As I completed each section of this post, I realized that I was becoming more and more smitten with Harvest on Hudson. My dad would have used the term “keeping company” — meaning the period of time he was dating my mom. I suspect this term for courtship was either generational or loosely translated from his Italian dialect. No matter, I always thought it was just sweet. So, what do you get when you combine a hopelessly romantic foodie, a spectacular view of the Hudson River, a summer garden overflowing with herbs and veggies, an extraordinarily talented staff and superb food? For me, it means that I’ve found myself behind the kitchen door at Harvest on Hudson and right in the middle of some kind of wonderful.
Restaurant: Harvest on Hudson
Description: One of four restaurants owned by the Fort Pond Bay Company, Harvest on Hudson is described as their flagship (they also own Half Moon in Dobbs Ferry, East by Northeast and Harvest on Fort Pond, both in Montauk). The building, which sits right at the Hudson River waterfront, was originally a Robison Oil truck garage. The original roof and steel lattice now creates a decorative framework for the 200 seat main dining room. Although it’s a huge space, the room seems to surround you with light, texture, and color. The coolness of the smooth Venetian plaster walls and rustic stone fireplace plays against the wide plank floors, exposed wood beams, and the tapestry of gold and burgundy on the chairs and couches. Of course, the numerous windows and French doors bring the outside in with tons of natural light and spectacular views of the river and gardens from almost every seat. The outside patio, which can accommodate about 150, is relaxing and comfortable with its wrought iron tables and chairs. There are 50 more seats in the middle of the garden creating lovely spots to enjoy a glass of wine and some selection of cured meats and cheeses from the menu of Italian sfizi (Google translation: “whims”).
Cuisine: A classic approach with subtle contemporary influences is how chef Vincent Barcelona describes the menu at Harvest. Basically, it’s real deal authentic Italian dishes with enticing twists. Seasonal ingredients are picked straight from their garden or come from local Hudson Valley farms. Bringing a whole new meaning to wine and food pairing is the hanging house made baccala (salted and air cured cod) and bresaola (air cured beef) in Harvest’s wine room.
Garden: Before even stepping foot in the kitchen, chef Barcelona and I took a stroll through Harvest’s lush garden. Winding paths, sitting areas and tables are right in the middle of a bounty of herbs and veggies. Garden to table at its best! There are radishes, Swiss chard, beets, eggplant, and, of course, lots and lots of tomatoes. By the end August, those tomatoes will be cooked down into sauce and canned so that the summer fresh flavors can be enjoyed even in the dead of winter. Next, there are herbs like basil, lovage (which is the flavor partner for the poaching liquid in their rabbit stew), thyme, oregano, sage, tarragon, and much more. For some of the herbs, it’s the delicate flowers that are used first, like the blossoms of lemon thyme or the licorice flavored fennel pollen.
Owners: Angelo Liberatore and Bruce Bernacchia both come from Italian families where their Sunday dinner was, no doubt, very similar to mine. My dinner would start at 2 pm in the afternoon and usually included pasta topped with a tomato gravy that had been simmering on the stove since the early morning. They have created that nurturing and comforting atmosphere of an Italian family dinner right here at Harvest.
Corporate Executive Chef: Vincent Barcelona seems to be constantly in motion. Taking care of Harvest has got to be time-consuming enough, but he also oversees Half Moon in Dobbs Ferry and the two other restaurants in Montauk. His responsibilities encompass not only being hands-on in the kitchen, but also the less glamorous back-end, day-to-day tasks of paperwork and management. He doesn’t view this as a job — it’s a lifestyle. With that in mind, he has created a real community, not only with his staff, but also his purveyors. From his office on the second floor of Harvest, he could easily be in touch with fishermen in Montauk or a farmer at John Fazio’s farm where his rabbits and ducks are raised. If a fish is described as “line caught” on the menu, don’t be surprised if Vincent could tell you exactly who caught it and when.
Allow me to backtrack just a moment — are you as curious as I was to see what a chef’s office looks like? At first glance, it seemed pretty generic with a computer, printer, pens, notes, and the expected bit of clutter. Upon a more detailed inspection, I could see glimpses of what chefs do when they are not thinking about food like mastering the guitar, writing music, or listening to some jazz.
This is a chef who is totally immersed in his craft. It’s easy to see that some of his inspiration comes from his extensive cookbook collection (personally, I could have spent the entire day up there just perusing).
