They say that good things come in small packages and in the case of Hart and the Hunter, this is definitely true. In the case of big screen TVs, it definitely is not, but luckily we're not talking about electronics here.
Hart and the Hunter is located in the funky, boutique Palihotel on Melrosse, near Fairfax. Dark wood frames both the interior and exterior of the 2 story, boxy hotel. Walking through the small lobby, you might think you were in someone's living room with cozy couches and area rugs, but then it gives way to a brighter dining room, only dining room isn't the right word. It feels more like a large kitchen with its tiled floors and school house metal chairs. Food is also served on mismatched, colorful small plates, further contributing to the homey feel.
The menu is also just one page with 6 small plates and 7 dishes that are under a section labeled "Table." Are these large plates, I asked the waitress? She said they actually get bigger as you move down the list, so I envisioned some sort of Russian nesting dishes that fit and flow neatly into the next, so my group of 5 did our best to eat them all.
The only must have on the small plates menu is the butter biscuits. If you've heard or read anything about Hart and the Hunter, then you've heard about their amazing, out of this world biscuits. I didn't know if they could possibly live up to the hype like a blockbuster movie opening, but they arrived fresh from the oven on a cutting board with a pimento cheese, berry jam and apple cinnamon butter. It was much smaller than the biscuit I held in my dreams, but one bite revealed that yes, good things in little packages also applied to the biscuit category. They did an excellent job of keeping a slightly crisp exterior with a fluffy, light, pillow interior. We'd never get through the menu if these were any larger.
Sometimes I think kale salad is almost like the salt and pepper on the table - mandatory and it just arrives when you sit. This one though was more than just a paper weight with a bright, but balanced walnut vinaigrette served with sour cherries and toasted pecans.
As I've mentioned before, the Francophile in me loves the small things that come in lovely little jars and the Hart and the Hunter's smoked trout was no exception. They even upped the presentation with avocado toast to spoon the woodsy, herbed fish. There's a good chance I could live off these 2 cutting boards.
The barbecued oysters packed a decent punch with the chili butter and bread crumbs, but it just wasn't quite as exciting as the other dishes for me, though they did have a tough act to follow.
We doubled down on mushrooms with a medley served alongside a polenta cake with fresh herbs and parmesan, which played yin to the yang of the heartier plate that included a well cooked hanger steak nestled in a pool of rosebank grits and topped with fried oysters. Oh yes, we were in the deep south now, and loving every bite.
To complete this proper Southern dinner, we finished our mains with a finger licking low-country shrimp boil. The smoked sausage won my heart, but the shrimp, while messing, was irresistible with its bold spice and zippy flavor.
Rounding out our dinner and finishing off the menu, we ordered all 3 desserts. The lemon ice box pie was tangy with a nice crumbly crust. Their take on strawberry shortcake beat any homemade version I've ever attempted with the light, but flavorful butter cake topped with fresh ruby red strawberries.
Then there was the salted caramel chocolate tart. I was nervous to see the diminutive piece on the plate, but on top of the small slice was a large dollop of whipped cream dusted with salted caramel bits, proving once and for all that good things can come in both big and small packages.
Hart and the Hunter was a wonderful dinner in an eclectic setting, but pay a visit soon as the chefs are moving on to other projects. One chef, Brian Dunsmoor, has already started a new project at Flores called The Ladies' Gunboat Society. Expect more great Southern cooking. The other chef from Hart and the Hunter, Kris Tominaga, is due to start cooking in the former Shack space in Santa Monica sometime this summer. Hart and the Hunter is supposed to remain intact with the chefs' visions continuing in the kitchen. Grab a table before that no longer is the case.