Ah Hartwood. The little gem in the jungle. Smoke rising from the wood burning oven. Trees hanging over rustic tables. People chattering about their good fortune to snag a reservation. The name Hartwood is only one that I heard recently through Camille Styles blog. My husband and I so happened to be traveling to Tulum to shoot a wedding video, and so I read about this restaurant, lovingly owned by an expat couple living in Mexico. A celebration of local ingredients and culture.
From my experience, there are two different ways to do Tulum. One, the vegan, boho experience where you stay in an outdoor cabana, do yoga in the morning, and reflect on the universe. And two, the luxury experience where you stay indoors, shop for expensive linen shirts, and eat at Hartwood.
I did not know this going in and so our accommodations were of the First variety. There is a certain charm to hearing the ocean while you are sleeping and stepping out of your hut to a breathtaking view. But I will say there is zero charm in finding a scorpion in your hut and strategizing with your husband on how to kill it.
“But here, you wear whatever makes sweat less visible, order an ice cold cocktail, and prepare yourself for the privilege of Hartwood.”
Hartwood was our small luxury away from all of this. Relaxed luxury is how I would describe the place. You can’t very well expect suits and ties in rainforest like temperatures, but I would imagine if this restaurant were anywhere else, that’s what one would wear. But here, you wear whatever makes sweat less visible, order an ice cold cocktail, and prepare yourself for the privilege of Hartwood. I say that kind of tongue in cheek. I don’t even think this is an attitude that the owners or staff proliferate, but the clientele.
Having said that, the food was superb. Each dish, meticulously thought out and yet coming out of the kitchen with lightning speed. The menu is written on chalkboards set throughout the seating area. When you are seated, your waiter walks through every single item on the menu at length. We ordered the jicama salad and seared tuna for starters.
The jicama salad was the perfect jungle appetizer. When it’s hot, you want something crisp and juicy. The fresh jicama had the crunch of an apple and the mild flavor of a cucumber. A sweet and bright dressing and toasted pine nuts finished it off. The tuna, a dish they call “bonito” was nice. Barely seared and dressed with olive oil, but really nothing special.
For our entrees I ordered the pork ribs and my husband had the lamb chops. However the complete stars for me were the side dishes. I ordered the roasted beet and my husband the roasted sweet potato. Both were charred on the outside with a smoky and savory crunchy skin.
The pork ribs were tender and sweetened with agave, so very satisfying without feeling too heavy. My husband’s lamb came with a side of caramelized onions on top of eggplant which was possibly the tastiest morsel that I put in my mouth. Except for the dessert of course.
Though we had ordered far too much, we had to stay for dessert. When given the options, the homemade ice cream sounded best and the options were cinnamon, corn, and cheese. Huh? “You can choose two”, the waiter said. Two? I’m not even sure if I can pick one that sounds even remotely appealing. The waiter highly recommended corn and cheese and so we trusted him. And I am so glad that we did. Probably one of the best ice creams I’ve ever had (but could never top Salt & Straw’s Pear and Gorgonzola).
I was afraid that it would taste like popcorn. But it didn’t. I want to say it kind of tasted like cream corn? But less….corny? Take out the texture and the garnishes like butter and salt that you put on corn. Just think about the sweetness on the finish. That is what this ice cream tasted like. And the cheese? How do I describe…. it tasted like heavy cream with a bite. I don’t know if I’m selling it well or not but honestly, it was the greatest.
Before I close, I have to mention the onslaught of flies and mosquitos in this restaurant. To the point that every 5-10 minutes, someone walks around with a smoke bucket to ward them off. That is probably the one thing that I didn’t enjoy about the experience, because not only do you have bugs gnawing at your legs all night, but even when there is reprieve, you get a huge lungful of smoke that throws off your palate while you’re trying to enjoy the sumptuous meal.
So that’s it. That is my review of Hartwood. It is definitely a destination restaurant worth traveling for. More on the overall experience in Tulum coming soon.
Note: as a benchmark, our meal for two came to $135 USD including tip with three full courses.