TWO's Top Three: Chef/owner David Gingrass (l.), maître d' Rebecca Gingrass (c.), chef Bridget Batson.
Next Generation: Dining at David Gingrass's Hawthorne Lane provided a sense of occasion. Guests find his less-formal makeover of that restaurant, TWO, to be more casual, and more affordable—hence a more repeatable occasion.
If you've ever wondered just how competitive a great restaurant town can be, consider the forces that convinced David Gingrass to re-concept his standout spot Hawthorne Lane this winter as the much-more-casual TWO.
He seemingly had it all—a five-year career-defining run as opening chef at Wolfgang Puck's San Francisco landmark Postrio; a decade-plus at Hawthorne Lane, first with then-wife Anne Gingrass in the kitchen, later with chef Bridget Batson at the stoves; a terrific location near the Moscone Convention Center and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and a clientèle that kept on coming. If you wanted to visit a restaurant that seemed to be in the prime of its life, Hawthorne Lane was the place to go as recently as Christmas Eve last December.
But the 46-year-old Gingrass thought the restaurant scene was passing him by. "I started to feel like I was running my dad's restaurant," he says. So he closed Hawthorne Lane and quickly reopened it on January 11 as TWO—same location, same people, but a different look, feel and menu. "It's much like a dinner party at my home," Gingrass says of TWO. "It's a reflection of my distinctive entertaining style."
Keep in mind that there weren't a lot of flaws in his previous entertaining style. Hawthorne Lane, chosen as Esquire's Best New Restaurant of 1995, still had its mojo working when San Francisco Chronicle critic Michael Bauer visited late in 2003. Bauer found the place exuding "a contemporary attitude," that Batson's food was "forwarding the modern American culinary legacy," and that the dining room was "still a big design statement today." This restaurant wasn't over the hill; it sat squarely on top of it. "Hawthorne Lane still feels like a special party" Bauer wrote. This is what Gingrass—a successful, sophisticated, experienced and talented chef/restaurateur—blew up so he could create TWO. His move speaks volumes about how the San Francisco restaurant market keeps changing and what smart operators think they have to do to keep their share of it going forward.
TWO differs from its predecessor in several ways. First, of course, is the name, which refers to the fact that this is the second version of a restaurant to go into this South of Market location, and also that the menu reflects the vision of two chefs—Gingrass and Batson— instead of one.
Their food, and the pricing of it, is the biggest departure from the Hawthorne Lane days. The menu design process? "I went to the market and bought what was best, and then I figured out what I really wanted to make with it," Gingrass says.
He and Batson came up with an all-day menu that includes items such as Pan Fried Pork Schnitzel with Braised Escarole and Lemon ($18); Spaghettini with Sea Urchin, Brown Garlic, Chili and Parsley ($18); and Cast Iron Pan Half Chicken with Garlic, Italian Parsley and Quinoa Salad ($16). Starters include Crispy fried Hama Hama Oysters with Celery Root Remoulade ($11); Roasted Marrow Bones with Tomato Stew and Crusty Bread ($11); and house-cured sausages and charcuterie. House-made pizzas ($11-$14) get a lot of play. Pastry chef Andrea Mautner's knockout retro-style desserts play off the contemporary comfort food theme.
TWO's look and feel are much less formal than its predecessor. The interior redesign, an all-Gingrass production, provides a much more rustic feel. Arriving guests are greeted by the maître d'—Gingrass's 20-yearold daughter, Rebecca. Don't let the T-shirt-clad staff fool you; service is still polished and professional.
And here's something else you seldom see chefs of this calibre offer: drive-thru service. TWO offers a $12 prix fixe lunch menu. Guests can order one by going to www.two-sf.com, then pick it up in TWO's drive-through courtyard. If you're wondering where the nation's finest drive-through location might be, this must be it.
TWO's wine list features 50 wines under $50. For those not into brand names and high-profile labels, an en-vrac wine program offers patrons two red and two white options of barrel-aged wines for roughly half the usual price of house wines. Winemaker Jim Neal of Jim Neal Wine Company custom blends them for TWO.
To put all this in perspective, had virtually any other RH reader owned a restaurant like Hawthorne Lane, he or she would have ridden it all the way out to the end, if indeed there was going to be an end. Gingrass could have done that, too, but he chose to reinvent it instead, providing a template for his fellow operators to follow along the way. "My goal was to offer great food and great wine for great value," he says. It's worth paying attention to what he decided to do, how he did it and how it all turned out.
For that last part, we turn again to Michael Bauer, who summed up his initial experience this way: "It's enough to make me want to return to TWO, again and again."