Out of the Park

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N ew Haven has its share of first-rate restaurants, and an August reboot has added another: Hamilton Park at the Blake Hotel, where a menu that’s both innovative and grounded in New England traditions (like clam chowder and baked beans) is prepared by the skilled hands of award-winning chef Tyler Anderson and co-executive chef Ashley Flagg.

A foodie friend and I sat down one recent evening to sample the goods, starting with a Smoked Bluefish Dip ($11) and Clam Chowder ($14). The dip was served like a wheel of cheese, surrounded by everything bagel crackers arranged like abstract petals. The crackers were more like sturdy Indian papadam than bagel chips, and the bluefish itself was fresh and unencumbered by a lot of binder—less “dip” than “spread,” with just a touch of smoky flavor and salt. Pretty orange trout roe dressed up the dish and provided a tiny pop.

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But it was the chowder that gave us our first “wow” of the evening. The bowl arrived with a small mound of clams, bacon and tapioca custard in its center. Our server, Brandon, then poured the broth over and around it, more like a sauce than a soup. The broth was flawlessly creamy and smooth; scooping up a little tapioca from the bottom of the bowl with it magnified the pleasure. I only wished the portion were bigger. The basic concept, chef Anderson says, was “stolen” from The French Laundry, a famous Napa Valley eatery he visited when he was just starting out. One of its signature dishes was “oysters and pearls”: oysters and tapioca with caviar. “That’s the dish that made me decide to be a chef,” Anderson says. “I said, ‘You know, if I can make food that brings a smile to people’s face like that dish did to me, then there’s something there.”

While server Brandon told us Hamilton Park’s menu changes on a daily basis, he said these starters are both likely to stick around, as is the Tuna Tartare ($14) with brown butter soy, coriander and radishes. We also sampled the Corn Fritters ($12) with tzatziki, feta, olives and sambal aioli, a more generous portion. They were perfectly cooked little dumplings—slightly crispy on the outside, moist on the inside—even if the accompanying flavors overpowered them a bit.

When it came time for entrees, we experienced another “wow.” I expected the buckwheat Gemelli Pasta to be filling, so I ordered a half portion ($14). This was a good choice, even though the dish was lighter and more subtle than you’d expect from a buckwheat pasta, served with firm, flavorful peas and seasoned with lemon crumbs, parmesan cheese and a delightful touch of mint.

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We also tried the Duck Breast ($31), a beautiful piece of meat cooked medium rare and dressed with a pomegranate sauce and crunchy little coriander seeds. The duck came with a side of baby turnips and their sauteed green tops, a delicious accompaniment. We also ordered a side of Grits ($7), a usually humble dish turned here into a knockout using locally sourced onions and corn grits along with meaty mushrooms, truffle cream and a tasty foam that chef Flagg told us was derived from parmesan rinds cooked down with cream.

The dinner menu also included lamb, pork, lobster, chicken, beef and cod along with two regulars: a Crab Melt ($15) served with havarti and tomato and a signature Cheeseburger ($16) with cheddar and griddled onions. Vegetarians may appreciate an entrée-sized portion of Grits ($25) as well as the Gemelli Pasta. For dessert, we took Brandon’s suggestion and sampled the delicious Paris-Brest ($11), a wreath of shortbread pastries filled with hazelnut creme arrayed around a small scoop of vanilla ice cream on a hidden bed of chocolate sauce.

Hamilton Park’s drinks menu is well-stocked, with cocktails ($11-14) sorted by “effervescent,” “house creations,” “light & bright” and “bold & boozy.” For drama, try Smoke on the Water ($13), a take on an old-fashioned that’s served in a lantern filled with applewood smoke, which lingers over the first few sips. (Mine, unfortunately, was heavy on the ice.) Wines by the glass ($10-29) and beers ($6-8) both on tap and bottled or canned are also on the menu.

Hamilton Park offers not only great food and attentive, professional service but also a superbly chic space that manages to be both wide open—you can watch the kitchen staff at work—and intimate enough for conversation. A few partitions and sound-absorbing fixtures and tables set farther apart than at many restaurants make this a great choice for a romantic dinner or a party with friends where you won’t have to shout to be heard. The adjacent lobby’s fireplace and mix-and-match decor lend a cozy touch to a space that otherwise could have been industrial cold. The Blake also offers a sixth-story rooftop bar, High George, with a small plate menu.

It’s possible for a couple to enjoy a three-course meal with wine at Hamilton Park for $100 (though some meals could run much higher), a best buy for a meal you probably won’t soon forget. As we folded our napkins on the table after a long and enjoyable evening, my dinner companion proclaimed it one of the best upscale meals she’d ever had in New Haven, resorting to French to describe it as a series of amuse-bouches, or special appetizers to please the mouth. “Each little treat,” she proclaimed, “is all part of the dish.”

Hamilton Park
The Blake Hotel – 9 High St, New Haven (map)
Dinner Mon-Thurs 5-9pm, Fri-Sat 5-10pm; lunch Tues-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm (starting 9/10); breakfast 7-10am daily; brunch Sun 11am-2pm (starting 9/8)
(203) 390-5352 | info@theblakenewhaven.com
www.theblakenewhaven.com/…

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Images 1, 5, 8, 10 and 18 photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Images 2-4, 7, 9 and 11-17 photographed by Dan Mims. Images 6 and 19 provided courtesy of Hamilton Park.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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