Hourglass Brasserie (Bristol, RI)
We enjoyed a truly tremendous meal at Hourglass Brasserie in Bristol last night--a pleasant surprise. We've eaten at HB several times over the last few years, and while the food has always been skillfully prepared and beautiful, we weren't always completely bowled over by the flavors. Not so on this visit. We agreed that this particular tasting menu gives Birch a run for its money! I don't usually take pictures of my food, but this time I was "that person"--mea maxima culpa!
We did the four-course tasting menu--$48/person (so right in-step with the tasting menu at Birch; comparably-sized plates for purposes of comparison.) The meal began with a plate of pillowy house-made focaccia with roasted garlic olive oil and an amuse of cucumber gazpacho with dill oil. The gazpacho was so good, we would have happily eaten whole bowls.
First course: I had cucumber salad--sounds boring, tasted incredible. The cucumbers came in three forms--fresh halved baby cucumbers (the size of a fingernail), compressed cucumbers, and translucent shaved cucumber wrapped around a tube of heavenly light salmon mousse. The plate was finished with dill aioli, smoked salmon roe, and salty sea beans foraged by the chef at Colt State Park. No picture of my husband's shrimp and crab "cannelloni," a creative presentation involving yogurt, phyllo dough, watermelon, and seafood oil. We were both shocked by the level of execution in this first course. Better things were still to come...
Second course: I had squid risotto for my next course, and I thought it was easily the dish of the night (if not the entire summer/year!) Squid ink risotto, grilled whole squid, buttery soft squid rings, parmesan foam, and a crispy squid-ink cracker. Squid ink rice is one of my favorite dishes, and I've eaten it in four countries. This was probably the best. I ended this course with a huge smile on my stained mouth. My husband's second course was also amazing. He had a naan "taco" with halibut--tomatillo salsa, cilantro, fresh shaved radish, and red pepper rouille. The flavors on both these dishes were so incredibly intense, it really felt like a progression from the light and refreshing profile of the first course.
Third course: I had the parmesan crusted halibut, served with creamed cannellini beans, golden raisins soaked in curry jus, two-textures of cauliflower and grilled hen-of-the-woods. The squid ink risotto was a tough act to follow, but this dish was extremely satisfying. I loved the curry element in particular, which was used as a sauce. It also turned the raisins into little flavor bombs. My husband had seared lamb loin with fresh peas, braised lamb shoulder, sweetbreads, and lamb jus. Seemingly so simple, yet so incredibly satisfying and good. The sweetbreads in particular looked like perfect little croutons and were just so tender--easily one of the most enjoyable sweetbread presentations we've ever tasted.
Fourth course: Dessert hit the spot. I had baklava with a pistachio and walnut Bavarian, toasted meringues, compressed pineapple, and reduced pineapple sauce. I adore the flavors of baklava, and this was a very refined interpretation. My husband loved his vanilla panna cotta, especially the dehydrated orange "dust".
Service was impeccable. Our server (Ashley) was knowledgeable regarding every component of our dishes, even to the point of explaining some of the techniques (the compressed cucumbers and the parmesan foam, for example). Since I was only able to have one glass of wine with dinner, she happily asked the chef for a recommendation of what would pair best with my meal--great suggestion. After dinner, Chef-owner Ahmed came out into the dining room and greeted every table. He stopped to chat about his techniques and about the roll-out of the fall menu in a few weeks.
There were only 4 (!!) tables occupied on a Friday night--mind-boggling and utterly tragic. We watched at least 5 parties stop at the door to read the menu, peer through the glass, and move on. By the mid-point of the meal, I was ready to run after them and tell them not to blow their money anywhere else. I don't know any locals who ever eat at HB, but I see that it's #1 in Bristol on tripadvisor, so perhaps they have more of a tourist clientele? If so, local food-lovers are missing out.
The summer tasting menu is only available for two more weeks, and I really can't recommend it highly enough. All of the items on that menu are also available a la carte, along with other, equally enticing, options. I almost never do this, but I may actually consider going back to sample the other half of the tasting menu before it's gone forever.
382 Thames Street
It's funny, that part of Thames Street is high-traffic for both cars and pedestrians. I think the emptiness of the restaurant may have created a bit of a vicious cycle. People drive or walk by, see it isn't full, and figure it's not worth stepping in. That can be the beginning of a death-spiral for a restaurant. In this case, however, I can vouch for the freshness of all the ingredients, so whatever's going on hasn't effected that at least. Maybe the meal we had really was like catching lightning in a bottle, but we'll be back a lot sooner than last time to find out.
Incidentally, we saw a sign in the storefront next door to HB for a Thai restaurant and bakery. That seems like it would be a nice addition to the waterside dining scene in Bristol.