Because most weddings happen on Saturdays, most first anniversaries happen on Sunday and seconds on Monday. The good news is tradition narrows the gift for you: the first being paper and the second cotton. The bad news is you must be very careful where you choose to dine. Even if the appropriate restaurants near you are open on Sunday and Monday these are often the days the leaders of the team behind the food take off, so it matters that the place you choose has its game in order.
All things considered, even if we didn’t know we could trust hearth on a Sunday, I still think Wife and I would have chosen Hearth for our first anniversary last year. Along our way we have seemed to commemorate romantic occasions in the company of Marco and Paul, from Valentine’s at Gramercy Tavern to birthdays at Craft, and so on. There has always been an association between our celebrations, Marco’s food and Paul’s wine. Being people inclined to tradition, for our second anniversary this year we stuck with what has worked so well in the past.
So at eight-ish on the quiet Monday of our second anniversary, Wife and I sat down to dinner at Hearth. Perusing Hearth’s wine list is something that should be done by all; seriously, stop in, grab a seat at the bar and a drink, and read it. Where else can you learn how such and such a wine from Austria is like Christina Aguilera, better and more talented than Britney Spears’ version from France, but less appreciated? It truly is a fun read, and if you’re not careful you will learn something about wine. This, however, was a warm, kind of humid night deep in September. Although the weather wasn’t quite fall-ish enough to move us into autumnal wines, it wasn’t warm enough to merit a summer quaff either, which is what made me so happy to see the Saison (seasonally released beers as explained) on the first page of the wine list after cocktails.
The first Saison sampled was Dupont, Vieille Provision from Belgium, described as having notes of yeast, clove, anise, and grapefruit, all of which I found, but I was looking for them. As it opened, though, the notes turned entirely to hops, gradually going from a little funky to full-blown skunk weed, but in the good way. As it warmed it got heavy, but that didn’t keep it from pairing well with my appetizer.
STUFFED CABBAGE with sweet breads, Veal, Pastina and Broth: in a mahogany brown broth flavored simply yet very deeply of roasted meats were tiny squares of thin pasta, disks of carrot in three colors (orange, yellow, and crimson), and thin strands of cabbage and shallot. Set in the pool of this liquid were cabbage leaves wrapped around sweetbreads and ground veal breast with parmesan mixed in (a pillowy, soft stuffing with the richness of the meats and broth made deeper by the sourish lactic contrast of the cheese’s aroma). If I ever do get gout as everyone says I will from my offal and red wine heavy diet, I want to eat this while I heal.
The second Saison sampled was Le Baladin Wayan from Italy, described as having notes of flowers, toast, pepper, and citrus all of which became apparent when looked for. This one was incredibly food friendly, going particularly well with my entrée and especially with the raw fresh thyme leaves dusting the top.
ROASTED GUINEA HEN with Pancetta, Mustard Greens, Corn and Corn Jus: one of the greatest aspects of Marco’s dishes at Hearth is his levels of interpretation. In this dish corn is poppy sweet white corn kernels floating in a corn flavored brown fowl stock, the guinea hen is the breast roasted rolled in pancetta, and the confit of thigh is made into dumplings floating in the soup. Variations on a theme that come together with that touch of raw thyme that harkens back to the days he was working with Colicchio at the Tavern, and mustard greens and parmesan adding hottish astringency and sourness, middling the dish right at the level food in a restaurant called Hearth should be.
Celebrations must include dessert, but I still had some Saison to get through before sweets could show up so we asked our server to select us some cheeses he thought would compliment it. He brought us Emmenthaler from Switzerland, Trumpeter Meadow from Fence Line Dairy in Wisconsin, and Grafton 4 Star Cheddar from Vermont. The Emmenthaler had that simple and distinctly Swiss flavor that makes fondue go so well with aromatic whites and Kirsch, but was a little sharp for the Saison. The Trumpeter Meadow and Cheddar, however, were exactly right; the Trumpeter more nutty, the Cheddar more meaty, both complex enough to play with the aromas lingering at the end of the beer.
My taste for sweets is very narrow, but safely in the middle of it are concord grapes in the northeast of America in September. So it was simple to pick MASCARPONE CHEESECAKE with Concord Grape Compote and Sorbet: the sorbet was such a perfect representation of the flavor of seasonal grapes that I quickly ate it before I tasted the other components. Then, sorbet well consumed, I had the compote with the cheesecake which balanced the concentration of tartness in the compote quite nicely.
So on top of being comfortable in a comfortable space and enjoying great food, what else could happen to reassure us that this is the perfect place for us to celebrate our nuptials year to year? When presented with a check the waiter told us a good friend of mine that happened to have been eating three tables away picked up the meal we had had up until his departure. In the long run, we enjoyed ourselves and had a meal I would have happily paid significant sums of money for, for nearly free. As magic as Hearth can be on a normal night, it goes to the next level on a special occasion if only by being as welcoming and comforting to everyone else as it is to us.