Note: There have been many chef changes at the Harrison. Click here for a more recent review.
In late 2001, restauranteurs Jimmy Bradley and Danny Abrams made a gutsy move: they opened The Harrison just a month after 9/11. Obviously the concept had long predated the attacks, but many with queasier stomachs would have postponed the opening or backed out entirely.
In those days, with many of the streets still cut off from traffic, you could barely get to The Harrison. But Bradley and Abrams were confident that the restaurant’s fortunes would rise as the neighborhood bounced back. Two months later, they were proud parents of a two-star restaurant (per William Grimes in the Times).
The Harrison is a close cousin of the flagship Bradley/Abrams property, The Red Cat in Chelsea. But I was not very much enchanted with The Red Cat; it seemed to me a decent neighborhood restaurant, nothing more. The Harrison has a dash of elegance that I found lacking in The Red Cat, and the cooking seems to me more accomplished.
I dined at The Harrison last night with a colleague. Coincidentally, we both landed on the identical menu choices. We started with Pork Belly ($12), a decadently rich preparation that must be one of the highest-calorie appetizers in New York. Breast of duck ($28) was perfectly prepared, served on a bed of quark spaetzle, and accompanied by a kicker of seared foie gras curiously not mentioned on the menu. At the end, we shared a cheese plate, which was also excellent.
I recognize the reasons why immigrants often land in the restaurant industry, but it can be frustrating at a restaurant of The Harrison’s calibre when the server can’t quite communicate. Before we ordered, he blurted out, “We have grilled salmon” (he pronounced it sal-mon). He was obviously telling us a daily special, but couldn’t explain anything about its preparation. We had already settled on the duck anyway (specials should be explained before you start contemplating the menu, not after), but he wasn’t making much of a case for that poor salmon, except that it was “grilled.”
When our plate of seven cheeses arrived, the explanation was incomprehensible. We decided not to trouble him further. Aside from that, service was just fine. Our server clearly understood our orders, even if his explanations were lacking.
I like the room at The Harrison. It’s not the restaurant’s fault that there are large glass doors lining two of the dining room’s four walls, and there are also tables along those walls. Glass is a poor insulator, and on a cold winter night those tables will get chilly. We were at such a table, but luckily it hasn’t been a very cold December. As temperatures start to fall, those tables may start to feel like Siberia. In the summer, they’re probably delightful.
I don’t know if everything at The Harrison is as good as the pork belly, the duck, and the cheese plate, but it has been a long time since a restaurant in this price range hit a home run on all three courses. To drink, we had a sublime Saint-Emilion, Grand Cru, 2001 Chateau Haut-Segottes, at $68.
The Harrison is certainly worth another visit.
The Harrison (355 Greenwich Street at Harrison Street, TriBeCa)