Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hazelnut Kitchen

One of the worst things about moving is that I inevitably find the best restaurants right before I do. It's just one of life's rules: if you know for a fact that you're going to move, you will suddenly, right before you go, meet the coolest people you've met in all your time in that place, discover the best restaurants, learn the names of all the local flowers and feel intense stabs of longing at the thought of leaving. When Justin and I left Berkeley four years ago, we stumbled on a little Indian restaurant only a block from our house - one that we had failed to notice in all of our years there, and that we only got to eat at a handful of times before packing up our lives and fleeing to the east coast for grad school. And so it is, of course, that as we begin the process of packing up our lives here, we discover one of the best restaurants we've ever been to: Hazelnut Kitchen in Trumansburg, NY.

Don't let the location or the entree prices fool you. I grew up in a family that measures quality of food by price of entree, size of wine cellar and proximity to major culinary centers like Los Angeles and Paris. As I've become a cook in my own right (which is, to say, an amateur one that's really way better at baking, anyway), I've come to realize that this is a very poor way of judging a meal. The most important components, to me, are a combination of simplicity and elegance - and, well, ideally a price tag that's kind to my pocketbook. I mean, I'm an unemployed poet. These things matter.

And so it was that Justin and I found ourselves enjoying one of the best meals of our lives at Hazelnut Kitchen this Sunday, our first wedding anniversary. The best way I can think to describe the ambiance of this restaurant is to say that it's like eating a meal inside an Anthropologie store. The waitresses are all 20-something hipster girls in vintage polka dot dresses or high-waisted, vaguely nautical shorts. The place settings are mismatched, but perfect: antique silver tableware, delicate, bright cloth napkins that vary from table to table. Every plate or bowl is slightly different from its mate, but somehow cohesive.

The first thing we were served was a selection of artisan breads with a velvety chive butter. Heaven! Since this was our first wedding anniversary and perhaps the best excuse to splurge that we could think of, we also opted to share a deliciously floral bottle of Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier, and both ordered appetizers. I know, we're crazy, right? Perhaps more crazy was my choice of sauteed green curry coconut cream escargot, a dish that seriously only set us back $10 and which proably ruined me on escargot for my whole life (in the good way). Snails, man. De-lish.

For our entrees, we went straight off of the May menu, J choosing the spanish style fish stew with mussels, tuna, baby octopus & shrimp (and also a few potatoes, some cilantro, scallions & grilled bread for mopping up juice). Just look at this monster:

I went with the duck confit, which was served between a bed of sweet beans and a small heaping of greens with mustard vinagerette. Maybe it's a given that duck should be served moist, cooked until the juices are oozing through the meat, but I find that this is not usually the case. So I'll just say this: Jonah McKeough, the chef at Hazelnut Kitchen, is a man who knows how to cook duck. I was a happy girl.

We ended on dessert, of course, so I'll end the post on this little gem: a perfectly-presented vanilla bean pot de creme with caramel sauce, whipped cream and a strawberrry on top. Thank you, everyone, for the anniversary wishes. I hope I always get to eat this well once a year.


justin said...

Man, I hope we eat this well more often than once a year. That was a fabulous meal! How is it possible we didn't know Hazelnut Kitchen existed until a couple months ago? I can't wait to go back!

Alex Solla said...

You both rock. This is a great post about great food at a great restaurant. Nice.

Looking very forward to heading there NEXT WEEK!!!! Time for the June menu.

Lickedspoon said...

God that looks incredible. I've really enjoyed discovering your blog and have left you a little award at mine...come on over to Licked Spoon Mansions to pick it up.

eggsonsunday said...

We *love* Hazelnut Kitchen!! Best restaurant in the Ithaca area, I think. So glad you both were able to get there before moving.

Dana said...

Justin and Alex - I am fantastically happy that we're going to Hazelnut again next week.

Debora, thank you for the mention on your blog!

Amy, I totally agree about Hazelnut Kitchen. I'm just sad that I lived here for the two years that the restaurant has been open and didn't know about it until now!

nancy said...

Yum. Jonah is THE MAN! and his wife Christina makes a mean Chocolate Espresso Torte.

Already thinking about what I'm going to order next week...