Tuesday, February 24, 2009

ON20, Hartford, CT February 2009

Food: A-
Service: A+

Joanne and Amy write:

In our next lives, we'd like to be ladies who lunch...or at least women who get to enjoy lunch out more often, so our decision to try ON20 during our February vacation was perfect. ON20, located on the 20th floor of 1 State St in Hartford, which formerly housed the Polytechnic Club, is a lunch-only restaurant, but more importantly, it is an experience.

We entered the sparse lobby and walked up two half-flights of stairs to reach the bank of elevators. A sign advised us to enter the number of our floor and then flashed a letter indicating which elevator would be coming for us. When we reached the 20th floor, we saw the doors to the restaurant that were marked only by a small sign. The maitre d', a friendly, welcoming gentleman, took our coats and led us to our table by the window where we took in the view of Hartford and the Connecticut River. Too bad it was a gray February afternoon, and that there were so few diners in this grand dining room.

Our table was exquisitely set with beautiful china chargers, sparkling glassware and silverware, and two sets of miniature salt and pepper shakers. The maitre d' returned to hand us menus. Surprisingly, there was no wine list, but he asked, "Red or white?" and then verbally listed the wines available by the varietal rather than by the vineyard. A pleasant female server poured our water and asked whether we had any food allergies or time constraints, something we thought was a nice touch.

Menu options at lunch include a power business lunch, a three course prix fixe, and a tasting lunch. All options tout local and seasonal ingredients, something for which the chef is known. There were also some additions to the menu, most of which involved fish. Amy had decided in advance to try three courses, and I waffled--until the last moment--between the power lunch and the three course menu. In the end I went with two courses from the business lunch menu and wished I had, like Amy, thrown caution to the wind and gone for the prix fixe. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. One course, one mouthful at a time.

The server delivered an amuse bouche of Coquilles St. Jacques, then a bread basket including sourdough rolls that were a bit dry, and slices of rye that had a hint of molasses. The scallop was what it should be - a tasty one-bite morsel topped with crunchy Parmesan that whetted our appetites. Next, we enjoyed our appetizers and the accompaniment of white wine that was delivered compliments of the chef. I had ordered mussels in a garlicky yellow saffron sauce. There were plenty of them to share, and they were tender and delicious. The sauce was enhanced by bits of tarragon and was perfect for dipping the toast points. The finger bowl with warm water and lemon wedge and fresh linen napkin for wiping, delivered after I finished, was another nice touch.

I sampled Amy's mussels while I enjoyed a salad of delicate greens, bleu cheese, pears, and toasted walnuts. The salad was lightly (that is, perfectly) dressed with a maple balsamic vinaigrette. The blue cheese was decadently creamy and not overly pungent. The walnuts were candied and provided a sweetness and crunch that brought the salad together.

My burger, unfortunately, was less than memorable. In fact, it was disappointing. While it was cooked as I had asked, medium, it was pink in the center but not a bit juicy. As I ate it, not a drip of the deliciousness I seek in a burger landed on the plate or the sweet brioche roll or my chin. The pomme frites were quite good, however, and saved the course for me. Well, the pomme frites and tastes of Amy's cassoulet.

I had the suckling pig cassoulet, which was to die for. It was slightly deconstructed, served as a cast iron crock of flavorful upscale pork and beans topped with browned seasoned bread crumbs, with a perfectly grilled piece of pork and two spicy rabbit sausages, served on the side. I enjoyed it very much.

We ordered espresso and with it, received a second amuse - chocolate truffle coins with a piece of caramelized sugar. The maitre d' rolled over a dessert cart covered in treats including succulent blackberries, strawberries and raspberries, fresh pineapple chunks, and a variety of cakes and tarts. I chose a slice of flourless chocolate cake that was light and airy and a perfect end to the meal. Joanne received a "sympathy" beignet since dessert was not included with her lunch and she chose not to order one a la carte. Finally, a complimentary plate full of nickel-size cookies and truffles to enjoy with our second espresso was delivered.

We shared this sampling of bite size cookies--whose flavors included peanut butter, almond, and chocolate-- as we drank our espressos and I sipped an amaretto, reveling in the fact that a bell or PA message wouldn't beckon us back to class. It certainly was a treat, and an extravagance.

With overpriced wine, and espressos, and the 20 percent tip built in as a "service charge"(albeit well-deserved), our total bill was high. Given my share of the tab, which I have paid for a satisfying dinner for two, and the fact that I have had a better burger for 10 dollars, I might keep this at a once in a lifetime experience. Amy, I imagine, will return, perhaps to share the experience with her husband.

Indeed, ON20 does not offer a typical lunch, but a dining experience that happens to take place during the afternoon. Although I agree the wine was overpriced, as in most restaurants these days, I thought the $35 cost for the three-course menu was appropriate. Taking that into consideration, as well as the exceptional service and the many special touches found only at fine dining locations, I highly recommend ON20 as a destination for a luxurious lunch, for ladies and gentlemen alike.

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