It’s funny how you can ride by a restaurant on the bus every day and not notice it until its chef is a contestant on a reality TV show. Or sad, maybe. But that was the case with Hearth, which I must have seen at least 365 times but didn’t actually see until Chef Marco Canora performed spectacularly on the Food Network’s Next Iron Chef. Another of the Tom-Colicchio-trained, it’s no surprise that his food seems honest and that his ingredients speak for themselves.
Hearth is casual without being unimpressive. The waitstaff is in t-shirts and visible tattoos, but the exposed brick, polished wood, and candlelight match the mid-priced menu. We tried the seven-course tasting menu, which is full of the fresh, bright ingredients of the season and is one of the more-affordable tastings in town at $76 per person.
amuse bouche: chilled pea soup shot
Cool and starchy, with a floating topper of slightly-hardened yogurt and pea skin to add some texture. The natural sweetness of the pea, one of my favourite flavors in nature, contrasted the sourness of the yogurt.
Summer Tomato Salad: Sicilian tuna, shelling beans, celery
It’s all of my favourite ingredients in one bowl! And then a whole lot of tomato, my least-favourite ingredient ever. But I’m an adult, and I ate the skin and an eighth of an inch off of every single one of those tomatoes before making Dr. Boyfriend switch bowls with me. Aside from the tomatoes, which even I will admit were perfectly ripe, this was summer in a bowl and made me sad for the mushy, mealy produce that’s going to be showing up in stores in the coming winter months. It was simple, fresh, acidic from the sherry dressing, hearty thanks to the beans, and crunchy from the celery. Of course I’m more preferential toward land animals, but the use of the tuna felt like a very deliberate choice to keep the salad light.
This items isn’t on the menu, which doesn’t surprise me, since the repetition of the beans in consecutive courses didn’t seem well thought out. Careless or not, I really loved this dish, and I say this as someone who would’ve been absolutely freaked to find edible suction cups on my plate a year ago. I always think that octopus is going to be rubbery and hard, and I always find it tender and just the right amount of chewy. It doesn’t hurt that this is grilled; I’m a sucker for charred flavor, and the grilled taste permeated the very manageable chunks of meat. The radicchio added a pleasant bitterness, and the oregano made everything a little more familiar for a landlubber like me.
Canestri alla Norma: canestrini, tomato, eggplant, ricotta salata
Eating good pasta always reminds me that I want to eat more good pasta. The pappardelle at Babbo completely changed my expectations, and although this wasn’t life-altering, it was very nice. The little baskets of pasta were the perfect chewiness, and the ricotta added just the right amount of dry, crumbly texture. The basil-laden tomato sauce was still chunky and bright, so I could’ve really used some heavy meat in place of the eggplant to add a smokiness or some richer flavors. It felt a little too simple to me for a restaurant dish, not one you’d use to impress on your tasting menu.
Roasted Scotish Salmon: freekeh, string beans, pickled garlic scape, trout roe, mint
Not to bring up another food I’m squeamish about, but up until very recently, I didn’t like cucumbers; they’re one of those half-sweet, half-savory foods, like tomatoes, that my tastebuds didn’t respond well to. But in this dish, the cucumbers were the best part! Their brightness matched the briny flavor and the freshness of the roe. This was my first time having freekeh after seeing it in an episode of “Chopped“, and I wasn’t disappointed; it added such a chewy texture and such a familiarity. The salmon made the freekeh less heavy, and the freekeh made the salmon heartier. The scapes in the freekeh reminded me of scallions, and we liked what we believe were pea shoots on top, but I unfortunately missed the mint.
Roasted Hampshire Pork Chop: Swiss Chard Gnudi, House-Smoked Bacon, Spring Onion
I’ve had a lot of crispy-skinned pork in my life, and the most interesting thing about this pork was that it wasn’t crispy-skinned. Instead, the “skin” tasted like it had been caramelized, and its sweetness was a nice compliment to the cooked onion. The pork was extra-salty, and the housemade bacon was extra-firm–both pluses in my book. The gnudi of Swiss chard was . . . well, it was too healthy for my taste. I did like it, and I did think that the chard was a nice accompaniment to the pork, but I want my gnudi to be cheesy and bad for me!
tomato ice cream
This was easily the most interesting course of the night, and I’m ashamed to say that, as a hardcore tomato-hater. It’s not my fault, though. The tomatoes were sunk into a syrup so sweet and herbaceous it was like eating a Bloody Mary ice cream float. The saving grace was that there was the perfect amount of syrup in the bowl for me to take in multiple spoonfuls after each bite to mask any raw tomato flavor. With the yogurt sorbet providing a sourness, the dish became the perfect bridge between the savory and sweet courses.
Brown-Butter Financier: blackberries, lemon verbena ice cream
I was a little preoccupied with my raspberry liqueur from the Finger Lakes and the fact that the people next to us were getting extra courses that I was dying to see, but the standout in this dessert was the chewy, sugar-dusted top of the financier. I loved how the lemon verbena ice cream was like lemon for grown-ups: bright and herby and not at all sour.
Hearth is serving solid rustic Italian-inspired food. The weirdest part about my visit is that the dishes I thought would be exceptional were really just fine–the pork, the pasta–while the dishes I thought I’d have to quietly shove into my napkin–the octopus, the tomato and ice cream–turned out to be my favourites. Although I think the individual dishes may be too simple for their price tags, the tasting menu was a great value, and I would certainly return for it.
403 East 12th Street
New York, NY 10009 (map)