Young and Hungry

My Three-Course Indulgence at Hook

Chef Jonathan Seningen

Chef Jonathan Seningen

Earlier this week, Y&H did something he hadn't done in nearly a year: hit the gym. Summoning up whatever athlete's pride I have left, this former cross country runner went 30 minutes on the elliptical without stopping, a solid 2.50 miles. (Don't figure out the time per mile, I'll just be embarrassed.)

I then went to Hook and downed a three-course lunch. I didn't even feel bad about it.

How could I? Despite one glaring technical error, this was a solid lunch, top to bottom, all for $24 for those three courses.  I instantly put Hook and executive chef Jonathan Seningen, former chef de cuisine at Oya, on my watch list for next year's Young & Hungry Dining Guide.

I started with the heirloom tomato gazpacho, a rather unusual take on the cold soup. Seningen's version doesn't try for an opaque, uniform texture. The look and texture of his gazpacho, I swear, reminded me of tomato placenta, the gelatinous interior of the summer fruit. It's not a turn-off, I promise. It looks light, even refreshing. The orange-colored liquid is dappled with lump crab meat, corn kernels, and pine nuts, which provide a crunchy element here or a sweet hit there. The most pleasant spoonfuls, though, were those loaded down with lump meat, whose sweetness seemed to multiple by a factor of 20 when surrounded by that ever-so-acidic soup.

My entree was the rather drab-sounding barramundi with broccoli and soft polenta. I ordered it mostly out of respect for my trip to the gym. I was really eyeballing that fried oyster sandwich. For once, I'm glad my conscience guided my choice. This dish was an unexpected pleasure. The fish's skin was crisp, its flesh melt-in-your-mouth soft. Its flavor was mild with a light undercurrent of the sea. The fish, however, wasn't complete without its plating partners. The flavors of all three ingredients — the barramundi, the steamed broccoli (with their final squeezes of lemon, yes?) and the polenta — just locked into place on first bite, as if nature somehow meant for field and stream to join together.

I wouldn't call the final course of corn crème brûlée disappointing, but it did have a serious technical flaw. Its dusting of sugar was torched to a five-alarm shade of black, providing an unmistakable bitter edge to Heather Chittum's dessert. It was an unfortunate misstep in the kitchen. The custard itself, part of Chittum's thematic "Cornucopia" dessert, is a brilliant combination of two different styles of sweet — those plump kernels of summer corn and the traditional sugary custard. The accompanying polenta cookies added little to my semi-enjoyment of the corny custard, although the salted grape tomatoes were an amazing counterpunch to the palate.

All said, that lunch was one helluva way to say goodbye to the summer — and to the calories I just burned on the elliptical.

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