Ha ha! You just ate a bunny rabbit...
Town Hall - 342 Howard Street - Downtown - San Francisco- 415 908 3900
Visit the Town Hall website here
You might think my mother is evil as you read this post. Actually, she is very kind, but she's had her evil moments. Tricking my sister and me into eating rabbit was one of them. As kids we were fussy eaters (me, more so than my sister), and of course we loved little fluffy bunnies, so why would agree to eat one?
My mum often used to make casseroles. There were two types in her repertoire, beef with thick, dark, gravy which I didn't like at all, and a chicken one with a thin golden gravy which I'd eat without any problem. Sitting down to our dinner on one such Chicken Casserole occasion, I detected my meat tasted funny. "Mum", I called to her in the kitchen, "Are you sure this is chicken, it doesn't taste right?" She called back "Yes, of course it's chicken." I believed her (why wouldn't I, she taught me not to lie, right?) and carried on eating. No sooner had Beccy and I finished our meals, mum popped her head around the door, and with an evil little smile exclaimed "Ha, ha, you two just ate a bunny rabbit".
The second time I ate bunny rabbit was at the age of 13 when I was on an exchange staying with a family in Hanover. I didn't mind eating the meat at all, but at that age I was just a little bit too squeamish to join in with Germans, enthusiastically gnawing away at the poor little bunny's bones.
The third time I ate bunny rabbit was on Boxing Day, 2004. After our huge feast the day prior, we didn't feel like going out and I was happy to veg out and do nothing. But then a couple of French friends from LA turned up, out of the blue, to visit. I offered to whip up some dinner but everyone insisted, no more cooking for me! As so often happens in San Francisco, it had started to rain so we thought we should find somewhere close enough to walk to. We called a few places, but seeing it was a Sunday and just one day after Christmas, most of them were closed. I wasn't convinced when I suggested Townhall as we weren't crazy about it on our first visit, despite its accolades and popularity. But as it so happened, they were open, they were close and they could accept walk-ins at the bar, so off we headed.
Townhall is always lively, with a warm character but on our first visit we'd sat at the large, communal, walk-in table by the front door, a spot which made us feel cut off from the rest of the fun. This time we managed to score a corner position at the bar which was more central and with better views of the kitchen and other diners.
Our bartender was really knowledgeable about the menu and helpful in answering all my questions. I liked him. After he explained Smithfield Ham, to me, I decided we should order one of the appetizers containing it, to share.
Bakewell Cream Biscuits with Smithfield ham and pepper jam. 12.50
This was the most adorable appetizer. Anyone who enjoys a good Cornish clotted cream tea would particularly appreciate the flattering way this dish mimics that English classic. The biscuits were actually what I, being English, would describe as a scone. Those around me were at pains to point out, it is not what the Americans would describe as a scone, so please try send your imagination in a British direction as I describe the platter. The warm scones/biscuits were slightly crispy on the outside and perfectly soft inside. We split these in half and spread them with cold creamy butter. Next we layered the scone with the Smithfield Ham, a cured salty ham similar to a prosciutto. Finally we topped our "build your own" open sandwiches with the pepper jam which was sweet and with a good chile-flake hit. A scrumptious combination - I might have to steal this idea and try making it myself.
Trio of Sonoma rabbit with Anson Mills grits, wild mushrooms, artichokes and coffee mushroom jus 23.50
So here it was, my third ever rabbit-eating experience. Only problem was, the lighting was very subdued and I couldn't really see what I was consuming. Not being a coffee-lover, I had been worried about the sauce. It sounded quite peculiar, almost to the point of me not ordering the dish. Fortunately it was very mild, with barely a trace of the bean. It paired well with the rest of the flavours. A leg of the rabbit was one of the trio - this had the strongest gamey flavour. The other two unexplained thirds of the trio were even more delicious. One was a roll wrapped in a crispy ham, I think.
The artichokes, although not sepcified on the menu, were the Jerusalem or Sunchoke variety. I love these artichokes but rarely get an opportunity to eat them (I find them too fiddly to prepare), so they were an extremely welcome addition to my plate.
I've only really ever heard bad things about grits (except for from my ex-roomate, D, who loves it). If this is what grits usually tastes like, a creamy white pillow of comfort that the meat settled on, I totally understand her adoration for it. It reminded me of bread sauce, a wonderful British accompaniment to turkey at Christmas.
I didn't try my companions' dishes. The two Frenchmen chose steak, which one of them declared to be average and the other quite liked. They both preferred their dish once they had hastily ordered an addition of Crispy Shoestring Potatoes. So finely carved, these potato laces must've been made for the footwear of a mouse. A huge portion, more than enough for us all to share, these quite delicious fries made a welcome crispy contrast to my otherwise soft and squidgy entree.
click to enlarge - that's a dessert spoon, not a teaspoon, to give you some idea of the generous size!
Mocha toffee bread pudding a la mode 8
For some reason, certainly not hunger, everyone seemed eager to try this dessert. Turns out it was ENORMOUS, certainly enough to feed the four of us. Heavy but quite delicious, we had no problem polishing off the entire mound of dense bready dessert.
Our French friend tried:
San Francisco's best cup of hot chocolate 7
which he let me taste once he'd spruced it up with dregs of espresso and liquor. It was quite fine, but at less than half the price and , at least, equal deliciousness, I would wager that the rich, creamy hot chocolate from Boulette's Larder would give it a run for its money in the 'San Francisco's best' stakes.
After my first visit, I had pretty much written off Townhall. But now, since I've returned for a second, and much better, experience, I can start to see why it has received some glowing accolades.
How Foodies Can Help With Tsunami Relief. Tip of the Day #3
With so much focus on one such major relief effort, other charitys will start to feel the pinch. Some are even at risk of going bankrupt because of the Tsunami. Consider diverting half of your current donation to another, unrelated, needy cause. Ha ha! You just ate a bunny rabbit...