In the previous reviews, I’ve openly voiced my distaste of natural or organic wine varieties that taste like sour grapes (I’m relieved that my wife Jun shares the same sentiment). Even where I have great food at a restaurant, a bottle of tasteless natural or organic wine can substantially undermine an otherwise pleasant dining experience. Jun and I already got burned a couple of times at a restaurant where we ordered a bottle of red not realizing that the restaurant only serves one of those varieties, and have been asking the servers up front if any of the bottles on the wine list is of natural or organic varieties so we can cross them off our selection. We were therefore bummed when the server at Hemlock noted that they serve mostly natural or organic wine bottles. We did end up ordering a bottle that was more “normal” but it still didn’t have the taste that we typically expect from a nice bottle of dry full-body red like Cabernet Sauvignon. Of course, we would’ve still been happy had the food at Hemlock been good. There were some really nice dishes but I couldn’t help notice some big misses, especially in the flavor department.

Sweet Potato Bread and Burned Leaf Butter
Gulf Shrimp Tartare with Toasted Bay Leaf

The menu at Hemlock is focused on mostly shareable small plate dishes (similar to the much acclaimed Wildair nearby). The menu does seem to echo creative spirits at the kitchen with some novel looking combinations of ingredients. The execution and seasoning, however, have been inconsistent throughout our meal. Jun and I were both starving when we arrived and ordered sweet potato bread and burned leaf butter to start our meal, but the bread turned out to have a bit of sour kick that wasn’t on the pleasant side. I have not had shrimp tartare before and was hoping that the dish at Hemlock could indulge my palate but the seasoning of the otherwise crunchy raw shrimp was too strong that I had to scrub each piece on the plate until it tasted nothing but the shrimp itself. The combination of thinly sliced squash and pumpkin seeds had a nice texture to it but otherwise it was forgettable.

Pattypan Squash, Pumpkin Seeds and Amaranth
Duck Breast, Dill and Carrots

Jun liked the duck breast (after all, she is very partial to duck meat in general) that was supposed to come out medium rare (it actually looked closer to rare in color), and I did like the juicy texture of the meat, but I kept wondering why the kitchen even bothered sprinkling large particles of salt on top. Compared to all these underwhelming dishes, Jun and I did absolutely enjoy the other two that we sampled during our meal. We both agreed that lamb ribs were quite aptly cooked and the addition of cherries turned out to be spot on (it helps that Jun is a huge cherry lover too). The dessert of yogurt panna cotta and corn also was quite delightful too, with the shaved corn adding a rustic feel to what could’ve been a bland panna cotta.

Lamb Ribs, Cherries and Anise Hyssop
Yogurt Panna Cotta and Corn

Getting a reservation at Hemlock wasn’t too difficult and the dining space wasn’t overly crowded during our recent meal on a Friday evening. I liked the casual and cool vibe of the restaurant that looks like a great place to kick off your night out in downtown Manhattan. Besides the wine, there are small lists of beer and cocktails so if natural or organic wines are not your type, maybe order those instead (in retrospect, we totally should’ve just ordered cocktails). Hemlock has a promising concept that can appeal to the masses in New York City (and has worked before like Wildair that was a big success), but I do feel they need some more work at the kitchen. And would it hurt to have some “normal” wines on the list too, please?

KenScale: 7.5/10

  • Creativity: 8.0/10
  • Execution: 7.5/10
  • Ingredients: 8.0/10
  • Flavor: 7.0/10
  • Texture: 8.0/10
  • Value: 7.5/10

Address: 65 Rivington Street, New York, NY 10002

Telephone: (646) 649-2503

Website: http://www.hemlocknyc.com/#home

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