Up and down Grand Avenue

Last night we had plans. Grand plans. We were off to my favorite place in the world. I go to the Alley for steaks and Manhattans, for the old men and the old songs, for the patina of a place that’s been around since 1938. I was excited to introduce Max to Bernice behind the bar and to see Paul and the other guys at the piano and to take my turn with a Cole Porter tune. We’d get the steaks and manhattans and make the mistake a nightcap we’d regret in the morning.

But no dice. We got to the Alley and it was shuttered until 1.11.

So we made other plans. Grand plans. From some blog or other, I’d heard of the Grand Tavern and cursory research and vetting on yelp seemed to support the idea. So we headed up Grand Ave.

But we got there, and something felt off. The open sign was oddly hand-made and inexplicably wrapped in saran wrap. The front steps of the craftsman-style house were a little dark. The only thing that indicated this was really a restaurant was the clamor coming from down the front hall. I thought, “We’ll check out the menu, and then we’ll see.” But soon we were sitting in something of a living room, surrounded by the cacophony that can only come from forty-odd people packed into a wood-paneled room with nothing but an area rug to dampen the sound. Plus, our server advised us, someone had just proposed, so everyone was feeling, well, festive. And loud.

Looking over the menu, our hesitation continued unabated. There was something off both in layout and content. There seemed to be a lot of “sour cream sauces” and they offered something called “social skin fries,” that sounded more like something you should see a dermatologist for than order as an appetizer. I ordered a Ward 8 from the cocktail list, M got a beer, and as our waiter walked away, I thought, “we still have time to cancel it. Where else can we go?”

But we pressed on and every instinct I had to turn back was validated by the next step in the meal. We were going to start with the “fresh carrot mash,” the first thing on the menu, but were immediately advised by our server that it was “very sweet,” seemingly steering us away from it as an app option. Then why was it first on the menu? We skipped the course entirely and ordered mains. Steak for me, the Onion Lamb Shank for M. We hoped the entrée could overcome its name and deliver something better than it sounded.

It didn’t. My rib-eye was rife with sinew and the Onion Lamb Shank was confused by battling sauces and flavors. Two bites in, I was trying to figure out where we could head for dessert to rescue the evening. Adesso on Piedmont has dessert. We’d go there. As quickly as we could, we paid cash and left.

But heading down Grand we stopped short. There was something new, and just as those cues coming from the Grand Tavern told us to go away, this place was beckoning us to come in. Boot and Shoe service, was the name. From the votive-lit bar to the typewriter-reminiscent menu to the menu itself. Monterey bay sardines from the wood oven,mixed plate of cured meats, , margherita pizza, chocolate pot de crème. This is where we wanted to be.

My suggestion to go in was met with an enthusiastic yes, and soon we were in the back bar, and M came up with an even better suggestion. Let’s split a pizza, get a couple glasses of wine and save the truffles we picked up at Michael Micher for dessert. Done.

And where Grand Tavern had failed us at every turn , Boot and Shoe Service did us just right. From the service to the people, to the perfect pours of wine and the killer char on a marghertia pizza. This is where we wanted to be, and where we wanted to come back as soon as possible. They’d only been open a week, and from the crowd on a Thursday night, it’s clear they were doing something right.

So what did we learn? Trust your instincts over anything. When you’re right, you’re right, and by and large, well Yelp is very, very wrong.

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