Update -- Two on Hawthorne Lane
This is my second visit at Two since the space converted from Hawthorne Lane. We had a solid B experience there last night with four friends, and overall it was a slightly better experience this time around (compared to our first visit). Here's a summary:
Arrival -- Even on a Saturday night, we found parking easily at 7:30pm when we arrived. We were greeted professionally and warmly once inside by both a host and hostess. It was busy but not chaotic, and traffic flow in the bar area was well-managed.
Decor/Ambiance -- The front room, which consists of the bar and bar/dining tables, has a chic, relaxed supper club feeling. Last night front room was busy and had a hip feel to it without being overwhelmingly loud or chaotic. The back room, where the main dining room sits, was only half full. Our guests actually scoped it out before we got there, and asked the host not to sit us back there. "It's depressing in there," was their summary of the rather quiet, mellow, half-full dining room.
Service -- We had drinks at the bar first, and then we moved to a table in the bar area. The bartender was friendly and efficient, and his pours were generous. Once we moved to the table, we ordered two bottles of wine with dinner. The wine presentation was done by a sommelier-type (not sure if he actually carried that title) who was professional but cold and not engaging. He did his job adequately and disappeared. Our server was friendly, knowledgeable and attentive without hovering. When he announced that they were out of the scallops, and two people at our table had already committed to ordering those, he handled their disappointment deftly and made solid alternate recommendations.
Food -- This is the problem, in my opinion, at Two. The food just doesn't measure up to the atmosphere or the expectation, especially considering all the other options in town. Although a few items were outstanding, the food isn't overly interesting or consistent. The tuna tartare ($12) on crisp seaweed was fresh and delicious, with the perfect amount of hot spice mixed in. The bacon and egg raviolo ($10.5) was a highlight -- a delicious mix of rich egg yolk, salty bacon, spinach, and a perfect pasta pillow...drizzled in brown butter. The beet salad ($11) was equally good, and also beautifully presented. The steamed mussels ($12) were a big disappointment, however. The broth was bland and tasteless. The chorizo had virtually no flavor and added nothing whatsoever to the mussels. It's hard to find bland chorizo, but somehow Two did it! For dinner, everyone agreed that the seared salmon ($22) with sweet potato puree was outstanding. The fish was very fresh, it had a rich, buttery texture, and the outside was crisp and beautifully browned. The skillet-roasted chicken ($19), however, was overcooked and dry. It was served with over-salted quinoa, and the entire dish formed an unenticing brown/gray/yellow mess. The New York strip ($38) was ordered medium-rare, and it was cooked and seasoned perfectly. An lightly creamy mushroom ragout topped the steak and really helped elevate the dish because the steak by itself did not have a lot of flavor (despite the seasoning) and was a bit tough. It was simply a mediocre cut of meat, which in my opinion is unacceptable given the price. Although dishes were of varying interest and taste, all came out at the right temperature, all were cooked appropriately, and all were attractively plated.
Beverage -- The wine list is adequate to good..but nothing special. Our table preferred spicy, earthy Rhone-style reds and we had some good options to choose from. Their motto is 50 under 50 -- 50 wines under $50 a bottle. If you're a pinot fan, however, you might be disappointed. There were few pinot options. Our table felt that the list was too heavy on white wine and could have used a few more interesting red wine options. But we recognize our bias here.
Departure -- We were greeted warmly by the host who thanked us and wished us a good evening. He asked if we had coats or needed a cab, which was nice. In general, as we walked to the car, we were content but not overly enthused. "Well, that was good" was one person's remark. Another said, "My fish was outstanding." But the host of the evening, who booked the reservation, issued an quasi-apology. "It's too bad," he said, "because I've heard some good things about that place."
The front room around the bar is the main dining room. The back, pretty much unchanged from the old Hawthorne Lane days, is for private parties and overflow.
My favorites are the bacon and egg raviolo, spaghettini with sea urchin, and caramelized broccoli. That chicken was really good when I had it, crisp and juicy.
I find the "Fifty Under Fifty" section of the wine list odd--under $50 is supposed to be cheap? Only compared with the rest of the list. Wine prices are way out of whack with the relatively reasonable food prices. The markup's the usual 2X retail, they just stock expensive wines.
re: Robert Lauriston
I was a regular at Hawthorne Lane, and I'll confess that I miss it. I recall several times when President Clinton was in SF and he would send his Secret Service detail in to pick up food and the kitchen would have to make 2 or 3 of each item so that his "tasters" could make sure it wasn't poisoned. I witnessed that circus twice. Perhaps my fond memories of Hawthorne Lane make it impossible ever to fully embrace Two. One thing I was happy about last night was that Two is serving those square, buttery-chive bisciuts that Hawthorne Lane first introduced. Those were as delicious as ever.
But, anyway, your comment about the back room being an "overflow" room is very interesting. The host tried to sit us in that back room last night, yet there were still plenty of seats in the bar area. We politely asked if we could be seated in the bar area, because of the weird vibe in the back room, and the host obliged. But last night at least the back room didn't appear to be either a private party or an overflow room.
My wife and I ate there last week on a Tuesday and we enjoyed the back room very much. We thought the food was consistently good to excellent (that included the chicken, which we didn't find dry, but rather moist and flavorful).
We hadn't been to Hawthorne Lane, so we can't compare before and after the transition. We'll be back to Two soon, though.
Has anyone tried TWO-GO?
It is their gourmet boxed lunch for $12
A few options for today ... there's a few more sandwiches on the menu which I guess changes.
Poached Salmon Salad Sandwich - Chilled poached salmon salad with lemon crème fraiche, dill and shallots on focaccia with sliced cucumbers w/ your choice of salad and dessert
House-made Liverwurst Sandwich - Hearty smoked liverwurst served on pumpernickel bread with shaved sweet onions and whole-grain mustard w/ your choice of salad and dessert
Salad Choices - Crispy romaine salad with Caesar dressing. Quinoa Salad with baby greens, lemon and parsley. German fingerling potato salad with whole grain mustard vinaigrette.
Dessert Choices - TWO Layer Bar: with chocolate, caramel and rice krispies. Lemon Bar: with short dough and lemon curd.
I was there on Saturday too. Unfortunately, I don't think I'll be back anytime soon - I agree with foodiesf. I did enjoy the biscuits and the egg raviolo (chowhound suggestion - thanks!). But the rest didn't stand out. And the menu seemed very heavy too.
However, the bar area is very cool. Love the light fixtures. I could see stopping by for happy hour.
Also, I must mention - I did LOVE my dessert. Tangerine Dream. Yum! It's always nice to end on a good note.