The food was mighty impressive. Bold, expressive flavors without the mask of over-saucing, over-cheesing, or overcooking. Textures and flavors were beautifully balanced, ingredients spoke for themselves.
My visits to Lure + Till, the snazzy restaurant tucked into the side of the newish Epiphany Hotel, didn't start off well. On a gorgeous evening, having made an advance reservation, we were ushered to a back corner table. We didn't merit one of the patio seats that line the Hamilton Avenue side of the restaurant.
Understandably, someone has to occupy those seats when the restaurant is busy. Nonetheless, the younger couple that walked in ahead of us had no reservation but were seated on the lovely indoor/outdoor patio. On this visit we were cornered by tables of booming baritone young men who were enjoying themselves.
Sporadic roar after crackling bellow, the restaurant was loud. We couldn't make head nor tail out of what the waiter said. Nor he, us. We ordered the quail salad and were delivered the kale salad. When he poured the wine for me to taste, I noticed that the glass was filthy. He brought another but failed to take away the soiled one until the entrees arrived. He also forgot his corkscrew on the table. Little things, but I expected better attention to detail in this upscale operation.
Executive Chef Patrick Kelley previously cooked at Mediterranean-themed Gitane in San Francisco and French-inspired Angele in Napa. Lure + Till is all-American, though, with nods to European technique.
The interior of the 80-seat restaurant and bar is simplicity chic. There are floor-to-ceiling windows that open to form the half-in, half-out patio, a sleek but fully stocked bar, bare-topped tables, and artistic wood and metal elements. The corner where I was seated was so dark I had to hold the menu shoulder high to gather enough light to read.
For appetizers, the flatbread ($12) was large enough to share. Flatbread was a slight misnomer, as it was thicker than traditional flatbread, more akin to pita bread. It was tasty, though, and the romesco, fennel and dill, and fire-roasted eggplant spreads were creamy and appetizing.
Another fun starter was the deviled eggs, (three for $5) with chives and shallots, mustard and aioli. The eggs were creamy and soothing with a slight bite to them.
Despite not ordering the dinner-size kale salad ($12), we kept it. The salad was tossed with currents, ricotta salata (moist, fresh cheese with a salty, milky, nutty flavor), toasted almonds and a delicious Banyuls vinaigrette. Banyuls is an aged French savory vinegar.
The California quail ($16) we'd intended to order, secured on a subsequent visit, was worth the protracted wait. The official state bird was crisp and meaty, served with morel mushrooms, asparagus and radish wedges. Don't share this plate.
The restaurant offered three pasta dishes. I tried two. The tagliarini ($14) with hen jus (roasting juices), a slow-cooked egg and turnip was lush and gratifying. The pasta was a vibrant yellow, with the egg bound in the turnip.
The mafalde ($15) was mouthwatering with pancetta Bolognese sauce -- a simple dish, perfectly wrought. The pasta was made in-house and nothing beats fresh-made pasta.
Main courses were not disappointing. I went meatless with the most excellent fire-roasted farro risotto ($20) with crispy kale, roasted kohlrabi, sage and egg yolk.
Crispy skinned orata ($26), also known as sea bream or dourada, was fresh-tasting and flaky. It's the most popular Mediterranean fish. Here, it's served with Manila clams, baby artichokes, cocoa beans and spring onion.
Organic chicken ($23) was compressed white and dark meat with barley, Bloomsdale spinach, fresh peas and a hint of garlic. The chicken was succulent and satisfying. It was a large portion that I couldn't finish.
I thought the chicken was the restaurant's best dish until I tried the roasted duck breast ($32). Two fat pieces; juicy, pink and ambrosial. The accompaniments didn't follow the menu script of sunchokes and charred baby leeks. Instead, rhubarb, kohlrabi, cherries, string beans, wax beans and artichoke cake -- citrusy, exciting and delicious.
The $8 desserts were worth saving room for. Gianduja, a spread of chocolate and ground hazelnuts, was served with cajeta caramel (a thickened goat's milk syrup), walnuts, hazelnuts and banana-rum ice cream.
The chocolate mousse had crunchy hazelnuts, malt ice cream, black peppercorns, meringue, and huckleberries. Nice balance of sweet and peppery, creaminess and crunch.
Carlos Yturria, the bar master, contrived an excellent cocktail menu of refreshing summery melanges that paired well with the food. The well-conceived wine list was an international affair, a tad on the pricy side, but the wines were a cut above.
After the initial snafus, service was attentive and the staff knowledgeable.
The front of the house still needs fine tuning and I don't know what to suggest about the noise wave that sloshes around the back walls. As for the kitchen, it's one of the best in the area.
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Lure + Till, in the Epiphany Hotel
180 Hamilton Ave.
Breakfast: daily, 6:30 a.m.-10 a.m.
Lunch: daily, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Dinner: Sunday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-11 p.m.
Credit cards: yes
Parking: street and valet
Alcohol: full bar
Outdoor dining: indoor/outdoor patio
Private parties: yes
Noise level: very high
Bathroom cleanliness: excellent