Rich cuisine, vivid decor, and lively patrons abound at Thomas Henkelmann in Greenwich
Thomas Henkelmann, located in the Homestead Inn, brings to mind Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, words like “swanky” and “posh,” and the uplifting sense that you belong in this happening place for the well-heeled and well-mannered.
Designated a Relais & Chateaux in 2002 (one of only 48 inns in the United States to receive this prestigious recognition of top-shelf service, cuisine, and accommodations), the restaurant has managed to avoid falling into the trap of creating a stiff and formal atmosphere. Quite the opposite—you’ll be drawn into the dining room by peals of laughter and animated conversations.
On your way through the lobby, you may notice the little amusements nestled in the sumptuous dÃ©cor. Amidst the layers of color and pattern and luxurious fabric, a mischievous wooden monkey swings from a sconce. He might be easily overlooked, but he reappears in several other spots, working hard to make you smile. Similarly, with all these rich swags and traditional fabrics, it is a witticism to find an Ã¼ber-contemporary blown glass votive with a brushed-steel base on every table. These touches work; they lighten up the atmosphere and create a setting for light-hearted, feel-good theater.
The atmosphere is, in fact, a stage set created by co-owner Theresa Henkelmann. While her husband, Thomas, is the chef responsible for the restaurant, Theresa Henkelmann’s background in theater and interior design is put to good use in creating this venue for grand good times.
At times, the food somersaults in rhythm with the setting; occasionally it simply looks blankly up from the plate like a pleasant arrangement of static ingredients. There was nothing wrong with our starter of baby vegetables, but we never found the black-truffle jus flavor promised on the menu. We ended up with what seemed to be a plate of poached vegetables, the simplicity of which was lost in this vibrant surrounding.
Black truffle flavor came through far better on perfectly crisped, perfectly delectable sweetbreads served over sweet peas. This is a dish worthy of the hand-painted chargers and legions of staff. Similarly, a sardine appetizer was as lively and pleasing as the ambience—and on the polar opposite end of the flavor spectrum from the sweetbreads. The fillets of two sardines were served lightly spread with a parsley mousse, and the herbaceous grassiness was a perfect counter to the rich and intense sardines.
When it’s on the mark, the food at Henkelmann tends to be as rich as the dÃ©cor and as lively as the crowd. (Don’t go here hoping to stick with Weight Watchers or Atkins!) Imagine perfectly cooked-as-ordered rack of butter-soft baby lamb chops, lightly crusted with a briny olive tapenade and accompanied by soft, sweet and mildly licorice-flavored braised fennel. Now rest those juicy, tender chops on a bed of buttery pommes anna (thinly sliced potatoes), and you can see this is a meal worth the indulgence.
In fact, entrÃ©es are generally in the $36 to $40 range, and appetizers tend to hover around $18 to $22, which means an evening at Henkelmann’s may be an indulgence in more than one sense of the word. Is it worth it?
You decide after tasting the fricassee of Maine lobster, served with a rich lobster sauce over colorful strands of fettuccine. Eat the pasta at your own risk, though: the long strands absorb the sauce, which makes them irresistible—and guarantees a trip to the dry cleaner.
But a quiet dish of sea bass over artichoke purÃ©e, while pleasant enough, is in no way astounding. And ignore the superfluous artichoke chips on your plate—they must be there more for fun than flavor.
Desserts were unexciting. A warm Valrhona chocolate soufflÃ© cake with a molten center looked more intensely chocolate than it was, and a pear “variation”—pear mousse, pear sorbet, and pear tarte—was fluffy and light but seemed best suited to less serious dessert eaters.
While the food may be uneven, it is never actually flawed so much as a little boring. On the other hand, when it is good, it is very, very good—and who can resist this setting?
420 Field Point Rd., Greenwich, CT
Lunch, Mon. to Fri. 12-2 pm
Dinner, Mon. to Fri. 6-10 pm, Sat. 5:45 and 8:45 seatings