Executive Chef: It was simply inspiring to spend most of my day working with seasoned Executive Chef Sal Sprufero. His easygoing manner and friendly personality put me right at ease. He was the opening chef at Half Moon and has been in the Harvest kitchen for the past five years. Sal and Vincent have known each other since their days at Le Bernardin and The River Cafe (yes, I’m namedropping, but I promise to tell you more about that later).
Kitchen staff: Executive Sous Chef, Miguel Pina, along with 17 cooks, 5 culinary interns, and 5 dishwashers all work in unison to make Harvest’s kitchen run smoothly and efficiently.
Front of house: There are over 60 servers and bartenders during Harvest’s summer high season, especially during catered events on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Bar scene: On a late Tuesday afternoon as I sat in the comfortable and inviting bar/lounge area, I found patrons enjoying the soft jazz, a relaxing glass of wine, and a quick bite. On Adult Swim Thursdays, you’ll find a live band and appetizer specials.
Signature dish: There are so many items to choose from, yet it’s the Fig and Goat Cheese Pizza that is one of their signature dishes. The dough is made from a “mother” dough which has been fed and taken care of for the past four years. The inclusion of both fresh and wild yeast (that’s what’s making all those bubbles), organic beer, and orange peels gives this dough a flavor all its own.
Add some flour to that beautiful dough, shape and dress it up and then place it in high temp pizza oven. What you get is pizza nirvana. Thin, rustic, well done crust topped with tangy goat cheese, sweet figs, and salty prosciutto.
Size of kitchen: The kitchen is laid out in a flowing L-shape, with the longer side being the main fire power of the line. A wall separates the line from another prep area behind it, complete with its own set of appliances. Around the corner on the short side of the “L” is more prep space, a Corema gelato machine, and the Italgi pasta machine (yeah, both are made in-house!).
The walk-in refrigerator and freezer are seriously humongous. The fridge is 20 ft x 30 ft and the attached freezer is about half that size.
Size of prep area: Although there were multiple prep areas throughout the kitchen, I felt like I was center stage with chef Sprufero at his station right in front of the pass.
Turning up the heat: This was a fully packed kitchen with major equipment including three Jade salamander broilers and a US Range high heat griddle (also called a plancha) where chicken breasts, fish, and meats, can be quickly seared.
Going down the line there were more Jade appliances — two six-burner open flame stove/oven combos, a pasta cooker, an eight-burner stove/oven, and finally, a huge grill.
Behind the wall of these appliances, is a separate kitchen with lots of room to prep, another six-burner stove/oven combo, three stock pot burners, and the standalone Groen braiser. You certainly don’t have to fight for some heat in this kitchen!
Coolest appliance: Chef Barcelona likes the stand alone Groen braiser in the prep kitchen because it is a versatile piece of equipment that can multitask with ease for making large quantities of braised stews and roasts (and even soups). It can be cranked up to 500 degrees to start the meat out with a good sear, and then once liquid is added, turned down for a low and slow braise. When everything is done, the whole vessel can tilt to pour out the finished recipe into containers (not to mention easy clean up!).
But then owner Angelo Liberatore reminded Vincent about the bright red, hand-cranked prosciutto slicer, and I knew we were about to get old school.
They demonstrated how each turn of the crank slowly spins the blade and simultaneously moves the aged prosciutto across it. Because it does this ever so slowly, it doesn’t “burn” the paper thin slices of Italian heaven.
Most complicated dish on the menu: It’s the delicate execution with both finesse and a watchful eye that makes the Seared Ahi Tuna entrée complicated. It is served with a kiss of a sear on the outside and perfectly rare on the inside accompanied by a fresh corn and fava bean salad, sautéed leeks, sweet red peppers and basil with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar. But it’s the tiny little lemon thyme flowers, with their surprising burst of citrus spice, which completes this dish.
Chef’s culinary mentor: I couldn’t help but be in awe of chef Barcelona’s culinary resume (the list includes Danny Meyer’s Union Square Cafe, Le Bernardin with both chefs Dominick Cerrone and Eric Ripert, and Mondrian with chef Tom Colicchio); so I was really interested to find out who he looked up to. Starting out at Bronzini’s in New Jersey under the guidance of mentor chef Steve Santoro (who was the opening chef at the Colavita Center at the Culinary Institute and is now at Fresco in NYC) was what sparked Vincent’s passion for aged beef and delicate herbs. From there, chef Dominick Cerrone gave him a solid foundation working in Le Bernardin’s ultra-organized kitchen turning out perfectly executed 4-star dishes.
