We’re in a year of seafood restaurants. This season has brought us The John Dory in Southwest Chelsea, Fishtail by David Burke on the Upper East Side, Marea on Central Park South, and now Harbour in Hudson Square.
Among these, Harbour may have the toughest path to glory, as it doesn’t have the benefit of a well known chef, and it’s in a neighborhood not previously hospitable to fine dining. There’s no reason diners shouldn’t make the voyage here, only steps away from Soho, TriBeCa, and the West Village. But while Husdon Square is adjacent to those three neighborhoods, it’s not in any of them, and therein lies the rub.
Undaunted by the geography, the owners of Harbour have taken a big risk here, with a fit-out rumored to have cost $4 million. Like nearby Lure Fishbar, the space resembles a luxury liner, although the transformation here is even more stunning. The walls and tables are fashioned from polished teakwood, with sleek faux portholes every few feet.
The chef, Joe Isidori, labored for years in near-anonymity in Donald Trump’s empire before earning a Michelin star last year at the Las Vegas restaurant DJT (those being the Donald’s initials).
When the recession hit, Isidori could have dialed down his ambition here to fish & chips and crab rolls, but he stuck to his guns. Though no dish except lobster is above $30, he serves two amuse courses, three kinds of home-made bread, and a plate of petits-fours that is better than most of the city’s three-star places. The service brigade is polished, with many sauces applied table-side. We didn’t order whole fish, but the one served at another table was filleted expertly before our eyes.
There are signs Harbour catching on: by the time we finished our dinner on Saturday evening, there wasn’t a spare berth to be had in the dining room (though the large bar area still had a ways to go). Critical reaction so far is mostly positive, with three stars from Restaurant Girl in the Post and two from the perennially clueless Adam Platt in New York, who doesn’t think anyone wants to eat this way any more. The Times drops anchor tomorrow.
We loved the Pea Soup amuse with Greek yogurt and a yuzu emulsion. The house-made breads were terrific, including an unusual yogurt dipping sauce in lieu of butter.
The appetizers didn’t quite live up to their billing, though I can respect the thought that went into them. Claim Chowder ($9; above left) is made with a blizzard of ingredients, including leeks, chinese bacon, celery root, yuzu, red bean vinegar, baby turnips, thumbelina carrots, celery, fingerling potatoes, tomato confit, yellow curry oil, and that’s only a partial list. The namesake clams are supposedly in there too, but they get lost in the shuffle.
Kampachi crudo ($14; above right) was a little less busy, with kampachi and shrimp on a sheet of serrano ham, but I found the dish bland.
The entrées were a bit more exciting. Shrimp ($28; above left) were plump and juicy, with an accompaniment of miso, garlic chives, wheatberries & ramps. Even better bang for the buck came from terrific Soft-Shell Crabs ($20; above right) with a soft poached egg. You could argue that both dishes, like the clam chowder before them, had a few more ingredients than they needed.
A side of Cauliflower Gratin ($6; below left) was just about perfect. Here too, Isidori doesn’t take the easy way out, but the mixture of cauliflower and raisins was a memorable one.
The dessert amuse (above center) was a simple but wonderfully refreshing pineapple sorbet with a dash of lemon soda poured tableside. The petits-fours (above right) were world-class, including the raspberry chocolate macaroons in the foreground and sea salt caramels in the back.
The wine list is priced in line with the menu. We had no trouble reeling in a Trimbach Reserve Pinot Gris at $40 that paired well with the food. As noted, some of the items we tried seemed a bit over-thought, but in a year when most chefs are playing it safe, we enjoyed finding a restaurant that takes a few chances. We’d be happy to hop on board Chef Isidori’s next cruise.
Harbour (290 Hudson Street between Spring & Dominick Streets, Hudson Square)