The First Post-Sandy Dinner at Hearth

November 5, 2012 | By | COMMENTS

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As far as good deeds go, they don’t come any easier than the one we did on Saturday night.

The East Village had just gotten its power back after Hurricane Sandy which, as I’m sure you’re aware, has left the east coast devastated, thousands homeless, others still without power and heat. The restaurant community had been hit especially hard, not only losing business for themselves and their employees, but losing thousands of dollars worth of perishable foods that spoiled after several days without power. On Twitter, everyone from Anthony Bourdain to Pete Wells implored people to eat out downtown on Saturday night, to help these restaurants get back on their feet. Kat Kinsman of CNN’s Eatocracy Tweeted that she was headed to Marco Canora’s Hearth and the second she Tweeted that, I realized that of course I would want to be at Hearth too. Marco Canora is one of the most generous, selfless people I’ve met in the food world–he cooked with me twice for my cookbook, both for the proposal and the book itself–and the idea of helping him by patronizing his restaurant hours after he got power back was an absolute no-brainer.

The walk to Hearth, my first walk through the East Village post-hurricane, was spooky; the streets were eerily empty for a Saturday night. The next day, I walked back through the neighborhood and saw piles of flood-ruined furniture gathered up on the street:

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Walking through the door of Hearth, though, the mood instantly lifted. There wasn’t the usual bustle of a night out at a popular New York City restaurant; instead, the room had the warm glow of a family dinner. And indeed, many members of the New York food family were in attendance: I spied Bob Tuschman eating near the window; I said “hi” to Josh Ozersky as he made his way away from Kat Kinsman’s table; and Kat herself, who I hadn’t met before, was positively delightful in person (but of course that would be the case). Also in attendance, though I didn’t see him, was David Chang. So many people knew this was the right place to be at this particular moment and Marco Canora, who made his way around the room when not overseeing dishes at the pass, was positively beaming.

The food almost seemed beside-the-point, but here’s the thing: with just 12 hours of power on his side, Marco made the FULL menu available. That means everything had to be made again from scratch. Stocks, sauces, his famous gnocchi (which you’ll learn how to make in my book). And it was all extraordinarily delicious, maybe more so because it had to be made with such urgency.

Marco gifted us with a bowl of his ribollita, which we found instantly comforting:

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Having made ribollita before (see this recipe), Marco’s is that much better because of one key ingredient: toasted breadcrumbs on top.

My meal officially started with a pear, escarole and pecorino salad:

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It’s a great combination–in particular the pear and Pecorino–and one that was both bright and autumnal at the same time.

Next, Marco brought out a bowl of spaghetti cacio e pepe:

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Again, this is something I like to make at home (see here) but Marco’s was instructive in how saucy it was. There was a pool of buttery, cheesy sauce at the bottom when I was done slurping this up, and indeed I ate this in record time.

I had rabbit for my entree, but the photo came out too dark (it was, needless to say, delicious). Craig had the pheasant which, as you can see, is presented beautifully:

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We ordered a side of Marco’s famous gnocchi:

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As you’ll learn when you read my book, these are made with just two ingredients–potatoes and flour–and yet they’re the lightest things in the world. One of New York City’s greatest bites.

If you can believe it, we saved room for apple cider doughnuts:

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But by then we were done for.

And again, it all seemed rather ridiculous to be eating this well in the name of “charity.” But you could just tell from the faces of everyone working there, including wine guru Paul Grieco who made a few stops at our table, everyone’s presence at the restaurant this night was deeply appreciated. The next morning, Marco Tweeted the following:

There are many worthwhile ways to lend a hand in New York over the next few weeks–sign up for volunteering with the United Way here–but eating out at small downtown restaurants is perhaps the most luxurious form of charity ever conceived. Invite your friends, invite me, and put some money back into the hurting downtown restaurant community. You’ll be feeding them while they’re feeding you. It’s a win-win.

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