Porrón & Piña, the new Hartford restaurant from chef Tyler Anderson and his team, is really two — or even three or four — restaurants in one.
Housed in the historic Goodwin Hotel that dates to 1881 and was reopened last year, Restaurant Porrón is an elegant Spanish restaurant, with a dining room replete with dark red booths, beautiful murals and large, cylindrical chandeliers. In a separate wing of the hotel is Bar Piña, an old-school cocktail lounge. To get to the bar, you walk through a circular-shaped library with tile floors and eye-catching bookshelves stacked with books. It’s a show-stopping space that is about as chic as any in the state for grabbing a drink. Above the bar is a pineapple chandelier, the symbol for hospitality, that matches one of Anderson’s tattoos.
“This is a throwback to old Hartford. Hartford was the publishing capital of the United States when this building was built,” says Anderson, who was a cast member on Bravo’s Top Chef last year and owns Porrón & Piña with A.J. Aurrichio. The duo also owns Millwright’s in Simsbury and, along with the team from Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ, The Cook & The Bear in West Hartford.
In the evening the bar offers craft cocktails, beer, wine and wonderful sangria. By day the bar is transformed into a doughnut shop and coffee house, featuring pastries made by pastry chef Kristin Eddy, who also has that role at Millwright’s and The Cook & The Bear.
Anderson’s kitchen provides breakfast, lunch and dinner, and though the bar and restaurant occupy separate spaces within the hotel and have distinct feels, they share the same impressive, Spanish-inspired and New England-completed menu, all offered against the backdrop of a classic hotel.
A complimentary meal offered to us begins with a tasting of cheeses, including excellent raw cheese from Cato Corner Farm in Colchester and Arethusa Farm in Bantam, as well as Spanish imports. “The cheese selection is a perfect example of what the restaurant is modeled after, it’s sort of 40 percent Spanish and 60 percent New England,” Anderson says. He says this mixed influenced can be found elsewhere on the menu. “Even though we’re a Spanish restaurant, we use a lot of local vegetables.”
In addition to the cheese portion of the menu, there is a “ham bar” with various styles of global ham. But the heart of the menu is found under the tapas heading. The los hamburguesas ($12) beef sliders, topped with ham jam, Arethusa’s Tapping Reeve cheese, mustard and onion, are delectable, as are the patas de pato, duck legs ($12), which are smoked with a sherry glaze, and topped with pomegranate seeds.
Another tapas highlight is the esparragos calcotada ($9), asparagus served with smoked egg yolk and romesco sauce.
For the main course, we opted for paella Valencia ($26), a one-dish feast of rice, chorizo, chicken, clams and mussels. The menu warns that the dish will take 30 minutes to make, but the staff did a nice job of timing the order so we did not wait longer than we would for a standard entrée, and it would have been worth the wait in any case.
For dessert we had the crema catalan ($8) and churros ($9). Pastry chef Eddy has long impressed us with her baked goods and dessert, and both of these dishes showed off her ample skill. Especially the churro: It is a warm and soft doughnut topped with cinnamon sugar, lemon caramel and smoked chocolate sauce that bears no resemblance to the hardened, crunchy churros you get at carnivals.
All this cuisine fits with the rejuvenated, thoroughly modern but respectful-of-the-past feel of the Goodwin Hotel itself. The longtime Hartford staple, with its striking brownstone-esque, Victorian-era terra cotta facade, had been closed since 2008 but reopened last year. The first restaurant to occupy the hotel, Harlan Brasserie, only lasted from May until November of last year.
Taken together, Porrón & Piña and the hotel reminded us of New York City’s Ace Hotel, which is home to The Breslin and Stumptown Coffee Roasters and features a similar mix of a sleek hotel paired with destination-worthy dining and drinking spots. That’s the idea, Anderson says. “We’re shooting to be a cross between The Ace and NoMad [Hotel in New York and Los Angeles]. … We were going for that Ace Hotel feel downstairs. Just cool places for people to hang out. You have to make it so they never want to leave.”
They’ll also want to come back.