"It's not much but it's ours"

Saturday, September 23, 2006

When I first started coming to New York regularly, I remember a tangible sense of excitement about going to a quintessential Manhattan restaurant. They were so different from what was on offer in London and places like The Gotham Bar & Grill and The Gramercy Tavern buzzed and sparkled like fireworks on a grey day with a level of service we rarely experienced in London and ingredients that we never saw.

I can still recall my first taste of soft shell crab in a dish at The Gotham and being offered a huge plate of canapés by our server at The Gramercy because she overheard me tell my guest how starving I was. Those were things I had never experienced in my meals back home.

That sense of excitement has long since passed. It may be, that after dozens of visits and many nights eating out, my palate is jaded. But, I suspect, it is more down to the increased homogeneity of international restaurants. Gordon Ramsay is opening in NYC to much pomp, Jean George is overseeing the restaurant at Fifty in London ( I think ) and Robuchon seems to be opening a place more regularly than Starbucks.

It is an increasingly wearying scene.

However, there are some bright spots and some places that remind you of why you were excited in the first place and Hearth is the perfect example.

My first visit there was about two and a half years ago with a large group of friends. Between us, we tasted most of the menu and there was scarcely a duff dish. Wines were superb and the service superlative. I got a real buzz out of it.

These things are never quite so good in the revisiting and a second visit with HP last November proved to be a bit of a damp squib.

Still, I was up for a rubber match and chose it as the location for a treat for some special people.

First though, I needed a drink. After all, I have only had one Martini on this trip and had no booze had passed my lips since lunchtime. So, I did a gentle stroll from my hotel in the 30’s across to 1st and all the way down to DBA, one of the more agreeable bars in New York. They have an excellent selection of beers ( unfortunately most kept under gas so they are too cold and carbonated, but hey ) and a nice thick pint of stout proved a nice start to the evening.

I had forgotten however, just how lousy the service is there and how long it takes to get served. I feared waiting to prise another pint out of them may cause me to miss my supper which was, after all, only an hour away. So, I decided to head up to Counter further north on 1st.

An organic bar and restaurant, Counter had a blackboard outside which promulgated the view that it offered one of the better Martini’s in the city. Well. I have to say it really does. An excellent one in fact. Made by a young man called Joe McCanta ( just in case you fancy popping in there for one ) with Junipero gin. Sufficiently dry and cold and with an excellent slick of oil. Well done.

Perfect in fact to set me up for supper at Hearth a few short blocks away. My guests were already there when I arrived and we were shown to a nice little table at the back of the main room.

A little amuse of a yellow pepper soup was brought out and was, quite frankly, not very good. The bitterness of raw peppers schreeched through like fingers on a blackboard. I began to have bad thoughts.

I was wrong. The rest of the meal went from good to excellent. My beet salad starter was as good as something that simple should be. A Peekytoe crab salad was, from the small mouthful I tried, fresh, clean tasting and worth the price tag ( $15 ) Best of all, however, was a Vitello Tonnato which was a new one on me not being so up on my Milanese cuisine. A pounded piece of veal dressed in a sauce of pureed tuna, capers and anchovies. Quite lovely.

Then a complimentary course of day boat scallops which was bang on the mark. Meaty and perfectly cooked. Enjoyed by all of us.

Main courses were, with one exception, a little more standard. Some Colorado lamb surprised me by tasting of lamb and by being cooked suitably pink. No comparison in taste to welsh lamb or indeed to the lamb I tried last week at Cathy’s but a fair attempt. My guinea hen wrapped in pancetta was the weakest dish. The poultry was off the bone, rolled and wrapped in the pancetta. A little mushy to be honest and the sauce of corn and jus added little. The fish dish was the best. A big meaty chunk of sea bass, cooked just to point and served with faro and calamari. A stellar dish.

Puddings were better than most too. A plum crisp had to be ordered 30 mins in advance. It was amiable enough but not worth that wait and again, not a patch on the one Cathy made last week. My olive oil cake was much better managing to be light and rich in the same bite. A cheesecake was, well a cheesecake.

The wine list is, to be honest, a bit silly and filled with frivolous and unnecessary descriptions like “ wines from the cellar of a distinguished gentleman” oh dear me. That being said, once you negotiate your self around this silliness it is a very good and well priced list indeed and our $50 Cahor served the meal well.

Service was, as it always has been, efficient, friendly and charming.

With tip and taxes etc the bill was an acceptable $250 which is about fair.

It may take a lot to excite me these days when it comes to restaurants but there are still places that I would want to come back to on a regular basis in New York city and Hearth is rapidly strengthening its position right up there at the top of the tree.
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The crab w/chilled corn soup (top photo) is such a lovely dish.

Did no one order the lamb or the veal cheeks? Marco is a brilliant braiser.

Saturday, September 23, 2006 3:28:00 pm  

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