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Hearth: Italian Soul Food Priced for Manhattan’s Socialites

The word hearth evokes images of home, of warmth, of family clustering around the fire, of Grandma’s fantastic cooking. Chef Marco Canora’s East Village restaurant, Hearth, is about as cozy as you can get without making the trek home to your parents’ house and the perfect venue for Canora to showcase his scrumptious Italian-American soul food. Made famous by his recent appearance on the Food Network’s cooking competition show “The Next Iron Chef,” Canora is known for injecting his personal philosophy into his food and his restaurant: offer ‘enlightened hospitality’, cook with care, don’t waste, don’t spoil, save what you can. It all sounds basic for a gourmet restaurant, yet Hearth shows you the differences between ‘service’ and ‘hospitality,’ ‘cooking with care’ and ‘cooking with skill.’

Hearth is on the corner of 12th and 1st Avenue, in the heart of the East Village’s dining nerve center. You’ll find nearby the Momofuku restaurants, cult favorites like Veselka and Artichoke Pizza, foodie havens Motorino, Pomme Frites, and This Little Piggy, and neighborhood joints like Westville East, The Redhead, and Ost Cafe. The corner spot is just plain lovely, a charming blend of Italian rusticity and elegant modern dining. Along one side of the dining room is the requisite exposed brick wall, Canora’s is left unadorned; on the other side, warm burnt orange panels that lend a seductive and flattering amber glow over patrons. The entire dining room is designed with acoustics in mind – clever sound-absorbent ceiling paneling, a smooth floor that mysteriously seems to mute noise, heavy curtains – and because of this, the restaurant has a pleasant buzz that never seems to get out of control.
I cannot get over Hearth’s menu (in a really really good way). It features Canora’s distinctive soulful take on Italian comfort food through a long list of first courses, main courses, a few large portions to share, and a 7-course tasting menu. Although options do change seasonally, it seems like winter’s the best time to go when the flavors are bold and comforting and the food warms you from the inside out. For example, when the wind chill is down to 18 degrees, how can you possibly say no to Canora’s “chicken soup,” which is clearly not your average chicken noodle soup, served with tender chicken dumplings, nutty farro, and a wonderfully savory broth. The red-wine braised octopus is rich and decadent with a fistful of flavors, including an addictive lemon aioli, earthy potato, and black olive. For the more adventurous, there is the sweetbread piccata, silky with potato puree and mushrooms, or the festival of ingredients that accompany the grilled sardines (read: fig, pear, almonds, black radish, and spindles of frisee).

For main courses, just about everything seems to be good. The pastas are dreamy. The pumpkin gemelli is luscious – rich, smooth, and creamy with a classic brown butter sage sauce kicked up with crunchy bitter little bites of amaretti (Italian almond macarons). Equally wonderful is the ‘spaghetti and meatballs,’ made with perfectly-cooked homemade noodles and the most decadent veal and ricotta meatballs ever. They are so delicious that I could eat them every day, for as long as Canora would serve them, or at least until I make myself sick. If you’re in the mood for something more substantial, the roasted lola duck is lovely, juicy and tender with crunchy red quinoa, sweet pomegranate, and smooth earthy turnip confit – a festival of flavors!

Hearth is wonderful sort of place: warm, cozy, and elegant with hearty and delicious food and truly congenial service. It’s expensive and oddly suited for the East Village, yet regardless of its ill-selected neighborhood, Hearth is a restaurant any Italian food lover should try.
Perfect For: well-heeled East Villagers, showing your parents around downtown, special occasions for hip young things, Italian cuisine connoisseurs, impressing a first date, Valentine’s Day romance

Hearth on Urbanspoon

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