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Dec 12, 2007 03:41 PM

The Harrison Between Chefs: Worth It?

I'm slated to go the the Harrison this weekend, but I've just read about a new chef and new menu coming in January. I remember a dicey night at Gramercy Tavern during a similar transition phase, i.e., before Michael Anthony had implemented his menu and after he'd been hired, so I'm wondering if I should hold off until Amanda Freitag is settled in.

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  1. My view is that when a restaurant is in transition, i.e., old chef gone and new chef about to come on board or has just arrived, it's best to give him or her a chance to settle in and install his or her own menu. I've never been to the Harrison, but if I were going to try it, I'd definitely wait.

    Note: I did make an exception recently at Cafe Boulud. We had brunch there a few Sundays ago. Despite the fact that the new chef (taking Bertrand Chemel's place) had only just arrived, I was willing to take the chance because I know that Daniel Boulud has a very skilled kitchen staff in all his restaurants. Plus, I'd venture a guess that he's personally overseeing the transition. Happily, as anticipated, the meal was as fine as all the others we've previously had there.

    1. Did you end up going? If yes, how was it?

      We have been to The Harrison before and enjoyed it a great deal. I hope we still like it after the new chef starts. We currently have reservations for New Year's Eve. The New Year's Eve menu still shows Brian Bistrong as the executive chef.

      6 Replies
      1. re: financialdistrictresident

        We had a delicious New Year's Eve dinner at The Harrison. Our experience follows below.

        We decided late where we were going to spend New Year's Eve so restaurant options in NYC were limited. The Harrison was available and we had enjoyed our meal there in 2007 so we decided to take a chance, given the chef change. We walked to The Harrison and arrived 5 minutes early for the 8 PM seating and were escorted to our table immediately. The host wanted to seat us at the banquet, SO requested another table and host graciously obliged. Room was festive and streamers were hanging everywhere around the dining room.



        black trumpet mushroom soup with lobster meat, oloroso sherry - this was served in a tall, narrow vodka shot glass. There was a small piece of lobster on top and you drank the soup like a shot. Delicious. Lobster and rich, satisfying mushroom flavor.

        We were getting less concerned about the change in chefs. . .


        Seared blue fin tuna with shaved fennel, dill, aspic. Very nice. Fennel was not overpowering. Aspic flavor was very mild. Three small perfectly cooked thin slices of tuna.


        Foie gras with apple/pear sauce and crispy potato flakes - delicious. Two nice pieces of foie gras cooked perfectly. Only one tiny piece of stringiness. Sauce was delicious and we asked for more bread so we could mop up every bit of sauce.


        Fanghe, braised rabbit, black truffle - I don't eat red meat so our server gave me this course without the rabbit meat and advised there would be a bit of rabbit flavor in the broth. We had also called ahead to advise the restaurant that I do not eat rabbit and inquire if I could have something else. Pasta was fresh and lovely, cooked perfectly. SO had the course with rabbit.


        Halibut, roasted winter vegetables, celery root puree - cooked perfectly. A nice sear/brown on the fish. The vegetables were flavorful and baby size.


        Breast of duck, herb spaetzle, mustard greens, chanterelles - the duck was nice (the gold standard is the duck I had at The Modern - Dining Room earlier this year) and a good portion.

        Black eyed peas for the table


        Chocolate cake, chocolate flan, vanilla ice cream - delicious


        Harrison sundae, bananas, rum toasted walnuts (this choice didn't appeal to us)


        Meyer lemon tart with huckleberry sauce, yogurt sorbet - delicious, light a perfect finish to a lovely meal

        Live music started as we were eating dessert. It was a bit loud at first as compared to the previous music.

        Our server provided complimentary aged port (my SO said it usually runs $20+ per serving) which we enjoyed a great deal.

        We were satisfied and full, not stuffed. Portions at The Harrison are not "American size" (there are several comments on about this). Our server (Morgan) was excellent and knowledgeable (including helping my SO decide between two wines). Wine (la fornace, brunello di montalcino, 2001) was excellent. And at $75 for the set New Year's Eve menu it was an excellent value as well. As we left the host mentioned the new chef. We also asked our waiter about the new chef and were told that Chef Brian Bistrong selected the menu and it was modified slightly by the sous chef. We can only hope the new chef continues the delicious American cuisine we have always enjoyed at The Harrison.

