Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Restaurant: Hearth

Hearth is one of those restaurants that when it first opened it was very hard to get a table because of all the buzz surrounding its chef and the food. Unlike many restaurants before it, once the buzz died down, Hearth remained a popular place to go not only as a destination restaurant, but for the local east village neighborhood. All this, despite it's relatively high priced and eclectic menu that focuses on local fresh from the green market ingredients. Yes, I realize that this is all the rage now, but Hearth was doing it well before a lot of the newcomers. Even the chef, Marco Canora, comes from this type of background, having been the executive chef at Craft before opening Hearth in 2003. I've had the luck of going to Hearth on a number of occasions and it is the restaurant my family uses in the area for special celebrations and a bit of a splurge on a meal. Even if you don't go to eat, it's a lot of fun to walk by and peer into the kitchen from 1st avenue and watch the chefs work (this does tend to annoy them a little bit, and be careful, they have sharp knives).

Generally the menu, besides stressing fresh seasonal ingredients, also has hints of an Italian flair. It's also great that they keep refilling your bread plate as you go, in case you are worried about not getting enough food. They will always start you off with an amuse of soup in a shot glass and I wish you could order a full bowl. While the menu changes daily, there are some items that are consistent, such as a fish crudo, a tasting menu and a number of different fish and meat dishes as entrees. On my most recent trip there for my mom's birthday we ordered three appetizers - peekytoe crab salad with meyer lemon, a spring salad, and trout crudo with blood oranges. The salad was actually quite nice as far as salads go with radishes, small cubed potatoes, shallots and walnuts. The only drawback was the dressing seemed a little bit salty for my taste, and I always add salt to dishes so that means it was quite salty. The peekytoe crab on it's own would have been great and it tasted incredibly fresh, but the extreme sourness of the meyer lemon overwhelmed the sweetness of the crab. In the past when I've had meyer lemon it's been in sweet things, or as part of a sauce, and I was a bit surprised at how liberally it was used with such a delicate flavor in crab. The lone standout among the appetizers was the crudo, with a buttery like taste that paired well with the cucumber and radish salad and sweet/sour combo of the blood orange.

Before I even talk about the main dishes I must note that the side dish that you cannot miss is the hen of the woods mushrooms. They are incredibly meaty, probably more so than a portabella, are flash fried with no breading and incredibly delicious. I know some people don't like mushrooms, and even I will admit they aren't my favorite, but a meal at Hearth is not complete without this side. As for the main dishes all three were excellent, and I must admit, my dish was the my least favorite of the three.

I ordered the roasted pork loin with celery root, lentils, pork sausage and pears. The lentils were both regular and white lentils, and were nicely mixed with the celery root and small diced caramelized pears as a savory and sweet side. The pork itself was extremely tender and juicy, and went nicely with the large pork sausage link which was loaded with a strong fennel flavor. The whole dish was topped with a reduction of the pork gravy, and had a sweet finish to it, which when paired with the subtle fruit flavor of the pears brought to mind the staple of pork chops and apple sauce. Another entree was a roasted fillet of sturgeon with braised cabbage, pork sausage and chickpeas. The cabbage and sausage were actually layered between two pieces of the fish, and had a strong smoky flavor that unless you paired with the chickpeas could sometimes over power the sturgeon. Overall it was an interesting combo, and the unexpected smoke from the sausage added a little surprise to what could have been a relatively simple, yet delicious dish. Lastly, I tried the olive oil poached salmon. This dish was my favorite. Poaching salmon always leaves it incredibly light and juicy, and it came with mussels and a garlic parsley sauce. The sauce almost tasted like what mussels are normally served with, and this, combined with the airiness of the salmon, made for quite the perfect treat.

Normally we would not miss the dessert menu because the pastry chef is extremely talented, but we had birthday cake waiting at home. We did however indulge in the cheese plate, which is always fun to see the waitress try to recall where the cheese is from and what it tastes like. In case you were curious, our waitress got 11 out of 12, and came back within a minute to let us know the one she forgot. The cheeses themselves were a nice finish, each being served with a different fruit or sugary sweet, and a basket of bread.

While Hearth is expensive, it is a consistently good meal, and gives you your money's worth every time. It's fancy and delicious, but at the same time fits in well with the vibe of the area and can be both a relaxing meal and a great place to impress a date.

Gather round the Hearth

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