Between prelims, rehearsals, meetings and interviews, it can be hard to find the time to explore everything upstate New York has to offer, outside of Ithaca. But there is one gem in Trumansburg that is definitely worth the 20 minute drive off campus. That gem is the farm-to-table aficionado, Hazelnut Kitchen.
Hazelnut Kitchen is a restaurant focusing on local ingredients and daily picks. Just by reading their menu, it is clear that most of their meats, cheese, vegetables and liquors are either homemade or bought from local vendors. The daily specials and even the menu itself can vary from day to day, based on what the chefs acquired. Hazelnut Kitchen is the true epitome of farm fresh cooking and in tasting their cuisine, it is obvious why reservations are so hard to secure.
I’ve been hooked on Hazelnut Kitchen since freshman year, when I came with my parents for First-Year Parents’ Weekend. Though I try to make the trip out to Trumansburg once a semester, this last visit was particularly special. Hazelnut Kitchen was participating in Trumansburg Eats! Restaurant Week, the first annual restaurant week to occur in Trumansburg. To celebrate, various participating restaurants offered special deals or unique menu items. Hazelnut Kitchen took the liberty of creating a special prix fixe menu for the occasion, consisting of three course for $37 and a wine pairing for $48. This meal once again reaffirmed my love for this restaurant’s food and service, a combination unparalleled in the greater Ithaca area.
The prix fixe menu began with a sweet potato soup with whipped chevre, cranberry and apple. I am usually not the biggest fan of sweet potato soup because it is too sweet, but the chefs perfectly balanced the root vegetable’s sweetness with the tartness of the cranberry compote. The chevre added an extra creamy element to the already velvety smooth texture of the soup. I also loved the addition of walnut chunks, which gave some texture to the soup.
In addition to this appetizer, I had to get the charcuterie and cheese plate because it is my favorite item on the menu. The plate is served on a cross-section of a tree trunk and includes homemade pickled beets, pickles, pretzel bread, and mustard. I chose the Kelley and the Kunik cheese and the pork rillete. The Kelley cheese was earthy with nutty tones and a consistency like Gouda. The Kunik was my all time favorite and is a blend of cow and sheep cheese. It is ridiculously creamy and has the consistency of a Brie cheese. The pork rillette is pork that is rendered in pork fat to become a confit, then blended together to make a spread. The rillette was delicious, comprising all of the savory elements of fatty pork, but in a spread. After these two dishes, I thought the meal couldn’t get much better — but I was wrong.
The main course included gnocchi with roasted mushrooms, kale, ricotta and pork belly. It was delicious. The gnocchi was a perfect texture — chewy, creamy and not too dense. It was nicely seared on both sides to give it a satisfying crunch. The homemade ricotta was runny and not too overpowering, offering a great creamy texture to contrast the salty fattiness of the pork belly. The pork belly was delicious, although I wish it had been in bigger chunks instead of small, diced cubes. The kale was soft and savory and the mushrooms added crunch. Overall, this was a killer entrée with the perfect balance of savory and salty.
The meal was rounded out with a slice of flourless chocolate cake with raspberry jus, vanilla whipped cream and candied peanuts. The chocolate cake was rich, dense and decadent, but a little dry. It could have benefitted from a little more cream. The raspberry jus was flavorful without having an artificial fruit taste and the candied peanuts added a little bitterness to contrast the sweet chocolate. As a chocolate lover, I was thoroughly pleased with this dessert and once again was not disappointed by the pastries at Hazelnut Kitchen.
While the food is outstanding, the unmatched service at Hazelnut Kitchen transforms a meal into an experience. The servers thoughtfully explain the elements of every dish to arrive at the table and where their ingredients come from. My server described the process the chefs go through in developing the menu every night and how the menus change seasonally, depending on the produce, meats and dairy locally available at the time.
Hazelnut Kitchen makes your dinner the highlight of your night and I will definitely be back before the end of the semester.