Observations on Food in the Bay Area
website - half renovation, half reinvention of the space previously occupied by Hawthorne Lane, Two opened just 2 days ago. The first thing you'll notice walking up to the entrance (which is in the parking lot) is that adjacent to the door are a collection of iron and stone ants. Fun and quirky. The door handles throughout are all fun metal sculpture resembling gnarled vines. It's a great way to set a unique tone before you're even inside. Following what seems to be a trend recently (or maybe it's just the 2 most recent restaurants I've been to) they've gone with a brown theme. The walls are all zebra wood (according to a previous review; I wouldn't have known the name, but the resemblance is clear) which is definately unusual, but a bit odd looking; it has something of a busy feel. The quirky decoration is only enhanced by the most unique lighting I've seen in a long time - large hanging lamps of (apparently) shards of coconut. I think I've seen miniskirts that looked vaguely similar, but as lighting it's fun and very cool looking. The space is dominated by a large, oval bar in the center with a good selection of inventive cocktails. Unfortunately, my first choice which involved an infused vodka apparently hadn't infused sufficiently yet, so I went with my recent standby - a Woodford Manhattan, which was pleasantly large and well made.
They have a large communal eating table where we sat, with benches along its length and oversized stuffed chairs at each end (which are incredibly entertaining especially when occupied by those of the petite persuasion). This is a fun concept, and I hope it works for them, as communal dining works or doesn't more often than not depending on those doing the dining. If you choose it, it will probably go well. If you end up there because it's all that's left, perhaps not.
On glancing over the wine list, the first thing I noticed was the large list labeled "50 under $50." As a self-professed wine dork, who often finds himself annoyed by restaurants who seem to see wine as nothing more than an opportunity to wring customers for all the money they can, this was clear evidence to me that these folks get it. If you want to introduce people to wine who aren't regular drinkers, or who are intimidated by its complexity, or who simply aren't flush with cash, good inexpensive wine is the way you do it. And I firmly believe that many of those people who sample a few inexpensive good bottles will quickly come to see how well a good wine can enhance the full dining experience, and will progress on to the more expensive (and lucrative for the restaurant) options as their tastes and curiosity expand. Our waiter proved that he knew the wines on offer, as both of those I sampled before deciding on a different bottle met his descriptions quite accurately, and the bottle we selected based on his recommendation was a great choice - an '03 Catena Zapata Malbec from Argentina for $36. They also offer wine which is custom-bottled for the restaurant and as such available at a great discount. It's currently a sangiovese, which is light but chock full of strawberry flavors and while not an amazing wine, is certainly pleasant and quite drinkable.
On to the food!
So we only had one, which came thoroughly recommended:
Roasted marrow bones with tomato stew and crusty bread - it takes a while to prepare, but is a fascinating thing if you've never experienced it before. The marrow was suprisingly subtle in flavor, especially when eaten unaccompanied on the bread. Add a pinch of salt, however, and it begins to sing. It's easily overpowered by the rich tomato stew (with delicious slices of garlic), so while the 2 go well together, you must be careful not to overwhelm the light flavor of the marrow with the intensity of the stew (which is really more like a chunky tomato sauce). The 3 of us who tried it all agreed this was quite fantastic.
Grilled swordfish with braised escarole, topped with garlic herb sauce - I've loved swordfish for a very, very long time, and I spent many years refusing to eat it while it was on the endangered list. Now that it's recovering, I get to enjoy it on occasion again, and this was one such. It's not a particularly large serving, but it's of proper size, decorated with what's much less a sauce, and more a sprinkling of chopped herbs (mainly green). After the marrow sauce, the garlic on the fish seemed almost nonexistant by comparison. My first bite was a bit tough and slightly overcooked, but luckily that was only at the thinner edges, and most of the fish was tender and really delicious. All the smoky, grilled, almost steak-like goodness I adore. The escarole was astoundingly good - rich and flavorful, and a great contrast in its light crunch to the meaty texture of the fish.
Of the following, I had but a sample...
Prime New York strip with bleu cheese compound butter - I only got a slice of the steak, which was done to roughly medium (as it was supposed to be). To me, it was a little tough, though I order mine medium rare, so that could be why. It was tasty, but in my bite there was nothing truly outstanding.
Roasted pork with braised Belgian endive and apples - I only had a bit of the pork, which looked like odd half-round and unusually thick bacon. This was noticeably tougher and fattier than I would have liked, and honestly didn't do much for me at all. Could be personal preference rearing its ugly head here, but it's not something I'd order.
Braised lamb cheeks with creamy polenta - unfortunately I didn't get a chance to try the lamb (which looked delicious and judging by how clean the plate was later, must have been) but the polenta was scrumptious. Very soft and creamy (not the kind of polenta you cut with a knife, or really cut at all) and really delicious.
Apple tarte on puff pastry with vanilla bean ice cream - wonderful, flaky, very buttery pastry with juicy, rich, sweet slabs of apple on top, accompanied by what could only be housemade ice cream, as it had that homemade consistency and richness of flavor. Great.
Banana cream pie brulee - this I had to try. It's sliced banana, caramelized to a crisp on top (probably with added sugar) like a creme brulee topping, layered across a creme brulee enclosed in a pastry crust. Very interesting. The banana flavor seemed to overwhelm the light flavors one usually expects in a creme brulee, but that didn't stop it from being good. But if you're expecting a more traditional creme brulee that has a hint of banana, this isn't it. It was accompanied by some sort of ice cream which everyone else declared to be banana, but which I actually thought tasted more like traditional creme brulee than the main dessert itself. It also had a remarkably creamy consistency which made me think it more likely to be sorbet or gelato than ice cream. Either way, it was very good.
Service throughout the evening was uniformly well informed and very, almost remarkably, friendly. They really liked asking if we wanted more wine; not sure if they're encouraged to do so, or if it was just because we seemed to be enjoying ours (which we were). Everyone was just chatty enough to make the experience that much more pleasant, without being annoying or overbearing. The food was good and priced quite reasonably for the quality, and I really liked the atmosphere in which it was designed and presented. TWO wants to provide a place to go out and enjoy a good meal, without making you feel like you have to pay an arm and a leg for it. We should be so lucky to have more places like this.