Restaurant Review: Harth

Local food gets the luxury treatment at Härth

Farm-to-Table restaurants are everywhere these days and hardly a curiosity. But I didn’t expect to find an exceptional local food movement eatery—one incorporating stunning mid-century modern interior design—deep in a tree-lined office park, at the newly renovated Hilton McLean Tysons Corner.

At Härth, bright flavors shine and the flaws are few. Multitasking executive chef Thomas Elder, who’s been at the helm since opening day in April 2011, is a Chicago native and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Somehow, he finds time to keep bees on the hotel’s roof and, on the grounds, tend a seasonal garden of culinary herbs and vegetables, including heirloom tomatoes and 10 of the world’s hottest peppers. Elder’s spring plans call for the addition of a plot devoted to growing maitake mushrooms on oak logs.

But for now, there’s plenty to love about Härth in winter. Immediately to the left of the soaring-atrium bar, you pass through a corridor flanked by a sleek glass-enclosed wine cellar, a pair of striking recycled-glass communal dining tables and two wood-burning pizza ovens.

The warmth doesn’t stop there. In the 120-seat dining room, three eye-level glass-encased fireplaces flicker away. My favorite seating options are the row of pearlized white–leather tufted booths with faux snakeskin pillows. Upon first sight, I brain-waved to Palm Springs and the Rat Pack in the best of ways. Overhead are gold-tone fern-frond light fixtures and paneling of sustainable tawny-colored eucalyptus. A wall of glass showcases an outdoor patio with a fire pit for al fresco dining in balmier seasons. There’s also a semiprivate dining room that can seat 20 for a special occasion or a business luncheon.

Once we are seated, a basket of country-style bread arrives with a thick, black, potted concoction, which turns out to be a terrific bacon jam made with honey from the chef’s apiary. “I’ve never had anything so good come with bread anywhere,” said one pal after a first bite. (Elder should retail this smoky, sweet pleasure.) Next up, the server presents an up-to-the-minute toy to play with: an iPad beverage list of handcrafted cocktails, microbrewery beers and more than 150 mostly American wines. One smart touch leads to another.

For starters, I enjoy perfectly cooked blackened barbecued shrimp, served with a crunchy black-bean-and-corn salsa. Like many of Härth’s other dishes, it’s served in an old-fashioned cast- iron vessel. Earthy and fresh red-and-yellow beets join forces with baby spinach, spiced walnuts, red pepper and bits of goat cheese for a splendid salad. Lightly fried oysters arrive on a bed of rock salt and peppercorns, accompanied by a creamy aioli dipping sauce with just the right kick.

For lunch or dinner and suitable for sharing, the wood-fired flatbreads are a wise option. My favorite arrives topped with a generous mound of prosciutto, arugula and shavings of Parmesan cheese, the whole works easily foldable for New York-style bites.

Some of the appetizers show more of the chef’s finesse than others. On one visit, and despite their bath of tomato sauce, I found the beef-and-veal meatballs to be on the dry side. The onion soup, though classic and hearty, is buried beneath a dauntingly thick roof of Gruyère. A better choice is the panzanella salad, an inviting medley of sliced tomato, cucumber, Kalamata  olives and mozzarella, tossed with delectable Parmesan croutons. With a nod to the staff, service is consistently attentive. Water glasses are refilled and plates cleared at the right moment.

Entrées showcase the chef’s attention to sourcing. From the barnyard, his local provisions include certified humane chicken, turkey, veal and pork from Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, Va., and pasture-raised Martin’s Angus beef from The Plains, Va. I dug into tender slices of cooked-to-order steak accompanied by smoky caramelized onions and crispy fresh-cut french fries. I can also recommend the crisp-skinned, moist half-chicken: simple and homey, in a good way.

Härth’s seafood is equally divine. Two hefty crab cakes, with a delicious and beautifully browned edge, explode with Chesapeake Bay flavor. Briny day scallops are a sure bet, glazed with butter, pan seared and arranged around a luscious milky corn reduction. Saving the best for last, I’ll be back for the rich, yet not overwhelming lobster lasagna: a free-form stack of spinach-and-saffron pasta, stuffed with sweet claw meat, in a fennel cream sauce. Great to the last bite.

Desserts are super-sized and will satisfy (and then some) any diner’s sugar fixation. But, to my taste, they fall short compared with the creations from the savory side of the kitchen. If you must indulge, the best I tried was the softball-sized chocolate cupcake with a marshmallow center.

I prefer to sit back after my main course, relax and take in the cool décor. Perhaps finish off my caramel-sweet Legend pale ale (my Härth discovery, which is brewed in Richmond). All too soon it will be time again to face the Tysons traffic snarl. 

Walter Nicholls is a Washington native and former staff writer for The Washington Post.

Categories: Food & Drink
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