The second time we went to Hearth in the East Village, I came away with a souvenir - the playful May 2016 menu that not only tells us what we can eat but dishes out philosophy, geography and food science. Think of it as the restaurant's "mission statement":
'YOU ARE WHAT YOU ATE."
"Offal Strong: When the cheetah takes down the gazelle, the first and only thing it eats are the guts! It realizes where the biggest bang for the buck lies in terms of NUTRIENTS. We should learn from nature." That was awful strong but the cheetah in the cartoon is smiling.
"Hearth Chef's Rules #1, 2, and 3: Serve REAL food that tastes, looks and smells delicious. And perhaps most important is rule #4. Serve food that makes you FEEL GOOD!!"
So here we are with this assorted knowledge and witticism, remembering a spectacular meal because we followed the advice at the top of the page: "Put Yourself in Our Hands." Hearth, incidentally, conveys its brand promise authentically: "Hearth is everything the word implies...a warm, comfortable restaurant with hospitality as its goal."
Fortunately my son is a foodie. Something we did right without even thinking about it. Well, maybe it wasn't altogether unconscious, since my brother is a chef and my dad was a naturally gifted, awesome cook on the charcoal grill. And, Mom, bless her need for order, followed every recipe to the "t" and refused to improvise. So we had the best of improvisation and structure. And I fell somewhere in the middle - I read recipes, discard half the ingredients and eventually serve it up. I'm always disappointed but I usually enjoy the experimentation - and sometimes am pleasantly surprised.
Tonight we are returning to Hearth after a long absence and checking out its new seasonal menu. I'm in New York on a periodical drop-in, which always is built around selective, thoughtful food adventures by my son and his fiance. Tonight she is working late and he and I are escorted to the smaller back room just past the kitchen. It's cozy and we can talk easily. I look around at the other tables of twos and threes. People chatting intently, with animation, a casual Friday night atmosphere as spring approaches. Last time we dined here one October or November and it was chilly. The three of us sat in the busy main dining room, more closely pressed in near our neighbors and a louder vibe. Both work, but this evening I liked the airy feel of the back room.
Hearth's Italian-inflected cooking is, of course, organic and proudly supportive of local, family farms. They recognize that the closer the farmers are to the table, the fresher the food. I look at the restaurant title and can't help noting that the word "Hearth" incorporates "earth" and that you feel here, close to the ground, real.
We choose two appetizers to start: the fava bean salad with pecorino toscano, spring onion, grilled bread and the dandelion and arugula salad with fennel, almond milk and honey. That was followed by roasted spring lamb with fregola, peas, oregano for him, and Wild Hake with ramp butter and quinoa for me. Ramps - the tiny wild leeks - are suddenly everywhere. they were all over the menus the previous week in Nashville. It was explained to me that they have a very short growing season and are used intensively during that time. Hake is what I call a "sweet" white fish. With silvery skin, it's a relative of the cod. The whitish flesh is flaky and tender, gently separating when touched by the fork. Unfortunately the lamb was a slight disappointment, not because of its flavor, but from the portion size. Three 50-cent-piece size medallions didn't seem to match the $30 price and the set-up by the server. However, the menu admonishes us (above a smiling cow): "A Good Life: In the simplest terms, we use only meat from happy, healthy animals." Glad the lamb was happy and that my son wasn't overly starving. We'll likely opt for another choice the next time.
Do put Hearth on your menu list. When in New York, it's the sum of the experiences and James Beard Award nominee Hearth is comfortably inventive eating without too much show, and the right dose of originality and hospitality. Hearth, 403 East 12th Street, at 1st Avenue, New York City, Tel: 646 - 602 - 1300; firstname.lastname@example.org