Last night we visited Hartwood in Tulum, the restaurant founded by Eric Werner of New York City, and his wife. The New York Times magazine wrote about it and Selby put a picture of it on the front of their new book. It's a hip place -- no reservations, cash only, menu changes daily depending on what is available at the local market (for which the chef travels an hour and a half in his vintage Harvester truck, deep into the Mayan jungle, inhabited by jaguar & panteras). Sandy and I were the first to arrive and we were escorted in to an outdoor courtyard with whitewashed palapa-style lean-tos on both sides and a floor of small white gravel. The tables are dark wood and varnished, like the deck of an old boat. Chairs are benches. The kitchen is at the end, hewn out of rock with a big oven in the middle, pineapples and dried herbs hanging from rafters, large wooden crates displayed domino-fashion with the day's produce, silver candlesticks and old-school silver chandeliers dripping wax over grey stone walls.
At the bar there is a rainbow of wide-necked glass decanters each holding a different freshly squeezed juice -- cucumber, blood orange, papaya, golden pineapple, chaya -- and the menu contains cocktails with names like "Passion in the Jungle" -- passion fruit, mint, rum, sugar cane stick. The bartender, a handsome, forelocked Brit from Hull chatted with us while we waited for our friends and many of the jovial men and women who work there came over to say hi. The difference between Tulum and where we are staying is the difference between Woodstock and the Upper East Side, so we were grateful for such kindness. It is not a reach to say that we felt immediately comfortable.
The food of course was outrageously good. A spiky lobster roasted over a cast iron skillet filled with yucca, onions, garlic, some sour cream was quite literally ambrosia. We wanted bowls of that warm, caramel/woodsy yucca (similar perhaps to a mashed potato only a hundred times better) to take home and eat in bed on a miserable day watching a black and white romance. The chef -- who sports a beard that would make any of the Mumfords envious -- came over and chatted so smilingly, so charmingly, that we all (gay and straight and divorced and widowed alike) melted. He swore there was no truffle in the yucca but where else did that complex, woody taste come from? "Garlic, roasted over night" he said. There was a local fish roasted whole with spinach (chaya) and some slow roasted pork ribs over a fennel-seed infused slaw. There was roasted nopalitos (cactus leaves) and white beans. Pudding was corn ice cream with sweet tortillas. I think we ordered two extra, it was so good.
And the music -- Santana, George Harrison (My Sweet Lord, If Not for You) -- completed the hippy daydream. Such sweet music. The place was filled with young and old, Italians, French, Mexican, American. It was very Brooklyn on the Carribbean but none of us, not one of us, could get over the feeling that we wanted to stay there for ever. We wanted to be there the whole night long, soaking it all in. Such was the love in the room. I admit to huge dork status, but Bowie's "Memory of a Free Festival" came to mind. There was nothing forced, nothing rote, nothing of pretense, just a genuine feeling that everyone that was there, both servers and diners, wanted to be there, and didn't want to be anywhere else in the world.
I'm not sure that you could recreate that in LA. There is too much of a see and be seen vibe. Here people came from the beach, were talking to each other, were interested in the people on other tables. There was no tension. None.
People accuse me of looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, but I can be as cynical as the next person.
I know for example that men who lie do well in business. I know that men who kiss the asses of other idiot men move up in their jobs. I know that people with integrity don't usually get rewarded for it. In this case, I would say, quite gladly, that I am wrong.
Hartwood deserves all the praise. I am loathe to write about it because then more people will know to visit. But, hey, what the hell.