92 Stowe Street, Waterbury, 244-7300
Once in a great while, I break from the usual Alice Eats format of meals for two that ring up at less than $35. These very special blog posts stick to the spirit of the column, though. A great fine-dining deal just can't be had for that little, but still, on Chalkboard Menu Mondays at Hen of the Wood — Waterbury, it's not much more. My three-course meal for two came to $55.59 before tip, a fraction of what a meal costs there most other days.
The restaurant reintroduced its "locals' night" last Monday. Last night, the most expensive entrée was the $20 hanger steak. Other than that, the service, food and lovely atmosphere of the stone culinary temple were intact. And following a rainy spell, the waterfall was working overtime to make the evening beautiful.
I skipped the snack-sized pickles and frites in favor of a trio of appetizers in the $10 range.
The salad course came first. Pig's ear salad, that is.
On top of a pile of soft, leafy lettuces and shaved baby turnips rested more than my fair share of fried pig-ear slices.
The cracklings burst with fat — far more indulgent than your average crouton. Combined with hazelnuts and a mustard vinaigrette, it was a delicious salad, but even for me, the pork was a little excessive — I ended up having half of it packed up to take home.
The pigging out continued with a bowl of crispy pork belly. The fatty-but-tender meat was bathed in a soy-vinegar sauce that recalled the best hole-in-the-wall Chinese dining. Cilantro added an élan to each bite, while peanuts contributed crunch.
It's worth noting that Jordan Ware, who will be chef at the upcoming Hen of the Wood — Burlington, was at the helm last night. Here's hoping that he'll bring more internationally inspired dishes to his kitchen in the new Hotel Vermont.
The final small plate was one I first tasted years ago at a Vermont Fresh Network dinner at which chef Eric Warnstedt used duck in every course.
The dish has been refined over the years. Last night, the cute little cocotte opened to reveal the biggest, most beautifully prepared egg yolk I'd ever seen. The hearty duck egg took a knife to cut, but didn't feel tough once I was biting into its saucy goodness.
The local polenta was creamy, as it should be, but was still improved by the yolks as they ran to combine with the cornmeal.
There were more crumbles of meaty, red-hued duck sausage dotted across the dish this time than that long-ago dinner. All the better.
But the best was yet to come. The sole entrée that we ordered was among the best dishes I've ever had at Hen of the Wood.
Apologies for the less-than-stellar photo. Anyone who's been to Hen of the Wood knows it can be quite dark, and unfortunately, my flash overcompensated.
Hopefully, this still does justice to the velvety-yet-chewy house tagliatelle buried in braised rabbit and an herbaceous rabbit broth.
Topped with a thick shower of toasted breadcrumbs and crispy ham, the dish was pure pleasure. I threatened to order a second one for dessert, but I was stuffed. I'll just have to pray that there's something like it the next time I can make it to Waterbury on a Monday.
Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature usually devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to email@example.com.