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Midweek Dining at Hawthorn

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Why is it that it takes me the longest time to try the geographically proximal restaurants, even when I've been hearing for months they're fantastic? A question indeed for the ages.

A few days ago I finally took that hop, skip and jump from my house to Hawthorn. I've been ogling their food online for quite some time and I finally summoned enough motivation to shed my disheveled dissertation dress for some socially acceptable attire. So, you know, I could see and be seen without [much] scorn.

Hawthorn is, I found, a slick joint but not a too-cool-for-school establishment where looking bored and eating very little are the name of the game (God, I hate those places). A good thing because I had my head down intent on my courses for most of the evening.

Despite the appealing description, I had reservations ordering the "House Salad" for my first course as its bland title made this dish stick out like a sore thumb compared to other, more enticingly named menu items. But there was nothing pedestrian about the whimsical assemblage of baby frisee, juicy pickled pear, walnuts, persimmons and a goat cheese nugget dressed in a light pomegranate. If Shakespeare had designed a restaurant, this would be his Midsummer Night's Dream Salad.

The second course of francobolli (Italian for "stamps") were more aptly named given the dough pockets filled with ricotta, red chard and pinenuts very much resembled postage in pasta form. The slightly crisp legumes, dairy cream (the ricotta, by the way, is made in-house) and seared ruby vegetables were an autumnal combination that reminded me there are virtues to cold weather, specifically, the opportunity to revive yourself via warm carbohydrates.

Choosing just one entrée was difficult. So I didn't. Never one to turn down organ meat, I ordered the veal sweetbreads and persuaded my dining companion to order the lamb shank (so I could sneak a few bites...or half).

Offal isn't for everyone; however, if it were always prepared as it is as Hawthorn, then perhaps it would be. With a generous buttery sear and a Cabernet reduction, the calf bits were rich, supple and not the least bit metallic. A supporting array of roasted onions and chanterelles on a bed of polenta added grit (in a good way) and texture that wonderfully complemented the silkier, softer meat.

Now here's where I'm supposed to write something like, "Oh me, oh my, I ate so much I could hardly make room for dessert." For better or for worse, this girl has a hollow leg -- especially during endurance event season -- so I was more than happy to indulge in Hawthorn's rosemary panna cotta, with sweet botanical notes that were a lovely coda to a rich meal.

The one thing not to like, perhaps, about Hawthorn is its location: the back end of a relatively unattractive plaza on Kirby that's a bit tricky to find. But, then again, some nights you aren't looking to be found. A [somewhat] hidden albeit vibrant restaurant is the perfect spot to drink (go for the Rat Pack cocktail) and dine in peace.

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