That headline may leave some of you a bit grossed out. Let me clear this up quickly. These two activities were not done simultaneously. Last Friday night started out with my first trip to the Russian and Turkish baths in the east village. It seems ridiculous that I had not visited this ancient neighborhood hot spot for the for six years I lived just four blocks away. Never-the-less, I was being taken by a veteran so I had little worry other than; “How hungry do you get during this ritual?
I will forgo the full description of what took place in the bowels of this dank, decrepit, building and get straight to the food. For those who have never gone, let’s just say it is an attraction. Communal steam baths, ice plunge pools and really tiny towels make for a sweaty, medieval, journey into a masochistic, voyeuristic and narcissistic land of multi, age, shade and gender new yorkers. The point here is when you are done bathing you are really hungry. Like, eat a horse hungry. We didn’t do that but we did eat BIG.
As we dried off and suited back up we started throwing out local food options. Quickly the word “Hearth” rang out through the porcelain, tiled chamber and the decision was made. Just a few blocks away was one of my favorite East Village spots and thankfully Danny suggested it without a second blink. I say this because Hearth is not cheap or fast in any way. It is an experience in fine food, great wine and comfortable space. None of which the EV is known for. I go sometimes just to read the stories the sommelier writes about his wine choices.
When we arrived, without a reservation, we were told the wait would be about 20 minutes. Instead of doing the restaurant dance where you walk the streets getting denied a seat from over capacity restaurants for the time it would have taken to wait at the first one, we took a seat in the window, ordered some drinks and waited. The friendly and highly aware staff updated us periodically on the progress of the table situation. Soon enough we were seated. Besides our shrinking stomachs we were all very comfortable. Immediately we ordered the two fastest appetizers on the menu. The calamari salad had a tasty smokey flavor that made it very distinct. The charcuterie board, our second app, had a myriad of pate, head cheese and dried meat on it. The head cheese smeared on the garlic brioche almost made me weep. Instead, I ordered more brioche and used it to wipe every single plate clean that would come to the table for the rest of this meal.
Before we had even seen our appetizers we ordered our main dishes. For this post I would like to focus on these three choices. Actually there is four. Danny decided to throw a price fix tasting menu on top of the whole order. His entree was a slow cooked veal served on polenta. It was very tasty, super tender and fell apart in your mouth just like what you wanted to expect. (I missed the pic on that one sorry). Before Danny’s over zealous, but smart addition to our order we had asked the waiter for the meatballs, the lasagna and the special.
The lasagna was bolognase sauce based. Those of you that know me know I make a killer lasagna. For me to order it in a restaurant is unusual. When the above came to the table I could see the distinct layers. It was not buried in melted cheese. Two good signs. As I cut the noodles with the side of my fork I new they had used fresh pasta. That is the only way to make lasagna in my opinion. Raising the bite to my lips I could see the meat sauce trying its best to stay hidden in between the soft green blankets of pasta. The taste was simple but bold. The flavors were not overwhelming but they fired many pleasure neurons in my brain. My friends consensus was that a bechemel sauce was also used in the lasagna’s construction. Not an uncommon addition to lasagna unless you are analyzing mine. I disagreed but the majority won this one.
Next up were the meatballs. A must have if you are dining with a well know Canadian woman mentioned often on this blog. Since she was sitting to my right, the waiter quickly jotted down MB’s on his antiquated but standard waiter pad. When they arrived to the table three small cheese filled ravioli’s accompanied them (pic at top). The meatballs were filled with ricotta and fresh mozzarella. Both of these ingredients were untraceable to the eye. The chef had mixed these dairy superstars into the grind so well that you felt like you were eating a cheese infused meatball. This also made the meatballs feel light and sit well in the stomach. This unique trait left room for the overindulgent, unnecessary final entree of the evening.
When the waiter recited that the special of the night would be an off the bone, pan seared, 20 oz. sirloin we all almost fell off our chairs. You see, after sweating it out in the baths, waiting 30 minutes for a table and downing a cocktail or two, you are not really thinking strait. He had us at “off the bone”. When it arrived, pre-sliced, the aroma made you want to spear a piece with your fork before it was even placed on the table. Blood ran down the long plate and pooled at one end. Then it started begging to be sopped up by that brioche. The rosemary spring added even more aromatics cuing the salivary glands to shift into a higher gear. We each placed a piece of the rare steak on our plates and grabbed for our knives, although not needed to cut this supple and glorious piece of bovine. The outer edge of the meat was crisped to perfection and salted post pan. Not a black char to be seen on the steak it was fascinating how they created such a thin, perfectly cooked outer layer and maintained a beautiful, gradated, red tone as you worked towards the center. Picking up on a conversation started a few weeks back it became apparent that the meat had some unique quality to it. Immediately the meatball loving Canadian shouted that the cow must have been grass fed. Agreeing, I took another bite and confirmed that the softer and less dense texture could certainly have come from this more natural and human process.
This topic has been heavily debated for years. Most recently it flamed up in my personal life when I debated the taste merits of grass fed beef over corn fed beef with a top-chef winner during a game of celebrity. The conversation ended in a stale mate but did start a challenge to try both types side by side. To settle tonight’s conundrum we simple asked the waiter. Upon his return, we were informed the cow was raised on grass and finished on grain. This is a agricultural way of saying they fed her what she biologically was supposed to eat for most of her life. Then they fattened her up with corn three months before they served her. This process is a bit the rage these days because it nods to the humane and organic food peoples desires but still adds a bit of marbleization to the meat which American’s seem to love. Regardless of what it was fed, it was tasty. We knocked back every bit of this plate right down to the last drop of juice.
All that was accompanied by a great bottle of gravello wine. Dessert followed as well as a few lemon verbena teas and an espresso. Satiated, buzzed and steam cleaned the four of us managed our way back on to the street to hail cabs. If this is the kind of meal I’ll get after every visit to the baths I might just go for that $200 membership ticket after all.