It takes a lot for a meal to linger in my memory long after it has been consumed. Hazelnut Kitchen had been on my list as a "must visit" ever since I'd read about their relationship with Ithaca-area farmers to source ingredients last year. Hazelnut Kitchen opened in April 2007 by co-owners, co-chefs, and partners in life Jonah and Christina McKeough. I met Jonah briefly at an Edible Finger Lakes party last spring and that started my obsession with getting down to the Ithaca/Trumansburg area to check it out.
As luck would have it, my husband's work brought us down to Ithaca on a crisp Sunday afternoon in October. Back then, Hazelnut Kitchen only took reservations for large parties (they now take them for parties of any size) so Harrison and I strolled up and down Main Street, eagerly waiting for the restaurant to open to ensure a seat. Well, we got in and proceeded to have one of the most delicious meals I've had in Central New York.
You might guess that we are a picky lot, my husband and I. We went to a much-hyped restaurant while in Chicago this summer which was known for sourcing locally, organically grown ingredients and while the meal was fine, it didn't wow us. Unless we're going out for pizza (and sometimes even then) we hate feeling like iwe could have done better (or as good) making the same meal at home. So the question for us is, can a restaurant that is likely to be cooking with the same ingredients (from even some of the same sources) prepare a memorable meal. Well this one can. Hazelnut Kitchen didn't disappoint. At all.
If I lived near T-burg, I'd eat here all the time. The menu changes frequently but you can see what was on offer back in mid-October. I had the quail--it was amazing. The flavors of smoky bacon, grilled quail, blueberry (concentrated in a gastrique that provided a note of sweetness without being syrupy) and that potato and celery root hash--it was so good!
Harrison had one of his favorite combinations--steak and polenta. There was nothing left on the plate when he was done. (Okay, I ate his greens.)
Aside from the incredible food, the other think we loved about Hazelnut Kitchen was it's intimate feel. This was truly a neighborhood restaurant--the kind every neighborhood ought to have. There's an open kitchen up front lending the feeling not so much of "dinner prep as theater" but of friends prepare an incredible meal. We can't get back there too soon.