Restaurants & Bars

Town Hall follow-up report (long) Thanks for the advice

eel | Feb 28, 200502:26 AM     14

I had dinner at Town Hall last Tuesday. I approached the prospect with some trepidation as I had read a few less-than-glowing reports here. But someone else chose the location, so I set about to make the best of it. Thanks to those of you who gave me suggestions. I came away pleasantly suprised and thinking highly of the place.

I arrived 10 minutes early for our 5:45 reservation so I had a drink at the bar while awaiting my dining companion. The bartender made me a fine and properly crafted Manhattan which I sipped while listening to other patrons discuss the accompaniments for oyster shooters, e.g., cocktail sauce v. salsa. “I don’t like that vinegar stuff!” [mignonette, I presume.]

When my dinning companion arrived just at 5:45, we were seated immediately. There were just a few groups seated at that point. The room is open and attractively decorated. By the time we left the place was jam-packed and quite loud.

To start we ordered the spinach salad with bacon and cornmeal-fried oysters and the ham/biscuit, which consisted of three small pale biscuits (about an inch in diameter), a fan of very thinly sliced Smithfield ham, a small crock of butter and another crock of peppy jelly (they call it jam). You get to assemble little sandwiches as you wish and share them (if you have to…). It’s a fun way to kick off the meal and a very good balance of flavors. The ham was beautiful, dense and smooth, with a rich odor. To me, the cure was superior to what I’ve typically seen in an American cured ham. It had a European flavor, if that makes sense. The biscuits could have been a touch fresher, but all in all, this was a very good and unusual starter. I was still sipping my Manhattan at that point so didn’t order wine for this course.

My friend’s salad was also quite good. I only got a bite or two, but the oysters were nicely fried to a great texture and tasted very good, briny and oystery. The salad was well balanced and not overly oily as has been reported by others.

For entrees, I had the rabbit three ways and he had the duck. The rabbit got off to a bad start with me because it was not hot, just around room temperature which marred the sauce component. Either it was plated onto a cold dish or it was fired too early and then sat around too long before it was brought to the table. I didn’t send it back because it was just not that type of dinner (dining companion was not a fellow hound and was treating me) but I probably would have under different circumstances.

Side note: at Oliveto a couple of weeks ago, the waiter walked up to our table with our soup course and it was obvious that it had come too early (we hadn’t finished the salumi course and there really wasn’t room on the table for the soup.) The waiter started to walk away with it and I asked if it would suffer from having to wait for us. The waiter said, “Oh, don’t worry, we’ll make you a new soup when you’re ready.” That’s good service. And the soup was excellent.

Back to the rabbit. It was a very good dish. I wish they had used a larger plate so the different cuts each had some space to be individual and not get mushed together when manipulated to eat them, but this is just a quibble. The bacon-wrapped saddle was moist and tasty, the loin was subtle and not overcooked (easy to do with such a small piece of meat). The braised leg was a bit dry. The dish went well with a glass of 2002 Carignan/Syrah, Le Casenova Dominis M.

My dinning companion loved the duck. I had a few bites and was impressed with the moist, confit-like texture. With the duck my friend had a glass of 2001 Pinot Noir, Robert Stemmler, Nugent Vineyard.

For dessert we shared the butterscotch and dark chocolate pot de crème. Excellent. As others mentioned, the layers were nicer when eaten separately because the chocolate had a tendency to overpower the butterscotch and the butterscotch was so good it deserved to fly solo. The crispy garnish component (thin brittle with a chocolate layer?) was a nice addition.

An enjoyable meal. Thanks to everyone who gave me the great advice.

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