Sunday, March 28, 2010

Harvest on Hudson: HVRW....Fail.

It’s always stymied me as to why during Restaurant Week, some allegedly “great” restaurants experience such a drop in quality. Many trusted friends and colleagues have deemed Harvest on Hudson—a magnificent-looking Tuscan-style farmhouse with superb views of the River—their favorite restaurant, and have repeatedly sung its praises. Online reviews have been kind. And when I made it known that best bud Danielle and I would be dining there Thursday night as part of Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, the consensus was we were going to have a smashing time, and that the dinner would nothing short of knock us on our asses. But here’s the thing: after our meal last week, Danielle and I checked and we were most definitely not on our asses; instead we were scratching our heads as to whether or not Harvest on Hudson fell under the “great restaurant” category. All we knew for certain was that it did not during Restaurant Week. Not even close.

We had high hopes for the evening. The restaurant, as mentioned above, is very beautiful. The décor is tasteful and elegant without feeling snooty, high ceilings make the rooms feel expansive, and there was some snazzy live blues music for the majority of the night, always a treat. And the menu looked suh-weeeet: seven choices for appetizers, and eight for entrees, all of which sounded mouth-watering. (Dessert was a predetermined trio, but I wasn’t sweating it after the wonderful job La Panetiere had done earlier in the week.)

Then our waiter came along. ...and brought us down faster than Marvin in Hitchhikers Guide. (I’m not looking for open-mic night when someone gives me my menu, but I also don’t expect a bump on a log from someone who is in the service industry.)

“That guy was the worst,” whispered Danielle, after Bump left. (And Danielle never says anything negative about anyone.)

Here’s a look at our appetizers, which appeared about three minutes after we had placed our orders.

First, my Crispy Lamb Spring Rolls with Mint Tzatziki Sauce:
These rolls tasted like something I would’ve warmed up from the frozen food aisle. Except drier. And the tzatziki was just ok; it didn’t scream freshness.

Danielle’s Creamy Polenta, with house-made mortadella meatballs and Harvest Tomato Sauce:
“House-made?” Really? These meatballs had no texture and reminded both of us of Chef Boyardee. Same thing for the tomato sauce. Neither of the dishes wowed us with presentation either. They were sloppy, with spatters on the plate, and the mint and Italian parsley thrown in both dishes seemed like afterthoughts. Blah.

A bus-boy collected both plates while Danielle was spooning the last piece of polenta into her mouth.

Seconds later, our dinners appeared. My plate felt lukewarm; Danielle’s was scorching.

Danielle’s Seared Salmon:
I stole a small piece of salmon and pronounced it decent. Not much flavor going on (thinking back, Danielle asked for no citrus butter, so it’s not the restaurant’s fault), but tender and juicy, and I appreciated how the skin had a good crisp. Danielle, however, the salmon expert, said the fish was just “ok.” We had bigger issues with the roasted red peppers, which did not taste fresh at all; instead, we suspected they were packed in water and from a jar. Really disappointing. I cut corners all the time in the kitchen, but even I will roast my own red peppers, because I don’t like the jar taste. The house-made gnocchi was a clever addition, and added a pleasant chewy texture, but they were few and far between.

Here’s my Porcini-Crusted Monkfish with risotto guanciale, shrimp, parsnips, and chianti reduction:
This tasted re-heated as well. I expected more complex, layered flavors from the amazing menu description; instead, this was pretty one-note.

It took about 30 minutes for us to finish both our appetizers and our dinners. We were certain we were being rushed; but then came the wait for dessert.

We sat. And sat some more. Danielle and I didn’t mind, because we can chat until closing time and still have more to say. After about an hour, though, a different server appeared (where was Bump?).

“Can I get you two anything else this evening?” she asked us with a smile, reaching for the bill.

“Just our desserts!” Danielle said brightly, with a dazzling smile of her own.

The server was very apologetic, and our Dessert Trio appeared about a half-hour later.
On the left is a flourless chocolate cake with caramel and chocolate sauce; the top, a tiramisu with coffee anglaise, and in front, the vanilla panna cotta.

None of these were winners. The chocolate cake was dry and pretty much inedible. The panna cotta was pretty good, but I would’ve liked it a bit firmer, and oddly enough, the tiramisu was all right (I don’t really like tiramisu—I think they went easy on the coffee anglaise).

“I’m so disappointed,” said the normally chipper Danielle, moving the chocolate cake around in her plate somewhat pathetically.

I hear ya, buddy.

Here’s our tea.

I’m curious how a dinner outside of Restaurant Week at Harvest on Hudson would compare to the train-wreck Danielle and I experienced. Would a new kitchen be at the helm? Would Bump be replaced with Mr. Winning Personality, Smooth Talker Guy? But why the drop in service in the first place? Aren’t restaurants prepared to operate at full capacity?

Harvest on Hudson
1 River Street
on Hudson, NY 10706

1 comment:

  1. You put the word "fail" right in the title! I'm proud of you. This type of raw honesty is what will separate the winners and losers on your blog. Great, entertaining read. Keep up the good work!