Note: Sommelier Paul Grieco, who is mentioned prominently in this review, is no longer affiliated with Hearth. Late in 2014, he and chef Marco Canora ended their collaboration, with Canora retaining Hearth, and Grieco retaining the Terroir wine bars.
My first visit to Hearth was a couple of years ago. My enthusiasm fell short of the rapture on the food boards, and the restaurant wasn’t high on my list for a return visit. The rapturous comments never died down, so last night I thought it was about time I gave Hearth another look. Boy, am I glad I did.
My mom and I decided to order different things and swap plates, so each of us had a taste of two appetizers and two entrees. To start, I ordered the Snapper Crudo ($12). Five small pieces of snapper were topped with lemon, red pepper and rosemary. Amanda Hesser, in her 2004 review for the Times, complained there was “lots of flavor, none from the snapper.” Perhaps they’ve improved the dish, or Hesser doesn’t understand crudo. I thought it offered a well judged mix of contrasting flavors.
Having said that, if you’d like something more tangy, go for the Grilled Sardines ($13). My mom found the sardines slightly fishy, but I really enjoyed their crunchy warm exterior mixed with the accompanying salad of crosnes, black radish, raisins, and pine nuts.
The most expensive entree is the Braised and Roasted Domestic Lamb ($33), with lamb sausage, squash, and chanterelle mushrooms. It also might be one of the best lamb dishes in the city. Three tender medallions of lamb loin come with a strip of braised lamb shank so tender that the bone is nearly liquefied. The sausage is terrific. We also tried the pork belly, a special not on the printed menu ($28). This came with two ample squares of crisp pork belly.
My mom and I debated whether the lamb or the pork belly was better. We each slightly preferred the one we had started with—the lamb in my case, the pork in hers, but we agreed that both dishes were excellent. We hadn’t planned it this way, but it turns out we ordered the same dishes at Blue Hill three weeks ago: pork and lamb. Hearth did a better job at both, and Hearth also had the better appetizers.
Hearth also has a much better wine program than Blue Hill. It might be one of the better wine programs in the city, short of the four-star and a handful of the top three-star restaurants. Co-owner Paul Grieco, a former beverage director at Gramercy Tavern, has a lot to say about his wines, and he’s not shy about it. Many of the wine list’s 33 pages come with their own mini-lecture. One page has five paragraphs about a single $85 bottle. Other pages compare various wines to Tom Cruise, Brittney Spears, Ann Coulter, Wayne Gretzky, and even former U. S. Senator Jesse Helms. I am not sure who really has the time to read all of this during dinner, but when all the talking is over with, Grieco has a great wine list—a tad pricy for this type of restaurant, but lots of fun. We settled on a cabernet franc at $47 (Les Picasses, Olga Raffault, 2002), and I was sorry the bottle wasn’t bottomless.
Service was a little slow. I didn’t put them on a clock, but it seemed we were left with menus in our hands for quite a while before anyone came over to speak to us. (The menu is a single loose sheet of placemat-sized paper; surely they could do better than that.) Only then were we told about the off-menu pork belly special, after we’d already been pondering our choices for quite a while. The server then disappeared for another long interval so that we could ponder the pork belly option. Luckily, we had that long wine list to read. At some point, the server dropped off the amuse bouche, a shooter of delicious hot parsnip soup. But it was another long interval, and we still hadn’t ordered. Anyhow, once orders were taken, the rest of the service proceeded at a decent pace.
The ambiance at Hearth is casual, with wooden tables, exposed brick, and a ceiling painted a peculiar shade of burnt red. There is no actual hearth visible, but the name is appropriate for its suggestion of home comfort, which Hearth provides. It’s the perfect setting for Marco Canora’s excellent cuisine, which I look forward to sampling again soon.
Hearth (403 E. 12th Street at First Avenue, East Village)