This restaurant is closed!
355 Greenwich St (at Harrison St.)
City: New York, NY
Phone: (212) 274-9310
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Chef: Ari Bokovza
Cuisine: New American
2nd Cuisine: Mediterranean
Entree Price: $25-30
It was the week of September 10th, 2001, and Jimmy Bradley and Danny Abrams were quite busy. They were getting ready to open The Harrison, a follow up to their Chelsea neighborhood favorite, The Red Cat. The Harrison was conceived as a more evolved version of the Red Cat, with a touch more refinement, and a new American menu to match its warm and sophisticated New England country house decor. And then came that Tuesday morning. And our world changed; all of us changed. But for Jimmy and Danny, that was the reason for the restaurant—to provide constancy in a time of fear and uncertainty; to shelter their wounded city with comfort in the form of food.
One month later, in October 2001, in the shadow of a gaping, still smoldering Ground Zero, Jimmy and Danny opened the doors to The Harrison, praying that people would come. They did. I was one of them. I spent many nights at the bar with friends, eating perfect piles of fried clams with crispy slices of thin lemon while flirting shamelessly with Peter, Craig, and Jared. (Peter broke many hearts when he got married. Jared is about to do the same.)
Three years went by, and The Harrison thrived. Soon it was time for the boys to open another restaurant. And when Pace was born, and The Harrison’s chef Joey Campanaro moved over there, Jimmy and Danny began a search for a new chef. They pulled a surprise move when they hired a guy with a serious pedigree, Brian Bistrong—he’d worked with David Bouley for six years and was executive chef at Citarella the Restaurant at the time. They decided (wisely I might add), that he was the right guy for the job. Clearly, three stars were in their sites. And so, as we all do in life, The Harrison said goodbye to the past, and started a new chapter.
It is a chapter that has been filling pages for a year and a half now, and I am sorry it has taken me so long to get back there to check out what Brian has been doing. I had dinner at The Harrison last week with my friend Stacey and her boyfriend Marcus, a couple who had their first date there, a year and a half ago. They now live together on Murray Street, just a few blocks away. They dine there often and had mentioned that the food was quite spectacular. I had to check it out for myself. And now, I can say this with certainty: It will not be as long until I return for dinner again.
I love a chef who gets seasoning. And by seasoning, I don’t just mean salt and pepper. I mean acidity—whether from vinegar, citrus juice, or wine. Food needs acid. Like women need long talks and lots of shoes, and like men need, well, actually, I don’t know what men need, which is another topic all together, but food? Food I know. And it needs acidity. And it is so sad that many chefs often leave this element out of their cooking. This is not the case at The Harrison. What becomes clear very early on—say after the silky Pacific yellowtail sashimi in a pool of granny smith apple jus hits your mouth with a bright tart pucker—is that Brian (and the folks cooking with him on that line every night), knows that the mouth is not merely excited by food. It is excited by joyously seasoned food. It is sort of like a kiss. Yes, it’s nice to be kissed. Way back, when I was kissing someone regularly, I remember enjoying it quite a bit, actually. But if the guy doesn’t know what he is doing and you end up with a slobering wet kiss, well, that is not good people. The same goes for food. No finesse? I’d rather eat a bowl of cereal.
Anyway, back to that yellowtail. It is served in a granny smith apple jus that is nice and tart, but its flavor is rounded and softened thanks to some toasted pecans and diced Asian pear. And don’t forget the element of heat—Brian adds a bit of Daikon radish just to make sure you are really paying attention. I was rapt. His Peekytoe crab salad ($15) was another winner—lovely lumps of sweet crabmeat, topped with diced avocado and juicy grapefruit supremes, and a soft purr of heat from mustard oil. But the cavatelli with braised rabbit ($12) shows off another gift. They guy can make pasta. The cavatelli are plump and light, and they are served in the rabbit’s braising jus, with ribbons of escarole, and some mint to wake it all up. Love that touch of mint in there. It was a perfect kiss.
The one clunker for us was a dish that has gotten a lot of favorable press: The Biscuits and Gravy ($12)—a pair of dense scallion chive biscuits smothered in a thick opaque gravy made from roux and clam broth, with chorizo, and a collection of clams—Razor, Manilla and Wellfleet. It tasted gummy, as though it might have been sitting for a while under the heat lamps. While I appreciate the idea of the dish, in execution it was heavy, and clumsy. But this was the only dish that didn’t work for me. (And it worked quite well for Frank Bruni, so it may just be me.)
Brian’s fish technique is flawless. Fluke ($24) was pan-roasted so the skin was crisp and the flesh was moist and sweet. What’s more, it comes with lovely accessories: pillowy herb gnocchi, and a sauté of baby spinach, maitake mushrooms, and preserved lemon. (There’s that smooch. Bingo.) Local brooktrout ($26) is sliced in two, and filled with a sort of pesto made from shallots and almonds, and then tied up and seared to a nutty buttery finish, and served on a bed of mustard greens with two purees—one of red cabbage and one of spinach, with a side of silky almond puree. The grilled grouper ($25) is snowy white, and meaty and oily in texture, the right choice to stand up to briny olives, caramelized onions, slivered potatoes, and a gentle sauce made of anchovies.
Brian can also make the humble chicken seem like a Kobe steak. He serves a golden crispy-skinned bone-in breast ($23) with meat so juicy and tender, it almost made me cry. This dish should make the chicken of the world proud to be poultry. The beautiful little bird comes with a great mess of brussel sprouts tossed with roasted chestnuts and surrounded by a sauce made from a secret shipment of Hungarian paprika he gets from his friend’s mother who lives there. We also tried a special that night, a miraculous dish known as chicken fried duck breast—the meat was pounded thin and breaded like a Weinerschnitzel, cloaked in a crunchy crust, with a side of lignonberry relish and potato puree. It was terrific. On the side, we ordered the quark spaetzle, which was pan-fried so it has a bit of crunch, and it was just deliriously good. I kept eating it, straight from the bowl, not letting anyone else near it. I clearly have an addiction to it. (Great, another food addiction. Like I really need another one.) But then Marcus was right there with me, putting up a good fight for his fair share, mumbling in a dream like state about how it reminded him of his childhood in Cologne, Germany. He was smitten. Note to Stacey: make your man spaetzle.
The crowd at The Harrison was thinning out as we settled up and readied to leave. We spent a few minutes discussing how much we loved our meal and planned to return. And then we walked out into the cold clear night. It was so warm and cozy inside, but out on Greenwich Street, the wind was biting. As Stacey and Marcus set off together for home, I hailed a cab, and looked down the street to the place where our world changed four years ago. I thought about change, about loss, and the process of rebuilding in its brutal wake. Fours years have gone by, and yet The Harrison remains—renewed with a talented new chef, and a magnificent fresh menu—but with the same mission: feeding us, giving us a place to meet for a first date at the bar, or to celebrate the simple joy of sharing a meal together across a table, reminding us that there are many chapters to live in this life. The past contains some of them, but these are tales already told. Our role here in the present is to begin, again and again.
Review By: Andrea Strong