I visited a newly opened restaurant the second night. Something I rarely do as soon as the color has dried. I often wait at least two weeks before trying a new place. In this case, I should have been stuck in my habit. Now this is not a quick and quick rule for me. Lord knows that I have very few hard and fast rules. But the lead time that a restaurant needs before I walk through the door is one that is worth sticking to.
Two weeks is usually enough time for most of the embarrassing bugs, a new restaurant may need to be worked out of the system. You know there are usually things like trained chefs that appear poorly prepared food or overwhelmed servers who forget about the essential things like silver and napkins. Two weeks is also enough time for managers to stop feeling the need to train through the reprimand in the earshot of the guests.
But my bad … It seems like I should have given Harry's Food and Cocktails a little more time. For, with the exception of having to experience the terrible food under trained chefs, forcing himself on a guest, everything else was quite schematic. When I entered Harry's Food and Cocktails, I felt like I had been there before. It wasn't exactly the nightmare restaurant every service worker had had at one time or another. But it was pretty close.
Friday night was also the night another Harry made his seventh and final appearance in a long-awaited book released at midnight. The child in me had already planned to wait at the door for my pre-ordered copy of "The Deathly Hallows" to be delivered by mail the next morning. (Not by the owl as it should be) So I was relaxed and open to let the little restaurateur in me get redundant on a similar level, leaking anxiety while sitting in the bar of Harry's food and cocktails.
You know how it can be when you are furnished in a bar or dining room that gives you a certain feeling that you have made the right decision. And then when the food and drink arrive, your intuition is confirmed by a safe, friendly staff who delivers delicacy on each plate and in each glass. Well it never happened completely. There were some good things that came out of the kitchen … but it was all upstaged by the unfriendly service, for the visible and audible, management and a room that was too simple in design and lacking a level of heat.
David Shea was hired by owner Dwight Bonewell and Adam Smith to design a room that would reflect the roots of American cuisine. In fact, Harry is to honor Bonewell's grandmother, Harry Snyder, who was cook at several legendary St. Louis. Paul stains. And with just a small whimsy, a fuel belt beer bottle chandelier, the room lacks the style. Granted it is airier and brighter than the previous occupant Nochee. The fireplace on the patio was replaced by a cozy fireplace in the dining room instead and there were some very nice hanging lamps scattered around. But it feels very like an unfinished work of art. I hope more people will be put in time to complete the feeling of an inviting American restaurant. The David Shea design was overly anticipated.
The most worrying aspect of the evening was the connection between the menu and the arena. Harry was billed in pre-opening hype as a tribute to the American bar and evening club. First of all, when did this style or genre of restaurant leave our planet that it now needs an interpreted tribute? And secondly, why not just fill the menu with simple, well-prepared American classics. Of course it is good to update some to modern ingredients and use stylistic modern presentations. After all, rent one of the best chefs in the Twin Cities to order your kitchen and not let him go where his humor leads him. Steven Brown is talented, adventurous and has the right amount of PT Barnum in him for most of what he has written on the simple Kraft paper menu. But the connection comes in the owners / managers to be able to educate the staff to serve the food with the same sense of irreverence as it was created. It is also a problem with how complex some disks feel about such an unfinished interior. The menu has all the right words and names … but not everyone lived to the promise and some were even obvious.
French Breakfast Radishes and Sauteed Arugula Holding Court next to Cole Slaw and Creamed Sweet Corn are just a few examples of disconnecting. On the menu there is a large selection of burgers served with crispy, ultra-thin French fries in small fast-food freeze bags. Other simple fares like Roast Chicken based on garlic and herbs and the necessary Fish Fry on Friday night coating a real place on the bill. But the fried artichokes came too few and swam in too much "Parmesan Dip" and House Cured Salmon Salad was bland and looked better better for a more classic home.
I guess what really got me was the use of brown Kraft paper for all menus. It was just too hip. Hipper than a place called Harry must be.
In his 1954 black comedy, "The Trouble With Harry", Alfred Hitchcock had a lot of fun trying to keep a dead body buried. It seemed that everyone in the little New England city had not only a reason to kill Harry, but at the same time was digging him for a variety of frightening reasons. Harry's food and cocktails will not be buried anytime soon I hope. But it still has time to do some course adjustments without having to dig it up first.