By Mia Shehadi
This modern industrial-style restaurant is the perfect place for your next date night. Located right in between the Children’s Museum and the Bartell Theater, this spot is an intimate space perfect for candle-lit conversation. Walking into the restaurant, I was stunned to see that it isn’t terribly big. A large wooden bar area is stowed on the back left wall, while two to four person tables are placed across and towards the front of the restaurant. The decor is very lovely with a warm industrial feel; large cream colored stones lined the walls accented by grey fixtures and large windows. The small wooden tables seem to be designed for a more conversation-oriented dinner, perfect for business negotiations or a sweet date night.
I invited my dad to join me for dinner; even with family living not 20 minutes from downtown, it’s hard to find time to sit down and spend some quality time with them. After looking at the menu online, I decided the food would be right up his alley. Hamilton’s offers a small specialized menu that features dishes like Grilled Octopus and Lamb Chops. Their unique ingredients, along with their incredible execution, merits a pricier meal. However, there is no doubt that the food, as well as the service and ambience, makes a visit to Hamilton’s incredibly worthwhile.
Hamilton’s does not take reservations, they operate on more of a first-come-first-serve basis, on account of the small dining space they work with. I found this out over the phone, a very nice gentleman explained with the utmost kindness that although he would like to save a spot for two, it’s just not how the system is coordinated. He apologetically finished the conversation and encouraged our party to come around 8 p.m. With a pleasant goodbye I ended the call and let my dad know about the time. This was the first in many of great service experiences I had while dining at Hamilton’s.
I walked into an obviously-packed restaurant, with two parties of two waiting in line ahead of me and about three other tables of four already seated, I added our party of two to the queue mentioning that a table by the window would be greatly appreciated. The hostess was a young woman with a bright smile, even amongst the pressure of trying to accommodate everyone, that didn’t waver. When my dad arrived about five minutes after me, I had already sat and was waving at him from the window.
Our server, Emily, was delightful. She cheerfully introduced herself and brought over water, which was infused in house with cucumbers. All of a sudden, my dad gets a call from a family friend who said that he and his family would be joining us for dessert. We mention the fact to Emily, asking if we could move from a two to a five-person table. She was more than happy to accommodate our large party, and enlisting the help from the hostess, moved us over. She was terribly gracious throughout the night, listing the specials and inviting good conversation along with helpful suggestions on what to order.
Because the other three people who joined us had only come for good conversation and dessert, my dad and I were free to pick whatever item caught our eye. We started the meal with the Ricotta Gnudi, a suggestion by Emily. The gnudi looks like a combination of a ravioli and a rice ball. Made in house from start-to-finish, the ball sits for three days while the flavors meld together creating a rich mouthful. With a semi-sweet taste, the vibrant broth cut the creamy ricotta elegantly. A mix of the bright bell pepper and the soft full pasta leaves your tongue asking for more.
The second appetizer we ordered was the Smoked Mushroom Salad. As a self-proclaimed connoisseur of salads and a great admirer of mushrooms, this dish was calling my name. It was fantastic; the smoky flavor was very prominent and paired nicely with the sherry vinegar. I wouldn’t suggest this dish for the faint of heart, the flavors are very bold, this would not be the introductory dish for those who’ve never tried smoked foods. The sour vinegar soaked well into the spinach and lentils, making for the perfect soft bed to rest the mushrooms and their assertive smoky flavor.
For our next course we tried the Grilled Octopus and the special, which was a grilled trout over spaghetti squash and braised spinach. Octopus is surprisingly easy to overcook, and once overcooked it becomes rubbery and tough to eat. My octopus cut very nicely, the charred exterior was a nice touch and didn’t overpower the taste of the tentacles. I appreciated how the pea shoot pesto sauce was placed in the middle for the customer to indulge in as they please. The potato salad and shaved fennel were good as well, but paled in comparison to the star of the dish. Octopus doesn’t have a fishy taste and is easily approachable for those wanting to branch out from average meats.
The special melted in your mouth. The trout fillet was cooked to perfection, also sporting a charred exterior with a creamy center. The trout was caught in Lake Superior and freshness really shone through the flavors of the dish. The natural fish taste was highlighted by the sauce, which was also placed on the side. Both dishes were very engaging and brought attention to the food’s natural flavor rather than overwhelming them with extravagant sides and thick sauces. Before ordering, we asked Emily what the chef would recommend, what struck me was the confidence in the specials. The chef stood by his food and his specials, encouraging us to try them.
For our final course the five of us split everything. We ordered and finished every dessert they offered that night. The first was a Pumpkin Cheesecake with a caramel sauce and brandy cream. This was the all-around favorite dessert at the table. Without a crust, the pumpkin and cinnamon were allowed to strut with the caramel. The nuts brought an element of crunch without adding an extra taste that would have detracted from the cheesecake.
The second dessert was a Chocolate Orange Cake with chocolate ganache and candied orange peel over a drizzle of the Jim Beam caramel sauce. The flavor of this cake was great, although the cake itself was a little dry, the orange was very bright and helped move the dark chocolate. The candied peel, roasted hazelnut, and thick chocolate ganache were rich and crunchy, adding a rich depth to the cake.
The final two desserts were the embodiment of fall. A homemade apple cinnamon cake paired with homemade cinnamon brown sugar ice cream. The cake was moist and warm, you could see the layers of fresh apples nestled inside. The brown sugar ice cream was sweet but far from overwhelming. Swirls of brown sugar cinnamon could be seen in each scoop, and the dessert was elegantly presented in a martini glass.
As we slowly but surely dug through our desserts and our dinner conversation lasted past the bussing of our plates, Emily was still smiling and everyone was very kind even if we might have overstayed our welcome. The check definitely took a toll on my dad’s wallet; however, considering we ordered two appetizers, two entrees and four desserts along with a few drinks, it wasn’t terrible. With an intimate atmosphere and unique menu, I would suggest Hamilton’s as a good restaurant for getting to know someone while impressing them with an all-around wonderful dining experience.