Had we been dining in a universe of free food and limitless appetites, we might have ordered the entire dessert menu (a chocolate mousse trio, a pear Napoleon, and a warm chocolate cake with hazelnut ice cream and praline sauce, among other things). But since we weren't, we selected two treats, beginning with a slightly soggy puff pastry anchored by a slice of banana, served with peanut crunch ice cream and decadent banana caramel topped with crushed peanuts -- essentially a two-ingredients-served-two-ways concoction that I'm sure Elvis would have loved. The second dessert -- frozen mascarpone brûlée -- consisted of a disc of delicate, creamy cheese covered by the standard caramelized skin, yielding a dish that combined the pleasures of panna cotta, tiramisu, and crème brûlée with an electric passion-fruit coulis and mound of diced pineapple.
When our check came with a pair of luscious, nut-crusted truffles, it was impossible not to feel I should write all sorts of wonderful things about Hawthorne Lane. Still, two things were bothering me -- the austerity and the kir. So I went back a few nights later, sat at the bar, and enjoyed a far superior kir made with clean, crisp, thoroughly chilled chardonnay (the cassis was still a bit light, but then I suppose that's a matter of taste). As for the austerity, it's still there, but it's subtle (and far less apparent at the bar, where I met a nice woman who'd come to steal menu ideas for some sort of art function she was hosting). A lighter, more affordable bar menu offered a crisp, thin-crust, rock shrimp-broccoli rabe-pesto-ricotta pizza to go with the free olives, salami, and bread sticks.
Deep-pocket Food: Hawthorne Lane's tony courtyard leads to the elegant, austere dining room.
777-9779. Open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., dinner every night from 5:30 to 10 p.m. (10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday). Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: valet for $8, otherwise moderately difficult. Muni: 12, 76. Noise level: moderate.