The Hart + The Hunter. Southern Comfort Right in Los Angeles.
With the popularity of Instagram, it seems like Twitter, blogs and even websites are objects of antiquity. This digital age has really shown that people are responding to all things visual. People have become more “A.D.D.” and are yearning for instant gratification. Instagram in my opinion is the new blog – people don’t have time to write anymore nor do they want to devote any more time on it. I myself have cut down the many hours I used to spend producing a blog posting. A simple Instagram not only shows you what a user is up to, but tells you a lot about his/her personality and lifestyle. When you follow someone and “like” their photo, you are in part, letting them know that you trust their taste and judgment. Particularly with the food I eat, my goal is to encourage people to try the food I enjoy. And vice versa. That is how we are brought to the newly opened, The Hart + The Hunter. Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen Instagram photos of The Hart + The Hunter almost daily from people I follow – epicureans I trust! There’s something in the water and it’s time to see what it was all about…
The Hart + The Hunter is a sophomore collaboration between two chefs, Brian Dunsmoor and Kris Tominaga. Brian came from Hugh Acheson’s Five & Ten in Athens, Georgia and has also worked at Michael Cimarusti’s Providence and AXE on Abbot Kinney. Kris came from L’Espalier in Boston. Both are veterans of Joe’s on Abbot Kinney, which was a recipient of a Michelin star a few years back. From there they left and opened a wildly successful pop-up restaurant named Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. It is obvious that they have an affinity for Aesop’s fables/nostalgic children’s stories and it seems restaurants like The Walrus & The Carpenter (based on Alice in Wonderland) and How to Cook a Wolf by Ethan Stowell in Seattle, do as well. Jeni and I decided we’d try both lunch and dinner because we heard they were both delicious, yet very different.
Walking into the Pali Hotel, we were immediately drawn to the mood and ambiance of the place. The Hart + The Hunter restaurant is beautifully decorated with wooden tables, paintings of various wildlife/old people and blue ceramic tile. If you grew up during the Civil War, you’ll love the gorgeous plates they use here. I deeply regret not responding to all those old-school infomercials for Time/LIFE Civil War memorabilia dishware. Apparently one of the chefs found them driving through Oklahoma! I imagine every place in Charleston, South Carolina must look like this. A bit of tasteful wildlife chic, without an overdose of taxidermy, Bon Iver and handlebar-mustached staff. As the theme suggests, the menu does draw influence from the South with a humble, chef twist. Southern style food isn’t new in Los Angeles, with the majority of solid BBQ and Cajun/Creole-style food in South/South-Central Los Angeles. But there’s something about The Hart + The Hunter that is just notably different and unique.
We were helped out this day by the really chill and down-to-earth staff: Brandon, Kailani the GM and Nicely, of Handsome Coffee Roasters. Kailani was also part of the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing pop-up and Nicely helped open the Intelligentsia Venice store. For those that do come here for breakfast, Chef Dunsmoor and Chef Tominaga partnered up with Handsome Coffee Roasters to offer a solid 1-2 punch with their pastries and coffee. I don’t drink much coffee, but I do enjoy the taste of Handsome Coffee’s beans. When the staff is cool, you can ask them anything, as you should. Jeni and I rarely go with our gut instinct anymore. We let the staff know exactly what we’re in the mood for, which is usually something light, veggie and seafood-esque. We’ve been over the heavy-hitting dishes for a while. Here’s what The Hart + The Hunter lunch crew suggested.
Smoked Trout Toast
At $7, this is a generous serving of house-smoked trout, avocado, pickled onions, dill and chives. The bread they use is awesome – just the right amount of crunch. I accidentally left Jeni with one bite of this. In addition to the smoked trout, they also offer avocado, pimenton cheese, hazelnut + nutella and maple/honeybutter toasts. If you’re indecisive, you can always see if they’ll make you an all-of-the-above toast for X amount of dollars.
