Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hart House Restaurant

Hart House on Urbanspoon

I can't remember the last time I was at the Hart House Restaurant in Burnaby but it must have been at least ten years. So when my dear dining buddy invited me there to use her Groupon, it was like going to a restaurant I'd never been.

The front door has stained glass with a lot of white, so from a distance it actually looked like the place was closed, and plastered over with white paper to stop people from peeking in. We were there for the first seating (5.30pm) and naturally it was all quiet, to the point of looking deserted.

The lobby of the venerable mansion is claustrophobic by today's standards, though the tight quarters would have made the most of any gratifying heat from the fireplace during the winter. Washrooms are in the corridor to the left, and feature remarkably modern-looking doors. Inside, a couple of (large) mosquitoes that found their way in from the marshy lake not far from the restaurant were an interesting reminder of the location.

We opted for the patio, and were led through the dim dining room to the back, which opened out into a very large garden (where weddings are often set up) and beyond that, the lake.
We were told that in about a half hour, the place would be buzzing with diners, so we opted for a quieter table for two tucked at one of the edges. It was a rectangular table with a hole in the middle (presumably for one of those huge lawn umbrellas), and the wooden chairs were arranged one at the side (with my back to a busy garden plot) and one at the end.

There were ants. We had (mild) allergies. It's the great outdoors. Whoop.

I had seen a $58 "Five Course Chef's Menu", but sadly that was not available on the first seating. After perusing the menu, we settled on the Charcuterie ("Chef’s Selection of House Made Terrines with Selection of Cured Meats and Sausages") to share, I had the Six-Hour Braised Lamb Shoulder ("Roasted Squash, Creamy Polenta, Cippoline Onions"), and my dining partner who always has to have salmon if it's on the menu naturally picked out the Confit BC Salmon ("Winter Vegetable Bonne Femme, Lemon Crème Fraiche").

A basket of slightly warm bread came shortly before the charcuterie plate, which was a simple-looking selection of assorted thinly sliced cold meats and sausages, two types of mustard, and some token olives. All in all, unremarkable. Boring, even. There were some spicy cuts in there to mix things up, though.
Fortunately, the mains were superb.

There were two large groups in that day, and our very thoughtful server popped in to ask if we'd like our mains immediately, although we hadn't finished the appetizer, as we might later be caught in the queue and have lengthy wait.

The salmon was juicy and tender and plated very beautifully on a white plate with a single green streak, complementing the tight bed of colourful vegetables on which sat the poached salmon fillet sprinkled with a white sauce but looking like it had been dusted with snow -- a cool "winter" look.

My piping-hot bone-in lamb was in the midst of a generous amount of polenta, and extremely tender. No knife required here -- you just gently pull it apart or off the bone. Very savoury, but not overly salty.

Dessert was of course the proper way to end dinner, and I had my eye on their version of the molten chocolate cake, the Molten Hart Cake ("Vanilla Crème Fraiche, Macerated Berries"). I'm typically curious about them not only because it's unadulterated chocolate in two ways (cake and rich goo on the inside) but also because it can be tricky. I've seen some coming out like a biscuit after having been in there too long, while in others you have to dig for the chocolate cream in the middle.
This one looked like it had collapsed after popping it out of a tart tin. Not pretty. Tasty enough, but not even a contender against the Thomas Haas Chocolate Soufflé (available at The District), which has a similar lava cake style but holds up much more prettily and has a somewhat richer taste.

Overall, a wonderful dinner with excellent hospitality from very attentive staff (which was a very pleasant change from most of the restaurants I'd been to in the last little while) who were at ease with guests in warm way.
The above selections plus one glass of white wine came to a hair over $100 before tip, before Groupon, after tax.

Credit cards were accepted, but the machine was wired to the counter and we had to go inside. A portable one would have been less gauche, though I would still have preferred the old fashioned way of penning in the tip in private and signing the slip.

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