Saturday, June 25, 2005


Hearth turned out to be one of the few really great meals we have had recently. Many meals have been good, with some outstanding parts, but it's rare these days that a new restaurant wows me or an entire meal is impressive. Hearth succeeded where places like Craftbar, Bolo, Fleur de Sel and others have, to varying degrees, failed.

The amuse was a shot of warm fennel soup. While Adam pointed out that a cold soup might be more summer appropriate, I thought this was pretty good, especially given that I am not a huge fan of fennel. It did not have an overly anise-y taste and did have a lovely texture.

Bread was slow in coming (which turned out to be the theme of the service - more on that later), and nothing special. I really think that more places should have great bread! It's the first thing you're likely to taste in a restaurant, and it should make a great impression. Bouley is one of the few places were bread is really stellar (I still think about those apple rolls!), and more restaurants should follow that example. The fact that Adam and I were both very hungry wasn't helping our desire for great bread.

However, bread was basically the only part of the meal that left something to be desired in my opinion. The "Fava and Pecorino Salad with spring onion and sicilian oregano" was a perfect summer salad. Served cold, the fava beans were appetizingly bright green and with a slightly crunchy texture, but tender enough not to be undercooked. The simple dressing of olive oil, onion, and oregano was was fresh and light enough to allow the clean flavors of all the ingredients to be tasted. The small cubes of pecorino and halved beans made each bite include all the elements of the salad.

The "Snapper Crudo with Lemon, Red Pepper and Rosemary" had thin slices of snapper atop a mince of snapper with the other ingredients. Tiny leaves of fried rosemary added a crunchy texture to the smooth, cool fish. The flavors were light and simple without being simplistic. I know I keep saying things like "light" and "simple," but that's what the dishes were, and that's exactly what a good summer menu should be.

For entrees, Adam got the "Wild Alaskan King Salmon with Eggplant, Yellow Wax Beans and Capers" and I got the "Steamed Black Bass with Peas, Spring Garlic and Mussels." While both were excellent, I preferred my own. The black bass still had the skin on it, which I don't particularly like, but otherwise it was well cooked. There was a pea broth that would have made an excellent soup, especially as a summer amuse, and it complemented both the fish and the mussels. Peas are an ingredient with which I am becoming increasingly enamored and I'd like to learn to cook with them in interesting ways. I think they are a prime ingredient for experimentation with my nitrous canister, but I'll have to see how that goes. The salmon was also very good, but less light and summery than the bass. Sadly I don't really remember anything specific to say.

We also ordered two sides: the "Hen of the Woods" mushrooms were sauteed with salt and pepper, deliciously crunchy and earthy. The "Gnocci" were melt-in-your-mouth tender, with a simple sauce of butter and parmesan cheese. Both of these sides were essentially identical to ones we ordered at Craft years ago (where the Hearth chef, Marco Canora, used to work). At the time, we were disappointed by the expense of the food, while appreciating that it was very well cooked and used excellent ingredients. Hearth, however, provided more complex dishes than Craft while still maintaining that quality. These sides are great carry-overs. They do, however, make me wonder about what, if any, limitations there are on ownership of recipes/menu items. Are chefs allowed to take recipes from restaurant to restaurant at will? Unfortunately, consultations with various law student friends (the best legal resources available to me!) lead to very different answers on this. Oh well.

We weren't really hungry when the dessert menu arrived, but we figured that when everything else was so good, we had to give them a try. I ordered the "Blueberry Doughnuts with Blueberry Compote and Frozen Yogurt." The doughnuts came warm and the purplish glaze was still wet. As it cooled, it hardened into a gooey, sweet icing crust. The doughnut itself had the consistency of the top of an excellent muffin: just crunchy enough on the outside with a moist center. The frozen yogurt had the surprising tang of real yogurt, and it went well with the blueberry compote.

Adam ordered a special, a pistachio and rhubarb financier with creme anglaise. I don't normally love pistachio (though Adam does), but this thin tart-like dessert was a subtle combination of flavors that I really enjoyed. The creme anglaise was a luscious, creamy (duh) contrast to the dense financier.

Hearth does wine by the half glass, which is particularly good for trying varieties without getting particularly drunk. Glasses we ordered: "Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Fiore, Montenidoli, 2003 Tuscany," "Montlouis sur Loire, Les Tuffeaux, Francois Chidaine, 2003, Loire Valley," "Akakies, Kir-Yianni, 2004 Amyndeon," and "Marzemino, Battistotti, 2002 Trentino." Liked them. I can't really speak (or write) intelligently on wine.

We were offered apricot thumb print cookies at the end of the meal, which weren't particularly good. They were too hard and dry for my taste, without any strong apricot taste. Sad to end an excellent meal with a mediocre taste.

As I mentioned before, the service was well below expectations. The waiter was friendly, but rarely checked back during the course of the meal, and food was slow in coming. By the end of the meal, we felt abandoned. When our waiter failed to return in any reasonable timeframe (it had been a good twenty or thirty minutes from the arrival of our desserts), we ended up flagging down another waiter to request our check.

Despite the poor service, the food more than redeemed the experience. However, the menu isn't really extensive enough, given our meatlessness, to temp us back immediately. Come the next seasonal menu change, I'd love to return.
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