At David Gingrass’ new Two, a restaurant launched in the same location as the former Hawthorne Lane, dinner costs $50 instead of $150, and the crowds are back.
The bar room now feels like a tavern — woodsy and masculine, with shaggy light fixtures and high banquettes in autumnal colors. An antler chandelier dangles over a long communal table. The distressed copper bar lined with wood veneer paneling intentionally reprises the family rec room.
The message: be comfortable, settle in, have a bite or a big feed, drink affordably. Though the valets still back the full complement of silver Mercedes and Lexuses into the courtyard stalls, plenty of SoMA denizens wander in. I noticed lots of artists in the house.
The food, hearty and now simply presented, bears the trademark of Gingrass and executive chef Bridget Batson: big flavor and unbashful richness. The long, typed, single-spaced menu proffers a maddening wealth of sexy choices. Seduced by culinary buzzwords, diners seemingly can end up with an all-Parmesan, all-egg, all-bacon or all-deep-fried meal.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter, because each dish is unique.
One night, two of us shared everything starting with battered, deep-fried squash blossoms ($11) oozing lemon peel-flecked ricotta and dabbed with thick tomato sauce. A bowl of spoon-tender green and yellow beans ($7) had lusciously absorbed the garlic, anchovy, olive oil and chili in which they were braised. Old-fashioned deep fried clam strips ($10) had an exemplary crumbly, golden crust.
The next round brought a swirl of tender house-made angel hair pasta, barely moistened with basil-scented tomato sauce ($9); a bowl of buttery, bacon-seasoned corn succotash ($6); and a crisp bread crumb coated pan-fried pork schnitzel ($22) graced with a bed of bright, lemony, bracingly bitter sauteed escarole. My, how good the schnitzel was — and so big, two of us could amicably divide it.
We consumed every morsel of all these dishes, and drank a 500 ml. curvy, bouchon-like decanter of blended house red ($21) as a salubrious antidote.
Every meal starts with Two’s irresistible cheesy, crackery flat breads and four 1-inch-square herbed biscuits.
One afternoon, fruity house pinot grigio ($5 a glass) enhanced excellent head cheese ($8) — warm slices of gelatinous meat from a pig’s cheeks and jowls — strewn with marinated chopped onion. Crepe-like cannelloni filled with ham hock and kale were moistened with the versatile house tomato sauce ($8/small). A chopped salad with avocado, green and yellow beans and cherry tomatoes, dusted with Parmesan ($10.50) had the heft of a main course.
The proportions of a sundae ($7.50) starring super-creamy vanilla ice cream, fudge sauce, little cubes of chocolate cake and a bottom layer of salty, fudgy pecans were perfect.
Walk-ins are encouraged. When the bar room is full, seating spills over into the comfortable, quieter old dining room by the kitchen, still hung with beautiful fine-art prints from Crown Point Press.
Gingrass changed the concept because, as good as Hawthorne Lane was, he personally didn’t want to eat fancy anymore. So, he came up with a place where he did want to eat — andso does everyone else. The soul of his cooking remains; it just became more accessible.
Location: 22 Hawthorne Lane, San Francisco
Contact: (415) 777-9779; www.two-SF.com
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch Monday through Friday; 5:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday for dinner; bar open continuously
Price range: $8 to $11 for starters; $9 to $23 for sandwiches, pasta and pizza; $18 to $25 for main courses (except $42 steak)
Recommended dishes: Head cheese, sautéed green beans, pork schnitzel, fried clam strips, stuffed squash blossoms, fettucine with fennel sausage, chocolate sundae
Credit cards: All major
Patricia Unterman is author of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide” and a newsletter, “Unterman on Food.” Contact her at email@example.com.