Most restaurant reviews take no more than a couple of weeks to complete, even here at New Times, where the (responsible) policy is for critics to make at least two visits before making a judgment. This review has been in the works since last spring, about seven weeks after Harrison's originally opened.
On a first visit in April 2004, the food was imaginative -- French-influenced New American. And it was good, especially the sauces. Décor and ambiance, however, were daunting. The over-the-top glitz that had worked when the place was Robbin Haas's quasi-Russian restolounge Red Square were now just intimidating and old, especially without silly über-glam touches like the ice-topped vodka bar. And management/service seemed dysfunctional. It took twenty minutes for our waiter to report that the lobster salad we'd ordered -- an item about which I'd heard raves -- was not available. Okay. I still had another visit.
From mid-April through May I tried to return for that lobster salad. It was never available, though personnel kept assuring me it would be the next day, or week. Once I called in advance and had a prolonged conversation to ensure there'd be lobster salad the following night. There wasn't. That lobster salad turned into a mission.
Then the day after Memorial Day weekend I arrived for my sixth attempt, only to find Harrison's locked up tighter than a vacuum-sealed can. (I'd called on Friday to make sure it would be open that day.) When I finally got through on the phone, a couple of weeks later, I was told Harrison's was closed for remodeling and would open again August 1, this time as a steak house.
It reopened in late November.
In between I'd run into an ex-manager who chortled at my story and told me Harrison's had, in its first incarnation, gone through "something like seven or nine chefs" before closing.
The new Harrison's features an altered but still rather old-fashioned stiff décor (padded banquettes, crystal chandelier, Frank Sinatra soundtrack) and a very limited menu of almost nothing but steak house standards. These included not lobster salad but, according to the menu I'd been sent, a lobster cocktail with Dijon mustard sauce.
I went on a mid-January weekend night. No lobster cocktail.
But the beef was advertised as prime and dry-aged, which can be wonderful if the aging is sufficient. Most places wet age, making meat mushy, and those that do it dry rarely age more than three weeks (instead of six to eight weeks, like the renowned Peter Luger's in NYC) because of the cost. So I gave up and ordered available steak house classics: a sixteen-ounce bone-in ribeye ($31), and a "vine-ripened" tomato and onion salad ($8). The latter, though simple, has long been Luger's only salad because it's the perfect accompaniment to steak when the tomatoes are truly ripe. Harrison's four slices were typical supermarket specimens, red but mealy. Two bucks a slice? Please.
As for the beef, the waiter didn't know how long it had been aged. He did offer to ask, and came back reporting that "the trainer" had said six to eight months. Impossible, I said. The steak would be high as a kite. He then asked the chef, who reported "a couple months."
It's entirely possible. The steak tasted unusually beefy, needing no sauce. In addition to prime meat's typical interior marbling, however, the cut had a fair amount of lump fat. Additionally, the meat, ordered rare, came grayish pink -- almost medium. A replacement steak came bleu. Personally I like blood-red beef, but it's not the best way to eat prime meat; the cold interior temperature doesn't permit the marbling to melt properly.
You can get a good steak at Harrison's, and service that is very accommodating if not very informed. Despite the current popularity of steak houses, does South Pointe really need another expensive one, what with Prime 112 -- with its dry-aged beef, hipper ambiance, and more extensive and imaginative menu -- just a few blocks away? Judging by Harrison's largely empty tables, I wouldn't bet on it.
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