Hi, it’s Maria Reina, guest blogger for Hudson Valley Restaurant Week. I’ve been eagerly awaiting this season’s restaurant week and was certainly not disappointed with my first choice. Larry and I headed to Harper’s Restaurant and Bar in Dobbs Ferry, which was suggested to us by our friends Cagle and John McDonald. We ended up being a group of eight, which worked out very well for me. I managed to have a taste of just about every main course option offered on their HVRW Menu. (Lucky me!)
Walking in, I immediately felt a cozy vibe from its distressed walls and kitschy memorabilia. Around 8 p.m. I sensed the lights dimming slightly and a warm glow rise from the tiny tea lights strategically placed around the space, adding to the old-fashioned feel. The servers were wonderful, friendly and very attentive. I would say that the only downside to the space was the noise level. Being a large party we were seated in the middle of the floor, so it was sometimes hard to hear everyone speaking – but that really became a non-issue once the food arrived.
After perusing all the menu options we agreed that the HVRW Menu offered such a wide array of options we go that route. For the appetizers the real standouts for me were the chicken liver toast and grilled calamari.
The chicken liver puree was simply divine. A generous portion spread over their soft airy bread and topped with candied walnuts. Marsala wine and caramelized shallot smoothed out the overall flavor leaving us ooh-ing and aah-ing.
The calamari was flash grilled and soft. It was served with shaved fennel, celery and olives tossed with a citrus-y vinaigrette that beautifully balanced the plate. (Sorry, this picture turned out a little fuzzy.)
With eight main course options, I was able to taste seven of the offerings. (Thanks to everyone who happily shared with me.) All were fantastic, but four really stood out for me: veal agnolotti, grilled rainbow trout, crispy duck leg and roasted veal breast.
Almost exclusively if I know there is fresh pasta on a menu I order it. Fresh pasta, especially the filled variety, take time and effort. If it’s good you will taste the love. It was a toss up for me between the agnolotti and pappardelle. Larry opted for the latter; no big surprise there since it was tossed with a tasty bolognese — his favorite. So I went for the other. Delightful little bites of tender pasta are bursting with veal and a hint of madeira and tossed in a sage butter. Since I tasted everyone else’s dishes throughout dinner I ended up taking about half of my plate home. (I am enjoying it now as I write this post!)
There are a couple of dishes that can end up being a disappointment when eating out, and fish ranks up there. Getting from a busy kitchen to the table, and part of a large group with many different dishes, of varying cooking times, can be a disaster in some restaurants. Not here. The grilled trout was amazing. It comes to the table fileted so you didn’t have to fight the messiness of bones.The skin was nicely charred and crisp and the meat soft and juicy.The buttery fish was balanced nicely with tangy sautéed watercress.
Duck is not typically something I order when we go out and last night was no exception. However, as luck would have it, someone did order it and I was very grateful after tasting. The leg was beautifully presented over a creamy white bean and caramelized onion ragu, dotted with tasty little chunks of crunchy pancetta. The duck skin was sublime, crispy and sticky at the same time (I’m a real sucker for crispy crunchy skin!), and a perfect contrast to the soft meat.
My overall favorite though, was the veal breast. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time over the past month making and testing various types of polenta. The polenta under this breast was just delicious. We all know there is nothing worse that eating coagulated dry polenta. It’s basically the reason so many people are turned off by it. Not the case here. Their polenta, so soft and fluffy, rivals the best mash potatoes. Perched above this fluffy goodness you get a tender, flavorful veal breast with brussels sprout leaves, sultanas and pine nuts artfully sprinkled around.
Just about all the dinner options were hearty and rich so I was looking for something light and tangy to finish the dinner. Of the three options — chocolate bread pudding, crème brulee and a Lemon Tart — I opted for the latter.
The Lemon Tart was a perfect ending. Lightly sweet with a bold citrus punch and a smooth, creamy finish. Yum!
If you’ve never tried Harper’s, now it the time to go. Many of the offerings on the HVRW menu are also found on their regular menu too. Also of note: On Tuesdays they offer half price on bottled wine. We enjoyed a wonderful Castello di Farnatella Chianti with dinner.
Grazie mille Chef Chris!