Two years ago, Second Home opened in the J.W. Marriott to somewhat mixed reviews; observing at the time that my own praise for the place & its mod twists on retro comfort food was stronger than most, I wondered if I’d overrated its merits based on 1 visit. And kept wondering, idly, now & then, without bothering to follow up—until a couple of weeks ago, when I met a friend for lunch on a lark & was pleased enough anew to return for dinner the next night.

I’ve always had a soft spot for hotel lounges. Be they the shadowy, lonely haunts of traveling salesmen on the seedy fringes of airports or glittering, tinkling piano bars in the sunken lobbies of downtown luxury high-rises, something about them always feels like a secret, where what happens among strangers stays put. Second Home, of course, falls into the latter category; with its woody, gleaming surfaces, boxy yet plush nooks & spacious patio hidden from street view, it aims for cachet among knowing locals as much as its captive audience of out-of-towners. To that end, it has to play to the neighborhood, to hold the attention of potential regulars—& whether or not it succeeded from day 1, it certainly seems to be doing so now.

Take the chunky, Pernod-scented smoked salmon rillettes.

More like a compound clarified butter than an integrated spread, it showcased a brightly variegated mosaic of flaked fish & diced vegetables that, with a dollop of crème fraîche, outshone the oversalted version I’d had at Lou’s Food Bar a few weeks prior.

This photo of the chopped salad doesn’t do justice to its ingredients—

not only roast chicken & mixed greens but also bacon, gorgonzola, peas, cucumber, red onion, carrots, & “crisps”—bits of fried wonton—in a spunky, refreshing celery-seed dressing. Yay celery seeds, totally underrepresented in American cuisine, along with caraway seeds & poppy seeds! (My theory is that they tend to be used in cuisines in which tartness & bitterness are valued more highly than they are here. In any case, glad to see them pop up.)

Even better, however, was the frisée & watercress salad, with its unexpected combination of duck confit, dried cranberries, & toasted hazelnuts in warm bacon vinaigrette.

It was so satisfying precisely because it was so oddly balanced & strangely restrained; as tired as I am of roasted beets, goat cheese, candied pecans & the like, the left-of-center mixture intrigued with each bite, in its varying proportions of smoke & salt, bitterness & sweetness, chewy bits here & crunchy ones there. I couldn’t help but imagine a different chef adding a little aged cheddar to round it all out, & yet I was glad this one (i.e., Jeff Bolton) didn’t.

The housemade sausage duo consists of spicy lamb with harissa & beer-braised veal bratwurst with a veritable fluffy cloud of mustard sauerkraut;

though both were good, the tender, mild, beautifully grilled brat was especially fine, mingling with the cabbage whose tang was unusually delicate.

I keep bitching about the cliché that is tuna tartare, & I keep encountering exceptions to the rule—maybe to the point of disproving rather than proving it. Among them, the one with tabbouleh & mint chimichurri at Summit at the Broadmoor comes to mind; so does Limon’s version with quinoa, black olive tapenade & avocado-lime mousse. And now, so does Second Home’s very simple, very fresh & very generous portion with wonton chips.

That said, it also made me pine for the seared tuna noodle casserole I still remember fondly from my 1st visit 2 years ago. That dish was a keeper; were it to make a comeback, I’d be returning even more frequently than I intend to now, the lush at the bar regaling passers-through with wild tales of adventure & romance over drinks like this juicy, invigorating blend of Lillet with Meyer lemon, parsley & cucumber,

enjoying the feeling Second Home provides of being far-flung just moments from my real home.

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