A couple of weeks ago I was driving through Trumansburg on my way back to Ithaca from Palmyra (I had been kidnapped for a Mormon adventure at the Hill Cumorah Pageant), and we passed by a restaurant that caught my eye. “Hazelnut Kitchen,” I said. “Well, that sounds like a lovely place to have dinner.” It turns out my instincts were right.
When I got home I checked out their menu online. Everything sounded phenomenal. One problem—they were going to be closed for the next couple of weeks. Luckily they reopened the last weekend I would be in Ithaca. Perfect. I filled in my friend (and one of my favorite dining companions) Lara on my plan to enjoy a meal at Hazelnut Kitchen before I departed and she was all about it.
So for my last night of a wonderful six weeks in Ithaca, we headed over to Trumansburg for one last fantastic meal together. Since I was in a celebratory mood (and feeling a mix of emotions ranging from sadness at saying farewells to joy and appreciation for new friendships forged and old ones strengthened to anticipation for what’s to come next) I opted for a sparkling white wine. I don’t have the name of the wine, but the menu described it as “dry, crisp, toasty.” Tall elegant glass flutes filled with bubbles just brings a smile to one’s face. We cheersed to the Summer of Freedom (which will hopefully transition smoothly into a Life of Freedom) and sipped our chilled white wine that bursted with effervescence.
Selecting items from the menu proved difficult as everything sounded amazing. After a detailed reading of and discussion regarding nearly every dish on the menu we decided on one first course item and two second course entrees. Not wanting to break from our modus operandi, we planned on sharing everything.
Our first course consisted of organic spicy greens, fresh figs, jambon de bayonne, balsamic vinaigrette, and Lively Run blue cheese. The plate was lined with ultra-thin slices of glistening jambon, its shades ranging from deep magenta to soft sunset pink to lines of soft white fat. Atop the jambon was a bouquet of spicy greens coated lightly in a balsamic vinaigrette that balanced a delicate line of acidity, oil, and spice. The slice of Lively Run goat cheese draped across the greens had lovely blue-green veins of mold laced throughout the hard, off-white cheese. (Lively Run is a local goat farm in the Finger Lakes area that produces goat milk and goat milk cheese.) Along the side of the plate were figs sliced in half—their intoxicating sweetness shining through with every taste. While each component displayed its own distinctive characteristics and delight, the best bite was one that included a little bit of each fine ingredient, bringing together a heavenly blend of flavors.
For one the entrees we ordered one of the specials, which consisted of sautéed shrimp and steamed mussels, with chorizo sausage, tomatoes, basil, sweet corn, garlic, and roasted red peppers. This aromatic dish arrived at the table in a large white bowl—the array of mussels nestled in a shallow layer of light-brown broth. The combined scent of spices, sausage, and basil wafted out over the table, inciting desire and anticipation for the first bite.
We also shared the star anise dusted duck breast with red cherry reduction, aromatic jasmine rice, and sautéed pac choi. We were informed by our server that this dish was the chef’s specialty and once I took the first bite it was apparent why. The chef’s recommendation is to order the duck medium rare, but when the dishes first arrived there was a little mix up. Even though my digital camera is out of commission right now, I decided to try and use my disposable camera to capture the two beautiful entrees. As I got the camera ready I noticed the chef moving anxiously nearby. “I’m sorry,” he approached us, “but did you order the duck medium rare?”
“Yes, we did,” I said. As I looked down I noticed that the duck breast appeared dark mahogany brown through the center—not exactly medium rare.
“Well, there was a mix up. Another table ordered the exact same dishes except they got the duck medium well. So I’m just going to bring these over to the other table and get yours in just a minute.”
I was glad that the chef caught the mistake before we started eating—the medium-well duck looked pretty sad. When the medium-rare duck did arrive it was a thing of beauty. The flesh of the duck radiated from a ruby red sensuous center outward towards the artfully and gently cooked periphery that retained the duck’s moisture and tenderness. The skin was crisped and encrusted with a light dusting of star anise that enhanced the tender fatty flavor of the duck with subtle sweetness and a tickle of licorice. The red cherry reduction formed a lovely sweet-yet-sour burgundy bed that pooled around the cloud of fluffy jasmine rice. I wasn’t sure what to expect of “pac choi,” but when it arrived it appeared to be baby bok choy, so perhaps it is just another spelling. The little bundles of crunchy almost translucent white stems with deep green tender leaves added an enjoyable texture and hadn’t been overworked in the cooking process. They seemed have been either simply braised or steamed and the flavor of the bok choy was allowed to speak for itself (taste for itself?).
My disposable camera did capture an image of the entrees. It’s a pretty pathetic photograph of such amazing food, but it’s all we’ve got for this meal!
A dinner at Hazelnut Kitchen was well worth the short drive from Ithaca. If you are in the Finger Lakes region then this restaurant that blends the warm comfort of home with fresh, elegant culinary delights is a must try. Reservations are recommended and the menu changes at least every month.