Everyone knows about Hawksworth, the multi-award-winning upscale restaurant in the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, right? I’ve actually never been there! More generous relatives have brought their families there and quite enjoyed it, but I’ve never step foot in there. An old boss of mine remarked that dining there is actually a good value! I thought, “WTF?! Maybe in your gated community mentality it’s a good value, but… I think you’re not paying me enough, then!”
Thankfully, David Hawksworth has opened his more casual and accessible share-plates restaurant Nightingale last week. Prices are about 1/2 to 1/3 cheaper than Hawksworth, with a focus on pizzas. Can’t get more casual than pizza! Are you ready for a taste of David Hawksworth unbuttoned?*
* Wicca actually came up with that phrase. I was thinking up tortured stuff like “Hawksworth with his two top buttons unbuttoned” and “Hawksworth rolling up his pants, going sockless, and wearing fashion sneakers.” Gah.
DISCLAIMER: As usual with these early “First Look” reviews, take everything with a grain of salt. It’s only been a week and I’m sure it’ll take more time before the team gets into a rhythm and gets to know that pizza oven and it’s quirks. But early impressions are good! Service was good and dishes were timed well.
It was a Friday lunch. My dining companion told me that this was a heritage building that used to be the University Club. I think the entire inside was gutted cuz everything inside looks immaculate, expensive, and amazing.
Deep breath. Welcome to Nightingale.
We got seated upstairs.
View of the bar from upstairs.
View of the entrance area from upstairs. I can’t imagine how much money this reno cost.
The open kitchen on the upstairs level. The pizza oven is in full view. I’m pretty sure it’s gas. I think it’d be easy to accidentally break that monitor with the pizza peel.
Their full food menu is available online, but here’s their current beer menu. Their signature “Nighting-ale” (lol) is brewed by Main Street Brewing and (as the server said) only available at Nightingale. It’s apparently a hybrid blonde/saison, which sounds good. Not sure about Red Truck being on the tap list, but Moody Ales is good in my book. Bottle list is alright…dunno about having two witbiers on the menu though. Needless duplication and I think most of their clientelle wouldn’t really appreciate the differences between a local wit and a brewed-in-Belgium wit.
Love the note at the bottom of the menu: “We politely decline all requests to modify menu items.” Fuck yeah. [fist pump] Deal with it.
Nighting-ale (5%). Looks to be a 12-14oz serving for $7.25. Not out of the ordinary for restaurants like this. Really good easy-drinking beer, perfectly suited for the flavour profile of the food here. Does taste like a saison-esque blonde ale which cleanses the palate nicely between bites of their ingredient-forward food.
Grilled Ramps, Gribiche, Pickled Mustard Seeds, and Breadcrumbs ($12). Cool thing about the vegetable section of their menu is that all the vegetable dishes are $12 each. The ramps were cooked nicely but my first couple bites had way too much acidity that detracted from the ramps. Not sure where that acidity came from. Later bites were better. But it’s still early days, and I’m sure things will be tweaked and refined as things go on. Still a good dish but I would try their other vegetable dishes next time rather than return to this one.
Beef Heart Tartare, Cured Egg Yolk, Horseradish, and Kale Pistou on Grilled Bread ($13). Pistou is like a pesto except without pine nuts. The egg yolk appeared to be salt-cured and shaved on top. I quite liked that touch.
However, we thought as a whole the seasonings overpowered the taste of the beef heart, which when served raw is actually pretty mild and almost buttery. I really liked the grilled bread though. Fix the balance and it could be a great dish. The technique behind this is great and really pays off in flavour. Just need to tweak it a bit.
Pacific Octopus, Blistered Capers, Parsley, Fermented Chili, and Vinegar ($19). One of the better dishes, with a healthy smoky char on the octopus (especially the suckers). The blistered capers were critical to my enjoyment. Without that briny counterpoint, I wouldn’t like this dish. My only issue is the octopus could’ve been more tender. It wasn’t tough…it still cut and chewed ok. Just a bit too firm. Still a good dish but I think it’d be great with some small tweaks. I wonder if they char these in the pizza oven?
Nightingale has 10 different pizzas on their menu. Hard to choose just one because they all seem tasty, unique, and well thought-out. We settled on the Asparagus, Taleggio, Egg, and Roasted Jalapeno Pizza ($17). The egg was delightfully oozy and had a rich orange colour that made me salivate. Asparagus cooked perfectly with none of the rawness but still with plenty of texture. However, either the roasted jalapenos were missing, or they just didn’t register. Still, a really good pizza that combines freshness, lightness, and richness. My dining companion liked the slightly heftier flavour of the taleggio as opposed to a fior di latte.
Some good spotting on the bottom. The dough was laid down a bit wrinkly though, causing some more blonde areas. I’m sure this will improve as the crew gets more experience. Texture and flavour of the crust is great. The pizza retains some crispness if you eat it within the first five minutes or so, and has that chewiness that you crave if you like this style of quasi-Neapolitan pizza. In fact, I just can’t deal anymore with the soupy centres of dogmatic Neapolitan pizzas and much prefer something like this.
The crust was impressively thin, which I really liked. The amount of toppings I thought was right on. With a pizza this thin, you don’t want to overload it. We mopped up all that yolk with our crusts.
Positive first impressions. I’d come back for more of their pizzas, which are priced fairly imho. That N’duja (spreadable pork sausage), Fior di Latte, and Charred Rapini pizza is calling my name.