgiving time) OR anything that is a regional specialty
5) When all else fails: crème brûlée
Based on the hierarchy, I took charge of dessert and our table spilt three. We ordered the sticky toffee pudding, the jelly doughnut holes, and "SF’s best hot chocolate" (I concur, it is SF’s best!) Not a bite was left on the table. It’s a close call, but I boldly elect the doughnuts as best in show.
The space is open with a lofty, New England feeling. Every detail is thoughtful -- from the rustic breadboxes to the way they present the bill inside an old library book. It is the kind of place I take friends who are visiting from out of town (even my snobby NYC friends!) For a few years, my quest has been to eat at every top 100 restaurant according to the San Francisco Chronicle (the count to date is 49) and this remains my all-time favorite place to dine in SF. I’ve been to Gary Danko, and Boulevard, among others, but there is something special about Town Hall that keeps me always wanting to go back.
Occupation: Barista /Student
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Suppenküche
Reviewed Town Hall: Tuesday, August 15, 2006
The Town Hall is easily located in downtown San Francisco on the corner of Howard and Fremont. The parking might be a bit of a chore, but it is easily accessible by Muni and Bart. Upon entering the restaurant, it was totally packed to the brim, very lively, and the noise level was quite high. I liked the decor, it had high ceilings with very interesting light fixtures, brick walls, and large windows. I had a hard time trying to figure out who worked there in order to ask someone about the reservation, but shortly someone found me and we were seated shortly after that.
Most of the tables were arranged in the large main room without tablecloths, but strangely we were seated at a very large private table to the side with a white tablecloth. At first, I felt a bit uncomfortable and under dressed, but I got over that relatively quickly. We were handed menus with the wine list on the back. Unfortunately they didn’t offer any beer selection, but the wine list was long. I don’t really know a whole lot about wine, but the waiter was extremely friendly and knowledgeable about the wines and recommended a good one. In fact he also recommended our appetizer, the fondue, which is a sort of cheese dip for toasted bread, some sort of broccoli variety, and another cheese. This was a truly amazing start to the evening. I absolutely loved it, it totally reminded me when I was a kid and my parents had this fondue party set from the 60s, which they probably (ie. hopefully) still have. For the main course I had another amazing dish, the Alaskan halibut, which was served on a bed of potatoes and topped with a layer of breadcrumbs and lemon. The fish itself was cooked perfectly, the texture was excellent, and the top layer had the perfect amount of lemon to really bring the flavors out of this dish. Another great recommendation by the waiter was the pot de crème, which is honestly one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. The top layer was a rich layer of butterscotch and the under layer was a rich, almost dark chocolate, layer topped with some probably homemade toffee chocolate candy. The texture and flavors were just perfect. Overall, I can’t give enough praise to this restaurant, I thought it was a bit pricey and the portions maybe a hair small, but the quality of the food was so high that it is totally worth it and easily overlooked. I absolutely loved the food, the service was excellent, I will definitely come back!
Occupation: Director Sales Marketing
Location: Los Gatos
Favorite Restaurant: Pasta Moon
Reviewed Town Hall: Thursday, August 17, 2006
Town Hall seems an appropriate name for a restaurant who’s focus is “to be a scene” and not the advancement of fine cuisine (the rhyme is unintentional).
Town Hall seems an appropriate name for a restaurant whose focus is "to be a scene" and not the advancement of fine cuisine (the rhyme is unintentional).
Anticipating my evening at Town Hall, I had high hopes for a unique dining experience. The reservations were handled efficiently for what was a last minute request and included a follow up phone call from the restaurant confirming date and time of arrival. When it became obvious we were going to be a few minutes late in arriving, we placed a call to notify them. They were quite gracious on the phone and followed up upon our arrival with a comment of appreciation for our courtesy call and then followed up promptly with seating our party. So far so good.
From then on, however, my positive comments with regard to the experience are limited.
The entrance to Town Hall draws you through the bustle and noise of the bar area into the dining area. It was immediately obvious that Town Hall was a scene. For a building that could have offered an ambiance of warmth and charm, the feel was hurried and crowded. Realizing that our having been seated adjacent to the kitchen might be contributing to the overall feel of commotion, I decided to walk through the rest of the dining area to see if I was not being too heavily influenced by my poor location. I was not.
My impressions of the staff and of the service provided by them are one of the areas warranting very high praise. They were all very attentive, interactive, and engaging.
The menu offered hope for a unique and good dining experience. Squash blossoms are a favorite and not something often offered in restaurants. They were an immediate choice for an appetizer. Always being willing to try a different presentation of something I generally do not care for, I opted also for the beet salad. The four cheese filling in the squash blossoms was simply too overpowering for the subtle flavor of the blossoms. The fact that I did not care for the beet salad is probably more me and not the salad, but I tried.
The wine list is comprehensive, providing something of interest for all, regardless of your meal choice. My efforts to find a common wine to accompany the three main courses that were to be served at our table -- short ribs, pork chop and halibut -- proved very successful with the selection of West Side Red from Paso Robles. The pricing, while in general is higher than the selections support, the upper range does not go past $135/bottle, excluding one Champagne choice. Though I did not specifically request to talk to the Sommelier, it did not appear there was one. All questions regarding the wine list were met with rather simplistic responses.