The first thing one notices when entering Heirloom is the emptiness of the space. Opened only a few weeks ago, the restaurant enjoys a smaller portion of the New Haven clientele than other up-market establishments nearby.
Heirloom offers traditional American and Continental fare in a metropolitan setting on the ground floor of the new Study Hotel on Chapel Street. But ideologically, the restaurant is not firmly located in New Haven; it sees itself, with its dimmed lights and chic furniture, as something of a transplant.
Indeed, the aesthetic at Heirloom might be better suited to cities such as Paris or Los Angeles, and it is worth noting that a company based in Manhattan operates the restaurant.
But Heirloom cannot escape its New Haven roots. On two recent visits, we and our charming female dates were impressed by the effort that the eatery’s staff made each night, but at times underwhelmed by the final product.
The food ranged from good — namely the flavorful foie gras — to mediocre, with a spaghetti-and-meatballs dish that had more water than sauce.
The restaurant seems to specialize in comfort food. While Alaskan Salmon might sound high-cuisine, the inclusion of mashed potatoes gives the dish the feel of a cozy nap by the fire. The fish was well-, if a tad over-, cooked, and the mushrooms that came with it burst delightfully in the mouth.
Most of Heirloom’s food traverses the thin line between bland and homely. Its signature appetizer, a trio of sliders, was delightful — but where the barbecue selection was exciting, the small veal burger left the mouth wanting more flavor. The desserts were similarly forgettable, but several of the salad dishes, especially the arugula salad, were very fine.
With an exciting variety of wines, Heirloom seems to promise more than simply dependable food. Images of cosmopolitan revelry flood into the imagination as one hears the hip lounge music and the hostess’s gracious welcome.
Heirloom is certainly a smooth experience. Everything works as cleanly as the polished metal surfaces of the interior.
And while the glass-enclosed wine rack is reminiscent of Barcelona, the Temple Street restaurant, the atmosphere at Heirloom is more derived from Yale’s campus than anything else. Silhouetted views of Holcombe T. Green Hall, the School of Art’s flash-cube home, and a Yale-blue paint scheme help connect the restaurant with the University, and also show that Heirloom is counting on Yale students and their parents for business.
For now, it seems that few from Yale have even discovered Heirloom. But the restaurant is part of a growing scene of reasonably priced, trendy eateries in New Haven. Heirloom is probably the most well-appointed of these venues, but its food still has to step up to the mark.
Heirloom is sometimes lacking with regard to the details. For example, on one trip to the restaurant, we were served with tap water without even being asked for bottled water. At a lower-rent joint, one would expect such treatment. Despite this, the service was incredibly considerate and perhaps more attentive than crammed restaurants in a big city.
But restaurants in New York and elsewhere are also “scenes.” While the bar is incredibly visible from the dining area, it was almost empty on our visits. Heirloom is dressed for a lively game of cricket, but, for the meantime, it seems to be bowling slow balls.
If you go to Heirloom, you must decide in advance whether you are expecting a New York experience or a New Haven one. If it is the former that you are seeking, you should hop on the Metro-North and head to downtown; if it is the latter, you may be in for a delight.