Entries in Harbour (4)


Harbour Sinks

As first noted Wednesday in the Feed, and confirmed today on Eater, West Soho’s Harbour has closed.

We enjoyed our meal there in June, but noted at the time that this restaurant could be in for stormy sailing. Fine dining has consistently struggled in this part of town, which is ill-served by mass transit, lacks a large residential community, and has no major attractions to lure pedestrians.

As I’ve noted in review after review, there is no reason why destination restaurants couldn’t succeed here, but there would need to be a game-changer—the kind of restaurant that makes people want to go out of their way. Harbour did not turn out to be that restaurant.

We were on Harbour’s mailing list, and in recent months received one “special offer” after another. Many of these started to seem like desperation, and we figured the end was near.

We feel for the owners, who dropped major coin on the build-out: reportedly $4 million. The curse of Hudson Square has struck again.


Review Recap: Flex Mussels and (not) Harbour

Yesterday, the food section editors led us to expect a double-review of Flex Mussels and Harbour. We weren’t the only ones misled: Eater.com’s Ballpark Frank featured a poll on the predicted star rating for both restaurants.

It turns out lame-duck Frank reviewed only the lesser restaurant, Flex Mussels, awarding the expected one star:

Restaurants benefit from having a clear identity and making a claim that dozens of other restaurants aren’t already making. In Flex’s case, that’s mussel mania.

And restaurants do well to give diners a clear path to a meal that’s relatively economical while also filling. That’s where Flex and its spotlighted fare really deliver, in that a hillock of the mussels, coupled with plenty of broth-soaked bread, makes for a sizable dinner without a sizable check…

You can drink relatively affordably at Flex, too. The succinct but appealing wine list, which supplements a terrific international array of beers, has few bottles over $75 and many under $50.

In the usual “yes, but…” style, Frank goes on to list Flex Mussels’ faults:

The rest of the menu isn’t priced quite as gently or coherently…appetizers of $16 (a mix of fried calamari, shrimp and oysters) and $17 (two crab cakes) seem just a tad exorbitant…

I also wish this Flex were as orderly, with service as smooth. At its busiest, the bottleneck of human traffic around the host station is impenetrable, and your table can become a lonely colony to which food is exported fitfully.

* * * *

Almost as soon as we posted our two-star prediction for Harbour, we were buffeted by misgivings. Frank bailed us out by relegating the restaurant to Dining Briefs, a treatment usually accorded restaurants not deemed worthy of a starred review. Surprisingly, he seemed to like the place. As we expected, he found one dish “overworked and busy,” but in its favor:

There’s nonetheless some arresting food and impressive cooking at Harbour, and on that night it included an appetizer of thick, smoky, intense clam chowder ($9); a gorgeously textured, dreamily rich entree of Arctic char ($24); and a broad, shallow plate of butterscotch pudding ($8) with — a kooky touch — popcorn scattered across, and embedded in, its surface

The prices, including a four-course prix fixe of $45, are reasonable, considering the formality of the service, the generous breadbasket, the amuse-bouche. And that mindfulness of tough times extends to an affordable, respectable wine list. You can sail these seas on the winds of a fine white Burgundy.

So why no full review? We suspect he harbours doubts [pun intended] about the restaurant’s future and didn’t want to invest three visits in a place that might not last. As almost every critic has done (including us), he mentions Harbour’s “strangely desolate location.”

That should be no obstacle to success, though. Someone had to be the first to open a fine-dining restaurant in TriBeCa, on the Lower East Side, or in the Meatpacking District. I’m not saying Harbour will be it, but sooner or later some restaurant will turn Hudson Square into a destination.


Review Preview: Flex Mussels and Harbour

Record to date: 0–2

I used to think I had a feel for what Frank Bruni was going to do, but we’re oh-fer-two since Review Preview launched a fortnight ago. With a double-review coming up, we’ve got the chance either to level-up or to dig ourselves an even deeper hole. Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews Flex Mussels on the Upper East Side and Harbour in Hudson Square.

The Skinny: The general rule with double-reviews of new restaurants (not before reviewed in the Times), is that Bruni must not think either one is especially important. He has never given three stars in a double-review, unless he was upgrading a restaurant previously reviewed. That’s not the case here, so we start with two stars as a ceiling for both of these places.

Flex Mussels hasn’t been on our radar. It has been open for at least six months, but none of the other star-bestowing critics have reviewed it. We’d entirely forgotten (or never noticed) reviews in the New Yorker, Village Voice, and the Insatiable Critic until we looked them up just moments ago.

Bruni doesn’t usually review restaurants in out-of-the-way places only to trash them, and for him Flex Mussels, at 82nd and Lex, is a major detour. At the same time, most of his two-star awards go to places that are already very well known, which Flex Mussels is not. That leaves one star as the most likely case here.

With Harbour, we have a bit more to go on, as we had dinner there just this past weekend. Although we gave two stars to our meal, some of the dishes seemed over-wrought. Frank Bruni is liable to call them “fussy,” a word we abhor in this context, because of his over-use of it. My girlfriend said, “Frank Bruni is not going to like this food.” In Harbour’s favor, Adam Platt awarded two stars in New York and Restaurant Girl three in the Daily News. Platt’s rating is often a good predictor of what Bruni will do.

The folks at Flex Mussels probably won’t mind a one-star review—they could probably use the exposure—but for Harbour one star could be devastating. That has never stopped Bruni before, but Harbour is one of those places he could have skipped reviewing altogether. We’re not at all sure about this, but our guess is that if he’s bothering to review Harbour, he finds it at least modestly promising.

The Prediction: We predict that Frank Bruni will award one star to Flex Mussels and two stars to Harbour.



Note: Harbour closed in December 2009.


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)

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