It’s been a tumultuous year for Hamilton Park. The restaurant located in the lobby of The Blake, developer Randy Salvatore’s boutique hotel on the corner of High and George streets in New Haven, opened in January with chef Matt Lambert at the helm. Lambert is best known for bringing a Michelin star to The Musket Room in Manhattan.
A shiny new hotel, an award-winning chef, and an impressive rooftop bar called High George seemed like three ingredients that, when mixed, would result in sweet success.
But by late spring Lambert was out. Salvatore turned to a trusted ally in chef Tyler Anderson, a perennial James Beard nominee for Best Chef Northeast, and his team. Already partnered up in Hartford with Porrón & Piña at the Goodwin Hotel, that familiarity was crucial in minimizing the amount of time it took for Hamilton Park to reopen under Anderson’s direction.
“It was a restaurant that was operating at a high level,” Anderson says. “I’ve done a lot of consulting work for hotels, and my time in hotels was pretty much spent, honestly, fixing [messed]-up restaurants. This is not one of them. This wasn’t a restaurant that had to be blown up and reinvented.” Anderson’s team of co-owners includes A.J. Aurrichio and Tim Cabral, also partners at Porrón & Piña. Ashley Flagg is the co-executive chef.
Millwright’s in Simsbury, arguably the best restaurant in Connecticut, is what firmly placed Anderson on the culinary map. He says he now tries to spend two days a week at each of his three places. And on the seventh day? “Rest!” Anderson says. “Usually … ”
Luckily for us, Anderson is at Hamilton Park when we stop in on a Saturday night in August. Seated at a corner table near the open kitchen, we have a perfect view to spy on each dish being sent out. The first one that is headed in our direction is a tomato tart with seven tiny delicate tomatoes prepared beautifully with melted onions and horseradish curds over a tasty pastry. “You always want to do a tomato dish this time of year,” Anderson says. “As much as I love the tomato burrata mozzarella basil sort of thing, I’ve done that 5 billion times.”
Next up is clam chowder, a dish inspired by the best thing Anderson has ever eaten, something so amazing that it not only made him smile, but made him want to become a chef. Anderson experienced the Oysters and Pearls — tapioca custard with an oyster and a quenelle of Beluga caviar — at the famed French Laundry in Napa Valley back in 1998. His New England-influenced creation stemming from that epiphanic moment is served deconstructed in a bowl with the tapioca custard, clams and bacon. Only after it’s placed in front of you is the broth poured over by the server. For chowder lovers always in search of the next best bowl, add this one to your must-try list.
Rounding out our trio of starters is corn fritters, served with tzatziki, feta, olives and sambal aioli. This country-fair-meets-Mediterranean concoction is Flagg’s brainchild. Anderson felt they needed more bar-snack options, and Flagg deserves a blue ribbon for coming up with this one.
The libations at both Hamilton Park and High George are a major focus, and the seasonal drink menus are expansive and separate. Cabral, who oversees the beverage program, has a simple philosophy. “I don’t think that there’s any one drink that needs to be on every menu,” Cabral says. “I think that the food and beverage just need to mirror one another.”
Smoke on the Water is my personal favorite, but I’m a sucker for a good show. Rye, sugar and angelica root bitters are in the glass, and the glass is in a lantern filled with applewood smoke, which is brought to the table in a lantern filled with smoke. At the table, the door is opened and it’s up to you to grab your drink, if you can find it through the smoke. Cabral acknowledges the wow factor of the presentation, but says leaving it inside the lantern longer affects the flavor. “I hate the idea of anything that doesn’t serve a purpose,” Cabral says. “If that was the only reason for it, I wouldn’t do it.”
Three perfect apps, a few delicious drinks and it’s time for the main event. The prime beef ribeye is served bone-in, smothered in cippolini onions with potato wrapped in leeks. Anderson has an affinity for steak with onions and potato, and calls this a power dinner for the business traveler. If this is what business travelers eat every night, I’m starting my own business.
The other entrée we select is the lamb loin. Anderson calls preparing lamb with Mediterranean flavors a no-brainer, which is appropriate considering one bite could make you forget your own name. The lamb is dressed in a tapenade of olives, capers, herbs and orange and is presented alongside eggplant topped with cashews and sumac yogurt.
For dessert we thoroughly enjoy the Paris-Brest and lemon tart, but Anderson says that whole menu is being revamped. Lunch and Sunday brunch are also on the way. After dessert we head to High George for a nightcap. It’s a beautiful, surprisingly large space that management is very keen on keeping under control. In other words, no $1 beer nights. It’s first-come, first-served, and the number of people is capped so everyone has enough room to enjoy their night.
Originally High George was going to close for the winter, but Anderson wants to keep the summer party vibe going right through the colder months. The rooftop menu consists of raw-bar selections and steamed buns (lobster roll, crab salad, chicken cutlet, cheeseburger) — simple, yes, but flawlessly executed in a unique setting with a great view of downtown.
“A great night out is a combination of Hamilton Park and High George,” Anderson says. “Whether you’re going to High George for drinks before dinner, maybe a bite and then downstairs, or as a nightcap, they work very well together.”
Hamilton Park / High George
9 High St., New Haven
Hamilton Park: starters $11-$19, entrées $14-$39, sides $7, desserts $11
High George: raw & chilled $3-$18, steamed buns $6-$13, skewers $4.50-$7, sweets $5-$6
HOURS (Hamilton Park): Breakfast: daily 7-10 a.m., Sunday brunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Lunch Tue.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Mon.-Thu. 5-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5-10 p.m., Closed for dinner Sun.
HOURS (High George): Wed.-Sun. 4 p.m.-close
Walk in, turn left, and a chic hotel lobby gives way to an upscale bar area before you reach a comfortable, modern dining room. A wall of windows faces High Street, and high ceilings leave plenty of room for light fixtures of varying sizes and shapes.
Throughout the night no fewer than six people bring us something, check on us or help out in some way, always pleasant and smiling. Customers and employees alike seem to truly enjoy being here.
Don’t take my word for it, ask the James Beard Foundation. Anderson’s accolades are well deserved, and New Haven, and the southern part of the state, is lucky to have him.