Picture this: It's 12:30 on Sunday afternoon, and you're sitting at a table in one of San Francisco's hottest restaurants. Bossa nova Beatles covers hum from the speakers, easy to follow because aside from the table to your left, your group is the only one there. A few staffers stand behind the bar, leaning against the counter and gazing about. A man in a chef's coat sits down at the adjacent table and starts doodling with his son.
The other diners are his family.
This was the scene at Town Hall
last weekend, but if the quality of the food is any indication, it won't last for long. The business lunch and dinner favorite just opened its doors for the first time to the brunch crowd (10:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.), introducing a new menu of seasonal New Orleans-meets-California breakfast fare.
Even without the ambiance of other diners, you can still count on Town Hall's atmosphere. Exposed brick walls enclose the open dining room, which houses a sea of wooden four-tops and elegant, modern chandeliers. It's easy to get comfortable in this bright and inviting space -- particularly when greeted by an enthusiastic waiter holding a French press of Blue Bottle coffee.
|Blue Bottle coffee|
The cocktail menu has a sense of humor, featuring Bellinis ($7) because "Venice is 9 hours ahead of San Francisco." There are the obligatory Bloody Marys -- one classic, one with tequila and lime -- and a couple of fizzy citrus drinks, like the Virtue & Vice ($9), made with St. Germain liquor, Gran Classico Bitters, Cava, and lemon.
Starters set a slightly different tone from the rest of the menu, starring an elegant seafood selection of six raw oysters ($16) and smoked salmon with creme fraiche and fennel ($11), as well as chopped duck liver ($10). Dishes fitting the Louisiana theme sound more interesting, such as the tuna tartare ($15), served with fried green tomatoes and garlic chips instead of the usual wasabi and avocado. But if soul food is really what you're after, a side of buttermilk biscuits and bacon gravy ($5) fits the bill and carries a friendlier price tag.
|Chicken Tasso Hash, with chicken sausage, sweet potatoes and pimento Hollandaise|
The Chicken Tasso Hash ($14) comes recommended by staff, and sure enough, it's spot on. A mishmash of sauteed sweet potatoes, onions, peppers and Andouille-style chicken sausage forms the base, and a couple of perfectly poached eggs sit on top. A healthy dollop of pimento Hollandaise sauce finishes off the dish, which works well; the mild spiciness of the pepper cuts the butter's richness nicely.
|Farmer's Market Scramble filled with Brie cheese, mushrooms and asparagus|
The Farmer's Market Scramble ($13) is one of a few vegetarian entrees on the menu, starring seasonal asparagus, black trumpet mushrooms and arugula. There's nothing particularly innovative here, but the flavors are fresh (and the accompanying fried potatoes get two thumbs up). Also, a more pungent Brie brings some tanginess to the table.
|Chicken and Waffles, topped with bacon and maple syrup|
If you're feeling like a midday treat, the Chicken and Waffles ($16) may catch your eye. It's a thick Belgian waffle topped with crispy buttermilk chicken, with maple syrup for drizzling and a few strips of bacon for good measure. The waffle isn't remarkable -- more like a substitute for bread in an open-faced sandwich -- but the fried chicken is truly special. The same recipe that's gained devotees among the dinner crowd wins again at brunch; there must be some magic in that brine.
|Cornflake Crusted Brioche French Toast with caramelized bananas, whipped cream, pecans and bourbon caramel|
The Cornflake Crusted Brioche French Toast ($12) is just too sugary for a main course, even if for you, sweet wins over savory. That said, caramelized bananas and bourbon caramel sauce create something you don't want to skip. Split it among your table as dessert and relish the act of cutting through crispy cornflakes to the soft interior, tasting a hint of bourbon and scooping up the vanilla whipped cream melting down the sides. Sigh blissfully, and cue the coma. Here's to hoping the Town Hall team's other S.F. institutions, Salt House and Anchor & Hope, are next up for brunch.
342 Howard, San Francisco, CA