The back-to-nature, farm-to-table ethos is so widespread that some folks may yawn at yet another manifestation of it. But Foraged, the recent addition to Hampden’s dining scene, embraces the concept in a way that feels fresh, not to mention serious — when you’ve got a hydroponic garden occupying almost a whole wall, you’re certainly making a statement.
Too bad about the lighting for the nasturtium, though; no one looks attractive in such an antiseptic LED glow. Otherwise, the restaurant’s ambience — exposed brick walls, dark wood floors — gives off a nice, earthy vibe to go with a menu rich in root vegetables.
Animals are well represented, too, particularly the porcine variety. A specialty of the house is an assortment of pig parts and pickles.
I am one of those cowardly carnivores who prefers not to be reminded in clinical terms what creature has sacrificed its life for my appetite, so I avoided such offerings as snout, socket, tongue and heart jerky. But I did partake of the cheeks, which found their own rich flavor enhanced by acid-sweet contrasts from the accompanying pickled fennel and apple.
The distinctive balance of items on that plate proved typical of what we tasted all evening. And everything arrived on terrific ceramic ware, adding to Foraged’s earthy notes (those dishes, we learned, were purchased from Aromes, the previous restaurant in this space).
Foraged is billed as “a hyper-seasonal eatery.” Although Chef Chris Amendola will no doubt provide diners with very interesting experiences come spring, summer and fall — each with their own out-of-the-ground possibilities — he doesn’t seem to find this time of year limiting at all.
The winter menu holds abundant rewards, high among them the mushroom stew, which I imagine will become a year-round favorite. This hearty bowlful of beautifully cooked fungi, including oyster and shiitake varieties, had the additional appeal of pine nuts, a satisfying creaminess from ricotta and, on top, a poached egg.
Even allowing for some disappointments, the entrees proved notable. In the case of the duck confit, one member of our party wished that more of the fat had been rendered, which might have helped give the skin some crispness. But we all found the duck leg tender and tasty. The dish received supple support from some cabbage, apple and, especially, an airy gnocchi.
Beautifully glazed carrots and carrot puree provided a fine accompaniment to the braised lamb neck, which another of our party considered a winner.
Speaking of braised, the short rib was on the dry side, but still flavorful. Once again, the finishing touches on the plate hit the spot — roasted carrots, ethereal cipollini onions and a celery root puree. If the half-chicken likewise proved short on moisture, it also got a lift from roasted root vegetables and a parsnip puree.
Foraged, which opened with a BYOB policy, recently obtained its liquor license and now provides local beers and a compact wine list (like the menu, that list will change periodically). We enjoyed a smooth malbec from Argentina with the meal.
Desserts are currently made by the nearby Full Circle bakery. We loved the look of the chocolate-glazed doughnut holes but couldn’t understand why they were so lacking in actual taste.
The other choices proved delectable. A moist walnut cake, a standout on its own, won extra votes for the candied walnuts and classy coffee creme anglaise added to the plate.
An apple cheesecake eschewed neatness (it looked as if it had been shoveled onto the plate) but had a lovely, creamy center and fun graham cracker bits. Not sure what the sprig of micro greens was doing on top, except, perhaps, to remind you that you were finishing your meal in a cool place called Foraged.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Where: 3520 Chestnut St., Hampden
Contact: 410-235-0035, foragedeatery.com
Dinner hours: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday.
Prices: Appetizers $9 to $14; entrees $16 to $24.
Food: New American
Noise/TVs: Moderate noise level; no televisions.
Service: Coolly efficient, well-informed.
Parking: Street (you’ll need patience).
Special diets: Most can be accommodated.
Reservation policy: Accepts reservations.
Handicap accessible: With prior notice.
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star.]