Revisit: The Harrison
What stuck in my mind from dining at The Harrison a few years back was one thing and one thing only: the duck-fat fries. So when I returned for a revisit recently with a friend, I couldn't wait to try them again. They were listed as a side, but I knew that if I ordered them as a mere accompaniment to the profuse and well-appointed main courses, I'd never be able to plow through my entree. Accordingly, I ordered them as an app ($9).
When they arrived, the duck-fat fries easily outstripped my memory of them: a giant plate of slender tendrils of spud, deeply tanned like aged movie stars by the side of the pool. What is it about duck fat that allows fries fried in it to reach a darkness that would be considered overdone with any other fat? The fries came with a pleasant-enough aioli. I considered it a bit drab, until I reflected that its function is that of a supporting actor: to further lubricate, but not to upstage, the star.
After eating the the city's best fries, how could my meal continue on an upward course? Miraculously, it did -- reminding me just how good The Harrison is. While most restaurants in this price category have a gimmick or two going for them, The Harrison has none, except for a stuffy name that discourages scenesters. In fact, in the early evening the sidewalk cafe crowds with fancy strollers filled with sleeping infants, as older children sit enrapttured with the fries. (How could they ever go to McDonald's again, my friend wondered.)
Maybe The Harrison's gimmick is that it has no gimmick. Halfway through our meal, chef Amanda Freitag wandered through the room, glancing at every plate to make sure the guest was enjoying it, but also as a reality check on her own recipes. She cut a frumpy figure, without pretension, just like the restaurant does. Though she was not the original chef, the restaurant's penchant for a farmers market orientation dates to its inception. Freitag extends that sentiment. Her corn flan ($10), shot with whole kernels and amplified with ricotta cheese, is an example. It was probably inspired by Florentine sformati, but she has made it entirely American. Ditto the summer-squash carpaccio.
The menu retains it fish-centrism, and much of the catch is sustainable. You can have baked sardines or sauteed softshell crab for apps, and bacon-wrapped trout or local line-caught fluke or horseradish-crusted salmon for an entrée. I went for the liver and onions ($21), knowing that the chef's Italian orientation (the dish is associated with Venice) would at least encourage perfect execution. Indeed, the organ was fresh-tasting and pink in the middle, while almost crisp on the edges, and it came sided with a sort of potato gateaux, which was so rich I could barely finish it. Indeed, The Harrison specializes in the sort of salty and fat-intensive cooking that has characterized many of the best New York restaurants for the last two decades.
Neglect pastry chef Colleen Grapes's creations at your own peril. Her chocolate ganache tart with a pretzel crust is prodigal.