Dining in New Haven
(4/13/2009) By STEPHANIE LYNESS
Published: April 10, 2009
A SURE sign that New Haven is coming up in the world is the opening this past October of its first upscale, themed boutique hotel, the Study at Yale.
The Study occupies the 1961 building that was once the Colony Inn on Chapel Street. It has been renovated in wood, bronze, stone and glass, with soft color tones, and has the hushed comfort of a private library. From the comfy leather chairs, reading lamps and artfully composed bookshelves in the lobby to the hotel’s oval-eyeglasses motif (an adorably giant-sized pair perches on the entry steps), it manages to be warm, contemporary and quietly classy.
The ground-floor restaurant, Heirloom, is a lovely room, particularly in the daylight; it is airy and spacious, with floor-to-ceiling glass looking out to Chapel. Muted tones are punctuated by a bright-red pepper grinder at each table.
Heirloom’s executive chef, John Nordin, who trained under Todd English, presents a contemporary American menu with strong Italian influences. The kitchen is still ironing out the kinks, but when the food is successful, Mr. Nordin exhibits a nice range of ability. He appears to be as comfortable with French cuisine as he is with Italian, and his Asian-inspired tuna tartare (which he calls tuna “well and rare”) is one of his better dishes.
For the tartare, Nordin packs diced tuna, flavored with tamari, sriracha chili sauce, shallots and ginger, into a ring mold, tops it with Japanese puffed rice pearls, and sears it, top and bottom, in curry oil. The unmolded tartare is served with julienned apple, and a smidgeon of spicy coconut-apple curry sauce. The innovations work; the dish isn’t fussy. Clam chowder is particularly good here, too, featuring two, whole littleneck clams, big chunks of bacon, diced potato, carrot, leeks and corn, and finished with a touch of cream.
An appetizer of red and yellow roasted beets, interspersed with pieces of local goat cheese, is simple and to the point. The house salad is lightly dressed and topped with pine nuts and shards of Parmesan. Three beef skewers are coated in a delightfully sweet glaze, grilled and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Two American favorites, a shrimp cocktail and a little porcelain tub of macaroni and cheese, don’t work as well. The shrimp was tasteless the night I ordered it, and the macaroni tasted mostly of white sauce, although ham hocks and three different cheeses are advertised on the menu. Crisp burrata, Nordin’s take on fried mozzarella, is a burrata and brioche sandwich, coated with panko and deep-fried. Unfortunately, the delicate flavor of the cheese gets lost in the taste of the frying oil.Entrees have been erratic. The halibut I ordered at my first meal was fabulous — beautifully cooked and simply presented with brown butter and capers, sautéed Swiss chard and an artichoke puree. Lobster lasagna is a delicate concoction of house-made pasta squares layered with good-sized chunks of lobster, and served with melted leeks, lobster roe and coral sauce.
A special of rabbit “rillettes” was a particularly successful innovation. A confit of shredded leg meat was rolled in butterflied loin meat, wrapped in thin slices of bacon and served with lentils, asparagus and morels.
Problems included the short ribs, which were not cooked enough to be luscious. The small, whole chicken, cut down the backbone and cooked under a brick to flatten, was burned on the outside. Most distressing was my monkfish “bouillabaisse,” which combined chunks of the fish, shrimp, mushroom risotto and a thick saffron-scented sauce. The seafood was overcooked and almost flavorless.
Mr. Nordin made a strong comeback with house-made desserts, which were good across the board.
The apple beignets are soft, warm mouthfuls, coated with cinnamon sugar. The apple tart is a thin disk of crust, amply covered with tender apple slices. And the Bulldog brownie, named after Yale’s mascot, is a hefty slab of moist chocolate.
There is a lot of good food on the menu, and I hope that, given time, Mr. Nordin will tune up the rest.
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