First meal: At the young age of eight, Vincent Barcelona knew that he belonged in the kitchen. It all started with making scrambled eggs at friend Greg Perlman’s house on an early Saturday morning. Unfortunately, the breakfast ended abruptly with a melted plastic tablecloth and waking the family up to a smoke-filled house. Thankfully, that first cooking endeavor didn’t scare him off from getting back in front of a stove!
Favorite kitchen gadget: Although this was an easy answer for chef Barcelona, it was quite an unexpected one for me. For once, it wasn’t the uber-popular knife or some obscure pomegranate de-seeder (although I do wish someone would invent that!). Vincent’s gadget is his own vivid culinary imagination. Drawing inspiration from his many cookbooks, the bountiful gardens, or his talented team, he creates a seductive menu that you can easily fall in love with. The daily specials at Harvest are a perfect example of his imagination in action as he takes his diners on a flavor-filled tour highlighting a different region of Italy each month. What really impressed me is that each server gets a chance to taste the daily specials, and Vincent makes sure to share with them detailed information on the specific region.
What’s cooking in the kitchen now: It was torture to be in the kitchen during a busy lunch service watching all this amazing food pass in front of me. When chef Sprufero asked me if I’d like to have a taste or two, I don’t think I paused for a moment — Yes, please! The Crispy Lamb Spring Rolls were a pleasant surprise. Roasted lamb is mixed with apricots, carrots, fregola (small round beads of pasta), and mint and served with a yogurt and grated cucumber tzatziki sauce.
The pics below show how prep cook Margarito expertly made these little packages of goodness. He let me try my hand at it, but my first attempts were less than stellar. They need to be rolled up tight, so mine would have opened up in the fryer. I think it was easier to eat them than make them.
The Gnocchi with Morels and Sweet Spring Peas literally had me swooning. Lighter than air potato dumplings (an amazing feat unto itself) are served in a sage brown butter sauce with the largest morel mushrooms I’ve ever seen. The dish is earthy from the mushrooms and grated cheese, but then there’s this pop of fresh flavor from the crunchy peas.
What’s on the prep list: I worked on the base for that evening’s special mussels dish Pepata di Cozze ~ Puglia-style steamed mussels with parsley, garlic, celery, lemon peel, red pepper strips, anchovies, and cinnamon.
At times when I’m working on prep, I don’t always see all the components or even the end result of the dish. But this time I was able to follow this dish from start to finish (and even got to enjoy a rare treat — a whole bowl to myself).
When chef Sprufero put me on task at the Globe electric slicer to carve up some eggplant for the Melanzane al Forno, an eggplant dish with two cheeses, ham and sauce, I was quite apprehensive. This is the big daddy to the manual mandoline slicer (what my blogger friend Westchester Foodie loving refers to as Slicey, the demonically possessed mandoline).
Pet peeve: Everyone has that one thing that drives them up the wall, and in Harvest’s kitchen it’s plastic wrap on the floor. So many things get wrapped and unwrapped in a restaurant kitchen, but when the wrap ends up on the floor instead of in the garbage bin, it makes chef Barcelona crazy. I can totally sympathize. My nails on a blackboard moment is when I hear whistling in the kitchen (especially after I found out that during the French revolution it meant impending death to the chef ).
My random insights: A drink while working in a restaurant kitchen is usually a plastic quart container filled with water and ice. So, when I was handed a cold bottle of Acqua Panna, spring water from Tuscany, I was taken aback.
Then, when Vincent and Sal grilled up a three week dry-aged Porterhouse steak for a snack, I thought I died and gone to cheffy heaven.
Thanks Harvest for a deliciously fun day behind your kitchen door!
Details: Harvest on Hudson, 1 River Street, Hastings. 914. 478.2800. Harvest on Hudson is open 7 days a week. Dinner is served 5:30 pm to 10 pm (Fridays and Saturdays until 11 pm and Sundays 4 pm to 9 pm). Lunch is served Monday thru Friday, 11:45 am to 2:30 pm.
Patrice Costa is a passionate foodie who is on a personal culinary mission to learn it all from local chefs. She looks forward to sharing her experiences as she goes behind the kitchen door in some of her favorite restaurant kitchens. When not on foodie assignments, she can be found working in the open kitchen at Thyme Restaurant in Yorktown.