After months of construction, San Marco’s former Grotto space has shed its dark, dated interior and transformed into a sophisticated, airy new eatery offering California-inspired cuisine with a comfortable West Coast vibe. A casual lounge and living room area give way to a smaller, more intimate dining room complete with open kitchen like sister restaurant Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails. Skylights, rose gold accents, oversized light fixtures, light wood and colorful tiles bring the look together.
The accomplished team of owner and executive chef Tom Gray and chef de cuisine Al Fuentes has crafted an easy-to-navigate menu complete with charcuterie, appetizers, main dishes, sides and three simple desserts.
Precision plating and colorful elements make the tender seared octopus ($14) starter a work of art. Soppressata gremolata, red potatoes, lemon yogurt, parsley and crispy chickpeas, plus the perfectly cooked octopus, make this appetizer a must.
Another standout starter is the duck fat cornbread ($7) covered with a heap of spicy shredded kale slaw, thinly sliced radish, crunchy candied peanuts and sweet pepper jelly. The savory cornbread slabs are crumbly on the inside and crisp on the outside.
Don’t miss the fried oysters ($11) with labneh, thinly sliced pickled cucumbers and chili oil. The plump oysters contrast nicely with their crispy batter, and accompanying thick labneh sauce and tangy pickles.
My leafy butter crunch salad ($7) with shaved pattypan squash, marinated tomatoes, crispy chickpeas, ricotta salata and fennel pollen was bursting with summery goodness, thanks to a light lemon vinaigrette and generous sprinkle of fresh dill and basil.
We landed on three of Town Hall’s six entrees: the roasted chicken ($22) with a creamy blend of whipped Yukon and Idaho potatoes and harissa syrup, lamb chop ($29) with crispy Brussels sprouts and savory manchego bread pudding, and cauliflower “steak” ($16). It’s worth noting that each was cooked impeccably — the chicken magically juicy and enrobed in a lightly crunchy skin, the lamb rare and perfectly tender, and the thick cauliflower roasted, then marinated, sous vide, and finally seared on a griddle.
Vegans and nonvegans will enjoy the unique cauliflower “steak” with a flavorful deep red-orange hued romesco sauce (made from roasted red peppers and almonds), crunchy Marcona almonds and peppery upland cress leaves. It is topped with a bit of zesty salsa verde.
A curated selection of wines from around the world (which are also available for retail purchase), wine cocktails, and numerous local craft beers are available.
On both visits our server was the same young gentleman. Welcoming, professional and knowledgeable: he embodied the perfect trifecta that is increasingly difficult to find in many restaurants these days. Service, coupled with amazing food, make for a memorable experience.
Caron Streibich is an avid food lover who will review restaurants every other week in the Dining section. Follow her dining adventures at facebook.com/caroneats and #caroneats on Instagram.