Finding Culinary Redemption in Tulum, Mayan Riviera
Last week I was in Tulum, Mexico, where I dodged the leaks in the bedroom, closet and bathroom at Dreams resort. It was a family reunion, so seeking out great dining spots wasn’t much of an option. However, on Friday night some of us were able to check out Hartwood, which made up for the mostly boring food I had all week at Dreams. (My room was a nightmare, the food was purgatory).
Hartwood is owned by Eric Werner, who worked at both Vinegar Hill House in Brooklyn and Peasant in New York, and his wife, Mya Henry, who was also in the restaurant business in New York. They moved to Tulum three years ago and opened Hartwood two years ago.
The restaurant looks like it could be a set for Gilligan’s Island. The dining room is outdoors, and despite the rain, it was packed. All the food is cooked on a wood grill or in a wood-fired oven —hot work in a this humid, tropical climate. Werner uses the same sensibilities you’d find in the best restaurants in New York or San Francisco. He uses local fishermen and meat purveyors. Local farmers harvest wonderfully ripe tomatoes, juicy jicama and sweet plums.
The blackboard menu changes nightly, but as you can see from the pictures, the cooking was imaginative and the results were spectacular. The tomatoes were covered with sunflower sprouts and seeds; the crusty-grilled skirt steak was served on crushed roasted potatoes and a creamy celery-basil sauce. Lentils, dotted with precisely diced carrots, were surrounded by plums and topped with cucumbers. A whole fish came in a cast iron skillet along with roasted vegetables, including whole radishes.
It was a magical experience dining there, tucked away on the jungle side of Tulum Beach Road (at 7.6 kilometers). Staff walked around periodically, swinging smoking cans like Catholic priests swinging incense; in this case, it was mosquito repellent.
After being in repentance at Dreams for a week, it was like redemption to dine at one of the picnic tables at Hartwood.