Sunday, July 19, 2009
Heirloom at The Study: Great Space, Great Eggs.
After brunch, my other favorite hospitality industry "thing" is boutique hotels. Maybe it's because my parents made me stay at the Econo Lodge when I was growing up, and maybe it's because I have an unfounded fear that even the nicest chain hotels are more likely to host bed bugs, but I love the idea of roughly 100 or fewer rooms and a swank little restaurant all being personally overseen by someone I'd want to have drinks with in the hotel bar. So when The Study moved in only a block from my apartment (directly across from the Yale art school on Chapel Street), I felt like New Haven had finally come into its own as a city.
And as it turns out, the hotel's restaurant serves Sunday brunch. Heirloom occupies a great, wide open space on the hotel's ground floor that I've gone to for lunch and drinks, and I've been impressed with the service of both the head bartender (Rob!) and general manager (Val!). Val explained that, after many years working in Greenwich, he was trying to create something of comparable quality but greater accessibility in New Haven. Right--makes sense. When I suggested that the recently-abandoned $22 three-course-plus-a-cocktail brunch prix fixe might have been a good way to strike exactly that balance, he agreed and gave me a card for 25% off brunch the following Sunday.
We made our reservation for right when the restaurant opened at 11:30, and during the course of our meal there were only three other tables seated. Nonetheless, it didn't feel too empty, and hotel guests seemed to be trickling in as we were leaving. I expected that the food would be well-executed basics--no cutesy spins on waffles or monkey bread and no explosions of whipped cream--and that was about right. The menu included an Eggs Benedict option (listed as "How Do You Like It?" to which we replied "with salmon!"); a mix-and-match eggs/hash browns/breakfast meat ensemble; regular or blueberry pancakes and a "pastel" egg dish--two whites, one yolk and other ingredients to taste. Otherwise you were left with highlights from the lunch menu, including a lobster fried rice that I can recommend based on trying it during restaurant week.
While I understand that not everyone favors my "more breakfast than lunch" brunch formulation, where I felt the menu to fall short was in not matching the range of its starters to the range of its main dishes. I ordered the blueberry pancakes, and would have considered getting a starter or side to go with it. But tomato soup and clam chowder, however tasty, a fitting lead-in to a fruity carb fest do not make. Some kind of fruit assortment, warm brie, a sweet breakfast sausage (I'm a vegetarian, but you get my drift) or even a take on the hash browns that were featured elsewhere on the menu would have created a symmetry from course to course that was noticeably absent.
What we did order, though, was delicious and well-presented. James' smoked salmon Eggs Benedict (pictured), in particular, was impressively shaped: if you've tried to poach an egg recently, you'll know what I mean. The Hollandaise sauce wasn't overly thick or salty and the salmon was cooked *just* through and flaked perfectly. My blueberry pancakes excited me less because, well, there's only so much you can do with blueberry pancakes, but all three were large, fluffy and filled with many whole tiny blueberries rather than just mush. Both of our dishes were garnished with a half-strawberry and a single orange spiral. Though I felt I had reached my drink limit for the weekend and didn't order one, the cocktail options included a Mimosa, a Bloody Mary, an Irish coffee and one of my favorites--a Bellini! I'll take a Bellini over a Mimosa any day, and I was happy to see this under-represented little gem make an appearance so close to home.
It may not be cozy like The Pantry or bustling like Lena's, but Heirloom provides a worthy brunch alternative to, say, Sage on the waterfront or Scoozzi's jazz brunch up the street. The prices are reasonable for the type of restaurant that it is--$14 for the Benedict and $10 for the pancakes--and it gave me an excuse to ditch the yoga pants and flip-flops for something a little more upscale. And even if you don't obsess over boutique hotels as an idea, it's good for New Haven that one has arrived and we'd do well to support it so long as the food is on par with other options. And it is, and it's right downtown, so mix things up a little and ask for a seat by the window.