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First Bite: The (re)Birth of Marlowe

Ah, if only all transformations could as be as seemingly effortless as Madonna's. From Like a Virgin to Blonde Ambition, that lady made it all look so easy. The reality of reinvention, of course, is much trickier, particularly for restaurants, who are now getting into the game with increasing frequency. Marlowe reopened in mid-February after transitioning from their previous incarnation as the South Food and Wine Bar. Though Anna Weinberg is still owner, her partnership with celeb chef (and Virgin Airlines consultant) Luke Mangan is no longer, nor does the Australian-inflected menu remain (let's all take a moment to mourn the loss of South's licorice-lime dessert, shall we?).

Replacing South is something much more familiar to the Bay Area diner, a kind of Cal-Bistro hybrid with a tightly edited menu featuring some of this region's greatest hits: bone marrow, tartare, the venerable old little gem salad. Jen Puccio is now helming the kitchen (she was last seen at Cortez, where she earned three starts from the Chronicle), and for the time being she seems to be playing it a little bit safe, employing a sort of "just give them what they want" approach to the menu (yes, there's a burger). Not only has the menu been completely changed, but the space itself has been completely redecorated—thick, rough hewn tables, black leather, penny tiles and chalkboards with butcher-style drawings of animals have replaced the blond wood, red and white scheme of South—to my mind, it's an improvement. The restaurant feels more casual now, more like a place you might drop into for a snack or a glass of wine, which, given its proximity to the Cal Train station, seems like a desirable thing. And while it's too soon to predict what this reinvention will mean for the restaurant in the long-term, I applaud the guts it takes to change course mid-stream.

330 Townsend St., 415-974-5599, marlowesf.com