        1. re: financialdistrictresident

          Thanks for the review! To anwer your question, I did end up going. Food was adequate; atmosphere and service were excellent. Glad to know the New Year's feast was so exceptional. Your night sounds like the one I wish I'd had. Here's the link to a run-down on my dinner experience.

          1. re: Fat and Happy Food Slut

            thats my stance on harrison and red is meh...the place and drinks and service is great...

            1. re: sam1

              sam 1, I have not been to red cat. Have been to The Mermaid Inn (not a fan). Agree, The Harrison is solid American cuisine, nothing innovative or bleeding edge.

            2. re: Fat and Happy Food Slut

              Fat and Happy Food Slut, look forward to reading your report. Not sure if I would call the food exceptional. Solid American cuisine might be a better description. Sometimes I just want to relax and enjoy good (not bleeding edge) food.

              1. re: Fat and Happy Food Slut

                My last meal at the Harrison before the transition. No need to click on a link.

                The Harrison at the Crossroads: Last Supper Before Freitag Takes the Toque

                Sometimes I fear I was born too late for a good meal in New York. I arrived at Country as Doug Psaltis headed out, at Parea as Michael Symon closed shop and at Gramercy Tavern as Tom Colicchio was selling his interest. That said, Michael Anthony reinvigorated Gramercy’s dated menu and proved a restaurant need not lose its soul in a shift from rustic to refined cuisine. So I hold out hope as I watch the Harrison go in the opposite direction, with hearty Italian to be the new idiom under Amanda Freitag and the refined French-American of Brian Bistrong to be a thing of the past. For curiosity’s sake, I took in one last supper before the transition. Here are a few high and low points of my visit.

                1) Warm Service: They have you at hello and cradle you through to the outsized tip you can’t help but leave. Good hosts, better servers. Highly trained in the hard skills of waiting, they also have the emotional antennae for the subtle stuff, like when to talk up a table and when to fade into the background. A couple of key adjustments to right the meal, including reconceiving a dish on the fly when the sauce proved unappealing, and pacing the dessert and after-dinner drinks just right, closed out the night as well as it was opened.

                2) Warm Space: On a recent snowy night, the interior of rustic wood floors and cabinets, artful food displays and visible cooking flames pulled me into the room and made me want to stay until spring time, especially when cabs were so hard to come by. Only thing missing from haute tavern look was an haute tavern smell. Great feel, great light.

                3) Warm Wine: Warmth is great in servers and decor; it’s no fun at all in a bottle of red. The wine stored on shelves in the main dining room is precisely the temperature of the room—and that’s no good for white, pink or red. Either throw in mulling spices or cool the bottles down ten degrees.

                4) Cool Wine List: Lovely stemware, thoughtful selection advice and intuitive wine service—no aggressive topping off, no empties either—made me want to return for further explorations. Particularly strong in rare, reasonable and spicy Austrians—yes, they exist. It’s hard to blow more than 100 dollars on a bottle and it’s even harder to make a bad choice. I used to take Shake Shack’s list as a starting point for summer wine buying for picnic fare; I think the Harrison’s will work equally well for dressed up winter dinner parties.

                5) Uncool Bathroom Behavior: I love a booze-soaked bacchanalia as much as the next self-indulgent sybarite, but is anyone ever really so drunk at a deal dinner as to need to pee in the sink when a urinal is, literally, steps away? A hard-partying bespoke type staggered in ahead of me from the basement’s private event space and let fly with a jeroboam of indescribables. Fortunately, a small batch bourbon restored my spirits before I headed out into the night. Let’s hope Freitag’s rustic Italian fare adds some refinement to the downstairs guests, and keeps some refinement on the upstairs tables.

                Coda: I don’t comment much on the food in this entry as it’s not likely to be around much longer. My experience on this night was that conception outstripped execution from start to finish. Dishes often sounded better than they tasted, particularly the biscuits with razor clams, chorizo and gravy. I’d had a wonderful razor clam-chorizo dish at the Slanted Door a few months earlier and perhaps came into the Harrison with overly high hopes. The expected contrast of flavors and textures was lost under the taste-deadening glutinous gravy. Similar problems afflicted the unbalanced funk of the spaetzle. In sum, at the end of an era and start of a brief but cold winter, the back—but not the front—of house team might benefit from some new blood.

          2. Took a look at the new menu. Has anyone been recently (since the chef change)? How was it?

            2 Replies
            1. re: financialdistrictresident

              yes...ate there a few weeks ago when Amanda Freitag had been there a week....the menu is transitioning from "safe" American to her more rustic & flavored style. Felt I got the best of both worlds.