The Food and Wine Hedonist

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Hartwood – Best Meal Ever?

What makes for the best dinner ever?  I certainly don’t have an answer for this and anyone who has the definitive answer to this is probably some blowhard you’re better off not knowing.    For me, it’s got to be some combination of company, atmosphere, occasion, service, and drinks.  And – oh yeah – the food itself.

In my research prior to our trip to Tulum, there were three restaurants that were on the top of everyone’s lists – Posada Margherita, El Camello Jr, and Hartwood.  We didn’t make it to Hartwood until our very last night, and that was probably a good thing.  If we went earlier in the trip, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have eaten anywhere else.

HW front

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Tulum is an enigma with its mixture of casual, laid-back atmosphere and high fashion, and world-class cuisine.  It’s a place where you can go to tune out the world, yet also a place to be seen.   Hartwood is also a series of contradictions – global yet local, rustic yet modern, casual yet high cuisine.

Vistors to Tulum will notice its magical mix of New York pedigree, sustainable practices, relaxed atmosphere and, most importantly, natural beauty.  All of those elements are epitomized in Hartwood.

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New York in Mexico

The restaurant is owned by Brooklyn expats Eric Werner and Mya Henry.  Werner (Manhattan’s Peasant) and Henry (The Standard Hotel) opened Hartwood in 2010 after deciding to start a new life in Tulum.  They don’t try to make traditional Mexican food or even an interpretation of it, since the locals probably would do it better.  But all of the ingredients are locally caught, grown, and even foraged.   So while the cooking techniques are from New York, it’s as authentic Mexican as it gets.

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Sustainable

The hotels, restaurants, and shops in Tulum’s beach area all have a strong commitment to sustainable practices.  Of course, it’s probably because they have no choice due to strict governmental regulations to protect the environment.  Either way, businesses there are doing all the right things.

HW Kitchen

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Hartwood uses solar panels that provide only enough electricity for a couple lights, music, and a bar blender.  That means that the fish that’s brought in daily by local fishermen is stored on ice in coolers.  The produce and spices are from deep in the jungle, grown with centuries-old techniques.  All of the prepwork is done by hand and the food is cooked either in their wood-fired oven or grill, both handmade.

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Atmosphere

The restaurant seats about 30 or so people in an open-air dining “room.”  There are only a couple lights, otherwise all the other lighting is provided by candles and lanterns.  All of the tables are simple wooden picnic tables with no tablecloths and the friendly staff is all decked out in t-shirts and shorts.   Yet all of this simplicity and lack of pretention gave it a sense of elegance.   Rather than try to impress you with a planned décor, it seemed like there was this calm confidence saying, “we’ll let the food do all the talking.”

HW menu bar

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Natural Beauty

Here’s what we ate.

HW empanada

Papaya Empanada

HW jicama

Jicama Salad – cactus preserves, mint cream, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds

HW fish

Filet de Huachinango – Red snapper, pickled radish, chaya (tree spinach), pienapple, chili cream

HW Polpo

Pulpo – Roasted octopus with pickled onions, potato, purple basil, coriander, chili, mustard

HW dessert

Honey ice cream – made elsewhere in town since Hartwood doesn’t have enough electricity

 

All of the dishes were simple enough, yet there was a lot of complexity and depth to each course.   Each had a lot of different flavor elements to them, but everything was in balance and served a purpose.

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The Drinks

HW marg

Pina Habanero Margarita

HW wine

White wine – I’ve never had the Uva Mision varietal before. It was nice and balanced, not very crisp but still had refreshing acids.

HW mezcal

Diamante mezcal

HW shots

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Best Meal Ever?

So how did dining at Hartwood do in regards to my criteria for best meal ever – company, atmosphere, occasion, service, and drinks, food?   The occasion was the final night of a trip where Boom Boom (the company) and I reconnected with each other and ourselves individually.   The food was spectacular and the service and atmosphere perfect.  On top of all that, the restaurant’s vision and commitment to the environment was an unexpected bonus that elevated it from great restaurant to unique experience.

