Entries in Brian Bistrong (3)



Note: Braeburn closed in January 2011.

Braeburn came quietly to the West Village last October, where it was important enough to be reviewed by all of the major critics, but dull enough to be greeted with yawns. Bruni and Platt awarded one star apiece. Restaurant Girl awarded two, which in her quirky system amounts to the same thing.

In a way, I can see what they mean. Its faux-farmhouse décor reminds you very much of places you’ve seen before. Or maybe a dozen of them. The menu, too, seems like the highlight reel from other farm-to-table restaurants. The chef, Brian Bistrong, won raves at The Harrison, but like so many in the business, he has moved on to something less ambitious.

But there’s something to be said for a restaurant that does a lovely job with simple things, and makes them just exciting enough that you’re happy you dropped in. Such was the case with a Poached and Panko Crusted Farm Egg ($10) with artichoke hash and parmesan foam. So too a tender Almond Crusted Flounder ($22) with cherry tomato salad, basil, and shallots.

The rest of the menu is along similar lines. There are seven appetizers ($9–13), four sides ($6), and six entrées ($22–28). There’s also a daily special, usually some kind of comfort food; Monday’s was Chicken Fried Steak ($18). The three-course prix fixe is $30, with a couple of choices for each course.

The occasion was a catch-up meal with a distant cousin whom I’d not seen since childhood. I figured Braeburn would be comfortable and quiet. At 6:15 p.m., we had the dining room to ourselves. Our timing was perfect. About two hours later, as we were getting up to leave, the tables had started to fill up, and it wasn’t so quiet any more.

The server seemed to realize that we wanted to talk. She stayed out of the way, but circled back frequently enough to keep track of us. We took our time before ordering and never felt rushed.

Braeburn (117 Perry Street at Greenwich Street, West Village)

Food: *½
Service: *½
Ambiance: *½
Overall: *½


The Harrison


Note: This is a review of The Harrison under Chef Brian Bistrong, who has since left for Braeburn. For a more recent review, click here.

Now might not be the best time for a re-review of The Harrison, given that executive chef Brian Bistrong is leaving at the end of the month, with Amanda Freitag replacing him in January.

Owner Jimmy Bradley says, “We’re going to go in a new direction. We were doing French cookery in a New American style, but with Amanda the menu is going to be lusty, soulful, rustic Mediterranean-inspired cookery.”

Be that as it may, I chose The Harrison for a holiday dinner, because I knew (from past visits) that it would be rock-solid—and it was. Freitag has a lot to live up to.

I gave the restaurant’s fascinating background the last time I reviewed it, so let’s get straight to the food:

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Just like last time, flavors and textures were perfectly judged. Fried Oysters ($12; above left) rested on coleslaw and bacon mustard sauce. Local Trout ($25; above right) had lovely crisped skin, overshadowing the haricots verts and the red cabbage purée.

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Everyone raved over the Fall Squash Risotto ($12; above left), which must be the side dish served at the gates of Heaven. One of my colleagues had the Warm Chocolate Cake ($9; above right), while the rest of us supped on after-dinner drinks.

The Harrison seems to be one of the few serious restaurants where the wine prices are still reasonable, meaning that there is are respectable bottles under $60, and very good ones not far above that amount. To boot, The Harrison offers over a dozen half-bottles, something far more restaurants should do. I settled on a 2005 St. Michael-Eppan Gewürztraminer from Alsace that all of us loved.

Service remains a problem at The Harrison. Our server disappeared for long intervals, and it was hard to get his attention. A colleague ordered Dewar’s & Soda, but she was quite certain that she wasn’t served Dewar’s. Whatever it was, the server spilled a bit of it on me while passing it over my head.

As we say goodbye to the Brian Bistrong era at The Harrison, it will be interesting to see how this great restaurant evolves.

The Harrison (355 Greenwich Street at Harrison Street, TriBeCa)

Food: **½
Service: *
Ambiance: **
Overall: **


The Harrison

Note: There have been many chef changes at the Harrison. Click here for a more recent review.

harrison.jpgIn 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)

Food: **½
Service: **
Ambiance: **
Overall: **½