COX: St. Helena's Goose & Gander can be crowded and loud, but the food is worth it

Let's start with something seemingly inconsequential, like coffee. Most decent restaurants serve good cups of coffee but not good decaf coffee, which can be flat and bland.

And yet as we ended a late dinner with coffee at Goose & Gander, the smart new restaurant that replaces Martini House on St. Helena's Spring Street, the decaf was as good as regular, its rich aroma and full-bodied flavor a gift to us coffee lovers who don't want to lie awake all night jazzed on caffeine.

We shouldn't have been surprised, having sampled the menu. This is high-end, American gastropub cooking from chef Kelly McCown, who used to cook here when it was Martini House and has returned to the revamped space.

If you dined at Martini House, you'll remember that the d?or was a raucous collection of all sorts of oddities jammed into, hung upon, or set on every crevice and surface of the dining room.

All that is gone, replaced by mostly bare red walls. Duck and goose decoys march on the wall above the open-kitchen pass-through along with several pairs of binoculars, giving the room a spare, hunting-lodge look. The result is that the lack of bric-a-brac lets sound bounce around; when the dining room is full, which is almost every night, it can be unpleasantly loud. If the weather is nice, there's a pretty patio outside with lots of seating where you can avoid the hubbub.

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