Hearth is in the East Village on 12th street and 1st Ave. For the longest time I’ve wanted to go there, and on Saturday night the opportunity arose. It arose when I called Lisa at 5 to see what was going on (we decided to hang out Saturday night)—she had to shower and nap. “How long will that take?” I asked. “A while,” she responded.
When it became clear we’d be eating a very late dinner, I spontaneously called Hearth. Literally: my body flailed and shook until the phone was out of my pocket and I was dialing. After a few rings a woman answered. I asked if they had any reservations for two people sometime that evening.
“Only 10:30,” she said, dismissively, and prepared to hang up. Who would want a 10:30 table?
We would! So I said “we’ll take it” and she asked for my name. When I told her she said: “Is your number 646-555-1212”? (That’s my cell phone number. Go ahead, dial it, I dare you.)
I said: “Yes, how did you know that?”
“Because,” she quipped, “you made a reservation here once before and didn’t show up.”
Snap! Was this true? I harken back to a former life when I might have called Hearth, made a reservation, without showing up. The only thing that seems like a possibility is when Lauren came to town and I made a reservation at Hearth and didn’t show up. Maybe that’s what she’s talking about? I think so! (But I was so sure I cancelled that reservation…)
“I deeply apologize,” I said sincerely. “It won’t happen again.”
When, later in the evening, Lisa and I convened we killed time in Barnes and Noble in Union Square. “Wouldn’t it be funny if we didn’t show up?” I said.
“Not really,” said Lisa. She had a point. Restaurants rely on people to keep their reservations–it’s how they guage how much to buy, how many waiters to keep on, etc etc.
We arrived at 10:15 and said: “We know we’re early but can you seat us anyway?”
They did. They were really nice. Hearth is so cozy—it has a very homey feel about it. Homey as in home-like not “homey don’t play that.”
Soon we were given bread. The bread was small and crusty and covered in sesame seeds. Lisa hates crusty bread and she had a hard time tearing it open:
Usually I defend crusty bread but I have to agree with Lisa here. This bread was not enjoyable. Was our meal off to a bad start?
Maybe, but it soon recovered when we were brought a little amuse (“amuse bouche!” shouted Lisa Turrets-like) of fennel soup in a shot glass:
“Aahh,” I said slurping it down.
“Mmm,” said Lisa, consuming hers.
It was creamy, springy and anisy. Anisy as in tastes like licorice not…well…
Anyway, we had the sweetest waitress ever. She made no judgment when we ordered no drinks and helped steer us through the menu. Well for Lisa it was pretty easy: there were three vegetarian appetizer options and one entree. (Luckily, as you’ll soon see, she loved it all.)
When it was my turn I gave a little speech: “You see,” I began, “I”m really excited about eating here–I’ve wanted to come here for a long time–and I want to eat something brave and interesting. I’ll eat anything. What do you suggest?”
The waitress rose to the challenge. “Will you eat rabbit?” she probed.
Images of bunnies running in a field popped into my head—my friend Jordan had a bunny in college, he treated it like a cat. Could I eat rabbit?
“Sure!” I said.
“We have a wonderful rabbit appetizer,” she explained. “It’s light—and if you get that I’d suggest you get something heavier for an entree. Like the lamb–our lamb is terrific.”
“Lamb it is!” I nodded, folding my menu. I’m very impressionable and grateful for waitress guidance counselors.
Lisa and I had some deep conversation while we waited for the first course. It concerned religion and faith and what’s real about the Bible. Luckily, my rabbit soon arrived.
What a strange dish! The rabbit itself tasted fine—a cross between chicken, turkey, and pork. Light and flavorful.
But let’s not ignore all the other components. There was prosciutto stuffed in the rabbit with fig and some kind of liver, I think, because it sure tasted like liver. Those little orange squares tasted like gellied stock–chicken? beef? Either way, I’d never tasted anything like it. The salad was a nice contrast and nicely dressed. You can see a prosciutto strip in there too. And what’s that mustardy looking paste in the upper right corner? I have no idea. It didn’t taste like mustard—it was very muted, quite enigmatic.
This was a very exciting dish. I ate it with relish. (By relish I mean with great enjoyment not strong tasting pickle sauce.)
Now normally I never (and I mean NEVER) photograph my companion’s food. My site server doesn’t have space for it—and I can’t responsibly blog about what someone else ate if I only ate a bite of it, can I? Well Lisa was so in love with this salad she grabbed the camera out of my hands and took a picture of it:
This salad contains fava beans and cheese (pecorino, I think?) with olive oil and salt and pepper. Simplicity itself and Lisa devoured it. “This is so good,” she said.
Lisa, by the way, is a very judgmental eater—you should take her accolades more seriously than you take mine. I love everything. Lisa’s wary of expensive over-priced fancy-pants food. But this she loved. Write that down.
Enter my entree!
It’s funny, now that I’m looking at these pictures there’s things I notice that I didn’t even notice in the restaurant. Like here, you can see they sprinkled whole Rosemary leaves over the dish. (And on my appetizer, I notice Thyme leaves.) What a nice touch.
This dish had all kinds of lamb going on. There was a lamb short rib (in the bottom center) topped with something (I can’t tell what), actual lamb chops on the right and then lamb sausage (up top) wrapped in sage. Those were the most delicious.
Then, more fava beans on the right and braised artichoke hearts on the left. These were outrageous: the outsides had a great crispness and the inside was so soft.
If I have to articulate what makes Hearth great (at least in the dishes I ate) it’s excitement on the plate: so much going on, you never get bored. It’s Thomas Kellar meets Babbo. (I say that because Thomas Kellar is all about small doses of delicious things so you don’t get bored of them; and Babbo because it’s similarly in love with its ingredients and rooted, like Hearth, in Italian cuisine.)
Lisa, again, snatched the camera away and snapped this picture of HER dinner:
This had her rolling on the floor in ecstasy. It’s ricotta tortellini with asparagus and morels in some kind of springy sauce that Lisa scooped up passionately. “This is SO delicious,” she kept saying. Lisa was in love with Hearth.
Maybe here I’ll tell you about this really loud guy one table over? He was extremely loud and incredibly close (name that book reference!)—pratcically yelling his opinions to his table mates and shattering the air with his laughter. This woman at this table looked like she was about to punch him. Lisa and I found it amusing until it became annoying and if I were more vocal, I would’ve asked them to move us. But it’s ok—the food more than made up for it.
Then there was dessert. If there’s one thing I heard of associated with Hearth it’s these apple cider donuts:
Lisa doesn’t really like fried dough. (“You don’t like fried dough!” I shouted the first time I heard this.) So she ate a few bites of these delicious donuts. The rest was up to me and I performed my duty quite honorably.
Though, I will say here (full disclosure) I’m not sure what makes these donuts more spectacular than the ones you’d find at a Krispy Kreme or, more appropriately, Doughnut Plant. If I were an agressive critic I’d write: “these are nothing more than glorified donuts.” “What does that mean?” my editor would ask and I’d be fired.
Hearth was a fun experience. I like their attitude, their atmosphere (minus loud guy), and–especially–their food. It’s a place with a real food philosophy—they even post it in their bathroom:
If you’re in the neighborhood and you’re hungry, take it from me and the cast of Damn Yankees: You Gotta Have Hearth.