Yeah, I’d say “best ever” fits.

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What’s your definition of a perfect meal? Have you had it yet?

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About thefoodandwinehedonist

I don't know everything about the world of food and wine, but I'm not going to let a small detail like that stop me from blogging about it.

13 comments on “Hartwood – Best Meal Ever?

  1. AnaLuciaSilva
    October 22, 2014

    Lovely shots =)

  2. Duff's Wines
    October 22, 2014

    I’ve had a few meals that might qualify. But, I’m hoping there will be more. When I reflect on what makes them memorable, it might rest with the whole day and whether the cuisine is rooted in the place where I am. Which means that there aren’t any candidates at home except for market stall days. They’re all when I was abroad sadly. Plus, the company as you say makes the meal. Last sadly is the wine/drinks. Which is a sacrilegious comment, yeah.
    Great posts on Tulum. Not a winter Carib guy but you’ve got me interested.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      October 22, 2014

      Yeah, I’ve had some terrific home cooked meals and ones at dinner parties. But I think I’d have to disqualify those as they involved some clean-up which I loathe doing. Also there’s something conceited about saying the best meal ever was one I cooked. I guess it’s possible.

  3. hemcfeely
    October 23, 2014

    Gorgeous photos! The best meal I ever ate was at Suppenkuche in San Francisco. It’s a casual German restaurant with shared tables, lots of beer and wine, and amazing food. I was positively giddy with happiness that night. There are lots of other memorable meals, and I’m sure there are plenty more in the future. 🙂

  4. elizabeth
    October 23, 2014

    My stomach growled while reading through this, and I love the idea of a super low key place that just turns out amazing food and not relying on the familiar tricks (especially those employed at New York restaurants). Great shots!

    I know what you mean about finding a place on vacation and wanting to eat there the entire time you’re there–I think I had two of those experiences on our last trip. Now I just need to write about them!

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      October 23, 2014

      Thanks, can’t wait to see yours. I really loved how they’re taking everything local except the style.

  5. Cheap Wine Curious
    October 23, 2014

    That jicama salad and roasted octopus and margarita and, and, and I’m speechless. This is one of my favorite blogger posts ever! I am very fond of Mexico and the local cuisine. So happy to see Tulum flourishing through the vision of NY savvy and local purveyors and growers. I agree with you – this looks like it was the best meal ever and one I would like to recreate for myself. How I define the best meal ever is comfort+unexpected flavors+artistry+sensorial splendor. I had an amazing multi course meal in 2005 at BLT in NYC and another at Boulé in 2010. When I eat my mother’s homemade Vietnamese food and Itallian at Al Forno in Providence I’m home. I had an incredible meal at El Dorado Kitchen on the square in Sonoma for my last anniversary because the server was so knowledgable about the menu and made the perfect suggestions all around. The same could be said about wine knowledge and food, when the sommelier/chef are in harmony it’s magic – I had the most amazing wine pairing tasting menu at Ramsgate with some good business associates that not only impressed but set the bar so high we never matched the experience at all subsequent wineries. Whatever the occasion, as long as it’s relaxed, servers are knowledgable and the chef a true passionate artisan, I’m sold. Great locale, environment are a bonus. My favorite companion is the food – it doesn’t reprimand me for talking with my mouth full.

  6. thefoodandwinehedonist
    October 23, 2014

    Wow, you’ve been to some great places. Love your fave companion… I did come across this recipe for Hartwood’s Jicama salad – http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016118-jicama-salad-with-lime-vinaigrette-and-mint-cream

  7. Pingback: Back to Tulum | The Food and Wine Hedonist

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  9. Pingback: The Hartwood Cookbook – Lime Tart with Lime Caramel | The Food and Wine Hedonist

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This entry was posted on October 22, 2014 by in Dining, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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