Thursday, June 19, 2014


Donatella lost her battle with Chelsea, although her awning remains at the new incarnation, Heartwood.  It's only been in action a month and a half, so they've simply rolled her name up underneath until they acquire their own version- she's still a partner, so they needn't hide their ancestry entirely.  Their newness shows in fits and spurts, however; they've got some kinks to work out and some spiffing up to do, but  they're working from a solid base.  Heartwood's chefs come from good pedigrees:  Mark Fiorentino and Bradford Thompson, from Daniel and Lever House, respectively.

The ghost of Donatella remains not only furled up in the edge of that awning, but also in her legendary Stefano Ferrara wood-fired oven, no longer blinged out in gold tiles, but sporting a glossy, brick red shell, to put out novel pizzas with silly names,  such as the popular "When Peter Luger Goes Out For Pizza"  and the "Wild & Sharp".  They sport sturdy crusts, on the thick side of thin but not over-inflated, and nicely charred on the edges.  While we didn't order a pie, no crusts were left on any of the pans on surrounding tables: a good sign.  Hardly just a pizza place, though, the menu opens up with a snacky array of small plates, dips and cheese- scant on the vegetable quotient here, but that is picked up by a constantly changing trio of seasonal salads.  The night we were in featured a refreshing composed tomato concoction, paired with fine haricots-verts, ribbons and chunks of cucumber and dollops of foamed burrata.  We also tried the Chilled Shrimp cocktail, with was four sizeable, sturdy shrimp,
marvelously fresh, and just dusted with herbs.  They fanned out from a creamy, verdant avocado mousse studded with a juicy dice of snappy pickled green tomatillos- a really fetching combination.  Rustic bread (complimentary) swabbed up any remainders of the smooth mousse, but is served with a strangely tasty brown butter butter.  Sweetened with agave and maybe even a touch of warm spice, the butter, while delicious, seemed an odd spread for a dinner load, but I could see it going over very well in a brunch setting.  Or, excuse me, a "Brunchy" setting, as states the menu.  The gimmicky names would be

 a lot more annoying if the food didn't hold its own,
 lucky for them.  There's a lighthearted vibe at Heartwood, like they want you to have a joyful experience along with a really good meal.

Which is what was happening, although it would've happened a little more effortlessly had the staff been a little more effortful... and knowledgeable, and sophisticated.  Young servers seemed enthusiastic but inexperienced, and at the price points of the restaurant, they are really what tip the scales one way or the other.  Both entrees we tried were solid: a grilled salmon might have been a touch overdone for my dining companion, but it was how I prefer it.  It boasted distinct, smoky grill marks which played well off a bright Meyer lemon puree beneath.  Grilled spears of tender asparagus beneath were quite perfect examples of how the vegetable is best cooked, with more of the like piled atop, this time steamed and sprinkled with zest.   Their menu changes frequently enough so that their online version which I am referencing now isn't up to date (annoying), but I remember well the pan-seared cod served atop a rough succotash of
grilled corn, favas, burst cherry tomatoes and the unfortunate addition of some funky saltfish, which, paired with the well-cooked filet, contributed an unecessary fishiness that the whole dish would've performed better without.  Luckily, it didn't overwhelm, and the other components- plus the brightly herby dollop of pesto atop- fought a valiant battle to negate its influence.   While the plates are relatively balanced, there are a handful of sides from which we chose roasted beets with almond and orange, which would've fell more swiftly into the line-up as a salad.  Apparently, our waitress must have felt it would work better as dessert, however, because he forgot to provide it alongside our entrees, and when this was brought to her attention, it didn't arrive until after our entrees were easily completed, but for two
 bites I left just so I wouldn't have to eat a bowl of beets, post-facto, all by themselves.  And they certainly weren't worth the wait: roasting skin-on and then removing the skin takes the whole point of roasting and throws it in the compost, leaving what might as well have been boiled ones, thrown together with some orange segments and toasted almonds and no additional consideration.

Happily we found some reprieve in desserts, even though even their printed menu in the restaurant wasn't accurate either (better than the online dessert menu, which doesn't exist).  No more rhubarb, despite it being only early June, and was (seemingly prematurely) subbed out for peaches.  I can't really complain about this, however, because the fruit was supremely tasty, toothsomely intact and just pleasantly warm underneath a sugar-crusted gridlock of sublimely buttery pastry.  It was an easily shareable portion... well, the cobbler was.  The little scoop of brown butter ice cream could've easily increased 50% to sufficiently accompany each bite of the cobbler below, but it was a winning sweet.   And in the end, I felt much more than 50% satisfied with the overall experience at Heartwood, as well as about 85% certain they will improve with time.  And if we're talking numbers, there's value-added bonus with the retention of what was D Bar (now the Parlor) which opens up via a small corridor tucked behind the pizza oven.  It remains in its original state, $30,000 chandeliers intact, and a gorgeous ghost of Donatella past.  The name Heartwood is derived from the core of a log... the heart of the lumber.  It's the hardest part, burning hottest, so while Heartwood might just be kindling it's flame, it's got a tremendously solid foundation from which to burn.

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