The Harrison: Where Duck Lovers Die and go to Heaven
Last night, I had one of the best meals I’ve had yet in New York and many thanks to Amanda Freitag and her kitchen at The Harrison for providing it.
The Harrison is one of those rare establishments that strikes the balance between haute cuisine and a relaxed accessible atmosphere. Many restaurants claim to do this and the recent trend towards casual dining has spurred the growth of gastropubs, bistros, trattorias, and tapas joints. However, The Harrison stands out from the crowd – it is both refined and inviting, incredibly chic and warm. Not an ounce of elegance is sacrified in its quest for haute farm-fresh cuisine.
The restaurant itself is set on a charming corner in Western Tribeca, just a short block from the West Side Highway. Cobblestone streets and beautiful old rowhouses are the backdrop for this beautiful American brasserie. As soon as you enter, you are awash in soft golden light and hit with the sound of people laughing, talking, and generally enjoying their meal. The Harrison was immediately a happy place – bright, cheery, with small remembrances of home. The dining room is neither too big nor too small and adorned with festive touches such as squash gourds, pumpkins, and corn ears as well as well-appointed 18th century antiques. Wrought iron lanterns, pendant lamps and chandeliers hang from the ceiling, dousing the entire 85-seat dining room in a flattering amber light. An elegant black walnut bar with twinkling bottles of both brand-name and artisan spirits stands robustly along the side of the space. Although the restaurant was packed to the gills with young and chic diners, yet never once did it feel too crowded or did the volume seem too high. Bustling and vibrant, The Harrison was abuzz with life and energy.
The food was what really won me over though. It was inventive, fresh, hearty, and most important of all, delicious. Amanda Freitag serves what I consider to be genuinely American cuisine. She draws on familiar seasonal meats, fruits, and vegetables to create spirited and soulful renditions of traditional meals. Me and my 3 dining companions strove to sample what looked like the best the menu had to offer. To start, we split the duck-fat fries, the autumn squash salad, and the pasta chitarra. The duck-fat fries, a house speciality, teach a lesson in decadence – they are crispy, salty, savory, and served with a wholloping duck fat mayo. The autumn squash salad tasted like fall, if you could savor the seasons. Big cuts of juicy roasted squash were served on top of arugula, parmesan cheese, and pumpkin seeds – sweet, savory, and salty, with a dash of umami. The pasta chitarra was the gold star appetizer though, served perfectly cooked in a playful spin on the English classic with lamb ragu, mint, and housemade ricotta cheese.
Now, allow me to wax poetic for a moment. The long island duck breast special that I had was easily one of the best duck dishes I have ever had. Cooked perfectly, the generous helping of tender duck breast was served over a remarkable savory squash puree. All of this was in a magical dark sauce, presumably made from the jus of the duck. This duck breast was a revelation for me; it’s left me craving savory squash flavors and has certainly set the bar for duck preparation moving forward.
The rest of my party opted for the English-cut lamb chop, the crusted salmon, and the pork chop. The only failure of the night, in relative terms, was the pork chop. It was cooked well, yet the accroutrements were not complimentary – the sauce was too delicate for the hefty chop and the cannellini beans were just meh. The lamb chop was also generously portioned and cooked at just the right temperature. Served with rosemary, the chop had a beautiful aroma to it. Lastly, we had the horseradish crusted salmon. Robust and hearty, the beautifully served filet came with a dark yubi mushroom broth that my friend could not stop raving about. No ordinary salmon dish, Freitag’s offering was decadent and rich, using bold flavors to compliment the fish’s natural essence.
The Harrison was an impressive meal. Upon leaving, I felt that at long last I had found a restaurant that fits all of my natural predilections. It was bright and lively, yet still charming and intimate. The service was warm; the food of the highest quality yet unpretentious and accessible. I could take my parents here, my coworkers, my nearest and dearest friends. It is a place fitted for vibrant and energetic conversation, for true enjoyment of food and drink, and for happy memories.