- The asparagus and jamon serrano salad, with pecorino cheese, red and yellow peppers, and mixed nut vinaigrette. Photo by Mark Lee
Since he burst onto the local dining scene almost a decade ago with the groundbreaking H2O Sushi (followed in short order by the outstanding Elements), Chef Greg Hardesty has maintained a prominent, but by no means ostentatious, presence on the city's developing culinary map.
In a business renowned for chewing up and spitting out some of its most promising practitioners, Chef Hardesty has succeeded in carving out a unique and relatively tranquil space for himself, quite at odds with the pervasive Hell's Kitchen theatrics that seem to dominate the popular perception of today's restaurant industry.
Propelling Hardesty's considerable success is a core of crucial practices that include paying constant attention to detail, offering the freshest ingredients available, and putting the customer first with calm and professional service. It might not be rocket science, but these are some of the principals that govern the longest-lived and most highly regarded establishments at all price points.
At a recent dinner at Recess, what clearly distinguished each course was the total reliance on fresh ingredients, wherever possible sourced locally. Of course, there's hardly an abundance of sea fish in these parts, so the rules of local provenance don't exactly apply: both the Hapaku grouper and the Saikou salmon were from New Zealand, and were unsurprisingly of the highest quality. Both fish are caught or raised sustainably, with a carbon footprint probably smaller than the average Prius wing mirror.
Recess offers a daily prix fixe menu ($52 on this occasion) that sometimes provides a couple of options so that parties of two or more can explore different tastes. On this occasion my wife was served diver-caught scallops as an alternative to the aforementioned grouper. Both dishes were prepared with asparagus, crimini mushrooms and a creamy sunchoke puree. The duck confit that started the meal was delectably fatty and moist, studded with flecks of crispy skin, while the open-faced salmon sushi roll was exemplary in its freshness and harmony.
The main course was a succulent and extraordinarily tender slice of dry aged beef strip loin from Fischer Farms in Jasper, Indiana. Simply seared and served with a rich puree of potatoes and maytag blue cheese, the succulence was nicely contrasted with the slightly tart, pungent crunch of locally sourced wilted ramps. These leek-like plants, a member of the lily family, are popular to the point of being close to extinction in some places, so it's comforting to see they are now raised in captivity.
House-made profiteroles and decadent truffles rounded out this stylish, focused dining experience.
A word about the wine list. The vast majority of wine lists, as we all know, are way over-priced and seem either obsessed with high-alcohol, food-antithetical collector monstrosities or else with margin-to-the-max supermarket swill that most of us wouldn't even use for drain cleaner. I forgot to ask who put together the masterful list at Recess, but it was the first in several months to actually make me thirsty and wish to try a slew of its excellent offerings. This is a list strong on food-friendly, aromatic whites and lighter, crisper, reds: there are more than enough well-priced gems to satisfy even the most finicky of palates.
Bravo all round!