One block off the bustle of Chicago Avenue in Evanston, Hearth Restaurant is tucked onto a residential street on the first floor of The Homestead Hotel, an inn that’s been open since 1928.
Walking through the front door, it felt more like walking into a colonial-inspired manor home than a restaurant or a hotel. We took a seat in the Homestead Lounge next to a lovely stone and copper fireplace while waiting for our table. The atmosphere is very parlor-like, with a small bar tucked into the corner with tantalizing lists of small plates and craft cocktails. It was a lovely environs in which to spend a few minutes in cocktail conversation before making our way to Hearth’s main dining room.
The atmosphere inside is a cross between a beige paneled beach house and a woodsy lodge, with beautiful cast iron light fixtures, a large brick fireplace with stacked wood, and New England Georgian Federal-style windows. They balance the classical elements with a variety of modern abstract art with an emphasis on evocative landscapes. The table water was in a repurposed Bulleit bourbon bottle, adding a charmingly thrifty vibe. A glance around the room showed it wasn’t brand specific, the table next to ours bore the Jack Daniels boxiness and two tables over was the Grand Marnier version. It all feels very cozy and welcoming, and we settled in very quickly.
The first thing to arrive at the table was a basket of oven-warm Buttermilk Chive Biscuits. The chives were so fresh that the scent hit us from the moment they were set down with a daub of soft butter sprinkled with black pepper. The biscuits had the perfect combination of crumbly exterior, sumptuously soft inside that made them completely irresistible.
We began with the Seared Ahi Tuna off of the Cold Starters section of their Small Plates menu. Bite sized slices of mild, smoky tuna are presented over a smear of quince puree, which provides hints of pumpkin-like flavor, a buttery soy buerre blanc sauce, and a bit of sweetness from crumbles of rice paper crackers. A smattering of microgreens brings a lovely contrasting color to the pink tuna and an extra touch of texture to the dish. All of the delicate flavors on the plate combine to accentuate the freshness of the fish for a fantastic opening appetizer. This dish draws out the peppery accents in a glass of St. Innocent Villages Cuvee Pinot Noir.
From the Hot Starters side of the Small Plates menu, but sticking with their tempting treatment of seafood, comes the Crispy Crab Cake. The crab cake is breaded in a crunchy layer of panko breadcrumbs, which give a perfect fried edge to the brisk flavor of delicious shredded crab. A pool of creamy béarnaise sauce brings a welcome buttery bent to every bite and a tangle of microgreens top the crab cake for a touch of greenery and a subtle salad shading.
For the entrees portion of the evening, we experienced the top reason to add Hearth to your rotation of regular restaurants; the Mushroom Ravioli. Each pillowy ravioli explodes with decadent creaminess and hearty mushrooms before transforming with a wonderful pesto aftertaste. The pasta is covered with an inspired mix of apricot mustard jam, whole Marcona almonds, crispy shallots, and lemon shavings. Be sure to combine all of the elements onto one forkful for an incredibly unique and imperative pasta experience.
The Duck Breast entrée combines the characteristic richness of well prepared duck with many elements that evoked a Thanksgiving sweetness via a date puree, blood orange glaze, and red wine sauce. Together the elements created a complexity of flavor that found grounding in a bed of wild rice underneath the sliced duck breast. The dry fruitiness of a Chono Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon is excellent for resetting the palate between each bite to take in the full spectrum of sweet and savory crafted into the profile of this dish.
Usually, we write-up one dessert, but Executive Chef John “Woody” Linton sent two to our table, one perfect for warm summer nights on their patio, the other the epitome of delectable heavy winter desserts. The Almond Financier gets a lot of its charm from the incredibly light sweetness of the almond flavored pastry accented by little bites of fresh orange, raspberry, and candy lemon. The Warm Pecan Tart is luxuriously warm, crunchy, and sticky, like an upscale version of every carnival dessert rolled into one dripping with caramel and topped with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Both were absolutely exceptional.
Hearth Restaurant is located at 1625 Hinman Avenue, #102 in Evanston, 847-570-8400, hearthrestaurant.net.