Roasted Cauliflower + Brussel Sprout Salad
I love anything with cauliflower, so I enjoyed this. The veggies are pickled and mixed with what seems to be a mustard. Because it is slightly sour, I’d definitely recommend this if you’re going to eat something a bit more meaty like the following Warm Steak Bowl and Black Eyed Peas + Ham Hock Stew. The acidity will balance out perfectly.
Black Eyed Peas, Collard Greens + Ham Hock Soup
Braised with a mushroom stock, this is more of a tasty stew than it is a soup. Although slightly rich, this was my second favorite dish after the Smoked Trout Toast. Having this stew, I could tell the chefs were about making tasty, home-style food, not just something shiny and pretty on a white plate. I tasted the South with each bite of the stew and toast. This was really comforting, and in my opinion, one of Brian and Kris’s signature dishes.
Apple Dumpling with Melted Hook’s Cheddar
You can opt to eat the apple dumpling with ice cream for a sweet approach or you can keep it sexy and savory with some melted Red Hook cheddar. And I’m glad we went for the second option because it was awesome. Not much else I have to say about a pastry covered in tasty, melted cheese.
Chef Brian Dunsmoor + Chef Kris Tominaga
It’s a smart move by the chefs to offer two different menus each day. They’ve laid the bait during lunch and are reeling you in for the kill during dinner. A few of the dishes like the Smoked Trout Toast and Black Eyed Peas + Ham Hock make the dinner menu cut, but for the most part, everything was brand new to us. And this time, you can actually see Brian and Kris in action right at the counter. They are super-friendly/humble and do not bite!
Biscuits + Condiments
We completely missed these during lunch and were lucky that they offered them for dinner. You get three biscuits and a dollop of the Pimenton cheese, house-made jam and butter. The biscuits served with this are fall-off-the-bone tender and the house-made jam makes total sense.
We enjoyed the cheese from the biscuit appetizer so much we had to order the cheese again. The jarred cheese is made with red peppers and it is fantastic. Reminds me of artisanal spray can cheese, in a good way! Hmm, if only they can find a way to sell this in canned form – I’d buy it for sure.
Chicken Cracklins with Hot Pepper Vinegar
This is one of the many reasons God put Brian and Kris on this Earth. This dish is genius and immorally delicious. I love chicken skin in all forms – peeled off Southern-style fried chicken, grilled on a skewer with Japanese sea salt or even on top of a deviled egg. So there’s no way I wouldn’t appreciate this. It appears to me that they flatten out big strips of chicken skin between two baking sheets and let it ride in the oven. The key to enjoying this is the house-made hot pepper vinegar. I’m glad they didn’t get lazy and slap a bottle of Sriracha down.
Mushroom Polenta Cakes
This dish comes in time for the fall. If you enjoy mushrooms and polenta, this is for you. The chefs sauté three types of mushrooms: trumpets, shiitakes and buttons, and serve it upon a moist piece of pan-seared polenta with shaved Parmesan and fresh parsley.
We were most excited about this dish because it reminded us of New Orleans. The shrimp was boiled perfectly, with maximum crunch. To me a sign of a good chef is his/her attention to cooking things like shrimp. It’s a good dish overall and I would recommend sharing this with a group larger than just two people. Don’t forget to hit this with some of the hot pepper vinegar sauce too!
We are glad Chef Brian Dunsmoor and Chef Kris Tominaga and the friendly staff really do understand what it takes to keep Los Angeles diner’s happy and interested. The food reminds us of a lot of great Southern-style food we had recently in Brooklyn. Their take on Southern food is authentic, yet not overdone. And I can’t wait to see what else they have up their sleeves at H+H. My only request for them is that they never take the chicken skin dish off the menu or risk seeing overturned cars and rioting crowds on the streets of Los Angeles. Thanks for reading and limit yourself to one chicken skin order per table please.
The Hart + The Hunter
7950 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90048