Town Hall, San Francisco

On any given night, the old 1907 warehouse building stands proud amidst modern SoMa skyscrapers and empty parking lots. But despite the deserted surroundings, inside, the feeling is anything but inhospitable.

Town Hall was opened in 2003 as the brainchild of Doug Washington and chefs/brothers Mitchell and Steven Rosenthal. The successful partnership later produced two more restaurants; Salt House and Anchor & Hope. But most importantly, five years later, Town Hall remains as good as it has ever been.

The interior design brings together the warmth of a southern home with unpretentious contemporary elegance. Classic white wainscoting, exposed brick walls and seismic metal beams surround an ample yet charming dining room filled with arts and crafts tables and chairs. Hanging from the high-ceilings, five tentacled chandeliers, each with 74 curved metal arms cast a warm, soft light in the room. The atmosphere is welcoming and honest, not staged.

Service is always efficient. But this is no surprise; Town Hall is all about consistency. It’s a place you go once and come back many times guaranteed to leave satisfied. You’ll always eat well and, most likely, eat a lot.

The menu

The ever-changing menu offers a modern twist on classic American dishes, some with a New Orleans flair. All served in generous portions, with no economy of flavors. Together, there are about 26 appetizing starters, main courses and sides to choose from. But whatever you pick, remember to save some room for dessert.

The meal

I’ve been to Town Hall about a dozen times. Sometimes to try new things, sometimes craving more of the same. Not once have I had a less than excellent meal.

Dinner begins with crunchy slices of bread and salted butter. Two of my favorite starters are the Tuna tartare, fried green tomatoes, garlic chips and Tabasco green onion vinaigrette; and Roasted veal meatballs, potato puree and green peppercorn sauce–which makes a great main course as well.

Now in season, and worth trying out, is the Crispy soft-shell crab B.L.T., bacon, butter lettuce and Heirloom tomato on toasted levain. A mouth-watering open-faced BLT in which the bacon is wrapped around the juicy, tender crab. Served with a light aioli over a crunchy slice of bread.

Another good call is the Faith’s warm ham and cheese toast, poached egg and jalapeño cream. This spicy cousin of the croque madame is surprisingly flavorful. A perfect balance of creamy cheese and jalapeño heat.

Main courses are very filling. Like the Grilled Niman Ranch pork chop, creamy tasso grits, pea tendrils, and caramelized peaches. The beautifully grilled, tender meat is served over tasty grits and summer peaches in a well-balanced combination that leans on the sweeter side. Unfortunately, the pea tendrils greens are a bit tough to chew. Even so, this is a much tastier pork dish than Spork’s.

Another great choice is the Roasted Wolf Ranch quail, chorizo, manila clams, smashed purple potatoes and lemon parsley glaze. An inventive contrast of flavors that despite its different origins, begs to be savored together. The bold chorizo taste and the sweetness of the clams are a great complement to the tender, juicy quail. The dish is finished with a delicious buttery glaze.

Other menu favorites are the Buttermilk fried chicken, country biscuits, creamed corn and bacon gravy; and the Seared scallops over spicy jambalaya, currently not on the menu.

Town Hall serves some of the best desserts in the city. My favorite is the Butterscotch and chocolate pot the crème topped with butter crunch. Most likely the best pot de crème you’ll ever have. Layered with creamy butterscotch on top, and rich chocolate underneath. Served in a generous portion, enough to share. Not that you’ll ever think about it.

Now in season is the Catalina plum fritters, smoked maple ice cream, bacon-infused caramel sauce. A crispy and creamy dessert, served warm, not too sweet.

Also to die for is the Sticky toffee cake, vanilla ice cream and toffee sauce. Although it requires a very sweet tooth, this one is hard to resist. Truth is, you really can’t go wrong with any dessert. Even if you feel you don’t have any room for it. Trust me, you will find some.

In short

Town Hall is comfort food at its best. Inventive preparations of American classics, created with sophistication but never shy in flavors. One of the best restaurants in San Francisco consistently delivers without disappointing. Go once and you’ll most likely come back many times, to try something new or find comfort on more of the same. Even with the generous portions, no food will be left on the plate.

Town Hall is at 342 Howard St.
Online reservations

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