In this week's restaurant review, I consider the Hart and the Hunter, the restaurant in the Palihotel that sprang from the loins of a Venice pop-up. You can read the full review here, or check out the condensed version below.
Food: Chefs Kris Tominaga and Brian Dunsmoor are serving up what they call "country food," though the country they're presenting has a very Southern twang. Biscuits, pimento cheese, and shrimp and grits share the menu with nods to other simple European country cooking like steak tartar and venison carpaccio. They're following in the tradition of the kitchens Dunsmoor came up in, namely the new Southern of Georgia and Charleston S.C., where Dunsmoor grew up and went to culinary school. Where much Southern food outside of the South takes on an uncomfortable cartoonishness, The Hart and the Hunter is presenting fresh, creative food underpinned by technique and soul.
Looks: The restaurant is situated in the hotel lobby, in what was built to be a coffee shop for a youth hostel (which was the function of this building in a former life). As such, the room is small and the kitchen setup is odd, with the chefs using what was a coffee counter as the pass. The room is tiled in blue, with vintage accents here and there -- an old school desk sits in one corner accessorized by vintage suitcases; plates are flowered and mismatched. Those blue tiles are fun, but they sure make it loud in there. Like, really really loud.
Service: From the review: "The waitstaff is laid back and hyper-cool, sporting finger tattoos and/or fedoras, and operating as if the room were their very own house party rather than a business. It's not that they're disorganized or lazy -- far from it. But the style of service here is more friendly than professional. I found this comforting; many people might find it annoying."
Drinks: A small wine and beer list, with kind of eclectic, mainly domestic wines. I'd prefer a little more range, but it suits the food.
Takeaway: Three stars (very good). This is an example of a couple of young chefs achieving pretty much exactly what they are trying to achieve -- that is, a quality, personal-feeling restaurant that feels as much like a hipster dinner party. The surprising part is that the food is almost universally excellent, far better than what you might expect from an enterprise like this.
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