If you’ve researched Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula online, you know you need a same-day reservation to get into Tulum’s go-to restaurant of the moment: Hartwood.
Hartwood’s chef and owner, Eric Werner, comes with a pedigree that has prompted buzz and garnered his restaurant attention. He worked as a chef at Brooklyn’s Vinegar Hill House and Manhattan’s Peasant prior to setting up Hartwood in 2010. A Hartwood cookbook was released and the eatery was featured in Conde Nast Traveller in October 2015.
On my recent trip to Tulum, I had to see what the fuss was about.To get a reservation, you have to get on-line at the restaurant on a jungle road called the Carretera Tulum Boca Paila, that runs parallel to the beach. The line starts forming as early as 2pm, perhaps earlier. A hostess takes the in-person reservations Wednesdays through Sundays starting at 3pm. (Hartwood is closed Mondays and Tuesdays). The restaurant’s online website lists no phone number. It says they only take E-mailed reservations for parties of 8 or more.
On my first full day in Tulum, I lined up at Hartwood at 3:30 pm to get a reservation. But, all tables were already booked. On my second day, I developed a strategy: I would eat lunch at Ziggy’s Beach Club across the street from Hartwood, so I could line up earlier. After wolfing down my beach-side enchiladas, I got onto the reservation line at 2:15. As luck would have it, the couple in front of me snagged the night’s last available table. On day three, I lined up exactly 1:59pm and was 10th in line. Upon arriving at the head of the line, the hostess informed me she had a 5:30pm reservation available. Guess what? About 4:30, it started pouring rain. So, I ran to Hartwood to speak to the hostess who told me all reservations would be transferred to the next night. (Hartwood closes when it rains as the restaurant has virtually no roof). Finally, Saturday night at 5:30pm, I proceeded to Hartwood for a much-anticipated meal.
Walking into Hartwood, you feel like you’ve been invited to a friend’s casual backyard cook-out. The dining area seats approximately 40 diners. A generator powers the few kitchen area lights, providing just enough illumination for cooks to see what they are preparing.(The nearest power lines are miles away). At the foot of the restaurant, you see a hand-made wood-burning oven and a grill, neither using electricity
The utilitarian decor seems designed to keep rot, humidity and weeds at bay. Diners sit at dark, wooden tables and benches varnished to a deep mahogany. Vertical beams painted in multiple coats of ivory white support horizontal bamboo reeds that provide a hint of shade from sunlight but allow rain to seep through. White gravelly pebbles cover the ground, preventing light from nurturing sprigs that might reclaim the land.
The aroma of meat cooking mixes with a faint smell of smoke from the wood-burning oven. A staff member moves among tables with a bucket of smoking resin to shoo away flies and mosquitoes. The dewy smell of palm trees and other flora remind you that you are actually surrounded by fertile jungle.
Feeling slightly parched from the warm temperatures, I ordered the “Passion in the Jungle” ($145 pesos). It’s a house drink made of rum, lime, and passion fruit juice garnished with fresh mint.
You may want to try “The Hartwood” (Jameson, lime, ginger and soda) or “The Pina Habanero Margarita”, made with tequila, fresh pineapple and Cointreau. If you’re not into fruity drinks, you can choose from a range of domestic and imported beers, mezcals or wines. I sipped a bit of the Argentinian Norton” Cabernet Sauvignon which was full-bodied with the aroma of blackberries.
You have a choice of seven starters ranging from $155-$255 pesos. Having tried pork empanadas, ceviche and smoked fish salad at other restaurants, I first tried the salad made with Jicama, a root vegetable with an apple’s consistency. The jicama salad comes served with roasted sunflower seeds, oranges, and a prickly pear purée accompanied by a mint cream dressing. Each forkful — simultaneously crunchy, sweet, and salty — delighted the palate.
The Milpa Tomato Salad was equally refreshing. It features fresh, ripe, crimson quartered heirloom tomatoes, sunflower sprouts, a sprinkling of cotija cheese and a light spritz of vinaigrette dressing.
Hartwood’s menu offers seven main courses ranging from $285-$375 pesos. The yellowtail hammer jack fish fillet or (“filete de Coronado”) was thick and moist served on a bed of sautéed Mayan spinach and diced, roasted pineapples. A dusting of chili pepper provided a pleasant bit of bite for the otherwise sublime dish.
The Snook fish fillet (“filete de robalo”) came served on a bed of lima and kidney beans with habanero pepper. The fish was particularly flaky and more filling than its appearance might suggest.
After a filling meal, you could also choose from a variety of gelato flavors for dessert. I chose a lime cheesecake with a black zapote sauce and brittle. Its texture was smooth and creamy without being too dense.
Getting a reservation for Hartwood was something of a hassle, but it the end it was worth the wait!
That’s the Lowdown!
For more information about Hartwood, check out the restaurant’s website: