“This place is doomed,” I said to my date at we entered for the first time. “I’m not even sure the concept is sound.” We were discussing Harbour, a new seafooder in the Spring Street corridor west of Soho, where most of the restaurants—like Giorgione and Ear Inn—have been around forever. Both of those places have extensive street exposure, with tables spilling out onto the pavement, occupied by groups drinking late into the evening in otherwise darkened byways.
Harbour, however, turns a narrow and featureless face to Hudson Street. The premises are vast, but upon entering, you’ll spy only a small waiting area, a narrow bar with a few stools, and a swinging door into the kitchen. Invisible around the corner, the seating is clustered in a series of three rooms. The first is circular, with a white-leather banquette and a scary lighting fixture of blue and mauve blown glass. The next room constitutes a perfect date spot, with pink-pillowed seats pushed into a scalloped wall opposite chairs at two-person tables. The third chamber resembles a clubby ship’s cabin, with dark wood walls, a square-ish approximation of portholes, and booth seating.
Helmed by chef Joe Isidori, who worked for Donald Trump in Las Vegas, the commendable lure of Harbour is sustainable seafood. In fact, right inside the front door, you’ll find neat stacks of seafood guides from the Blue Ocean Institute, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Chefs Collaborative. It’s like picking up a hymnal on your way into the sanctuary. (Notably, nobody seems to be taking any.) Passing the sustainability test, a plethora of elaborately rendered seafood appears on the menu—you’ll find fish like cod and yellowtail (both endangered) missing.
One glance at the wine list, and you’ll discover that Harbour is trying hard to kill you with kindness. Not only are there many bottles in the $20 to $40 range (including some from the Finger Lakes), but an ancillary list offers five whites and five reds for $20 or less, which is nothing short of miraculous. And there are amuses galore—the meal begins with a miniature cup of puréed pea soup, buoying a pea shoot and an actual pea or two. Between the main course and dessert, a palate cleanser of sour orange soda, preserved plum, and rhubarb sorbet appears. After dessert—assuming you make it that far—comes a plate of cookies, jellied fruit, and salty caramels. Ahoy, waistline!
Priced from $8 to $16, the appetizers might seem relatively inexpensive, but turn out to be Lilliputian, though the compositions are painstaking: A kampachi ceviche consists of three small whorls of fish, a couple of shrimp no bigger than a baby’s thumb, and cube-lets of jícama and orange melon, all resting on a micro-swatch of Serrano ham. A trio of modest-sized Beausoleil oysters (“They’re from New Jersey,” chortled the server, though they were actually from New Brunswick) play hide-and-seek under a cloud of greenish foam. The scrumptious clam chowder boasts a dark rich broth, delicate spring veggies, matchsticks of potatoes, and, almost as an afterthought, three tiny Manila clams.
The entrées sprawl by comparison. “Crispy branzino” ($26) is a whole fish, lightly dusted with flour and fried as crisp as a cracker. The fish rests in a tart, pink Romesco sauce, with a novel olive-and-parsley relish on top. The waiter will offer to fillet the fish, but you should refuse—too many of the good parts, like the cheeks and tail, are lost in the de-boning. “Where does the branzino come from?” I asked the waiter. “Somewhere in the Mediterranean,” was his vague reply, proving that sustainable and locavoric can be unrelated concepts.
One evening, there was a special of softshell crab ($20), two to an order. “The crab is from the Florida shore,” piously intoned the waiter, clad in a somber gray vest with gray slacks. The crustaceans lounged like bathing beauties beside a pool of cilantro sauce, and the plate also featured a pile of piperade (a Provençal vegetable relish) with a wobbly, translucent egg on top, one of several science-chef flourishes that have swum onto the menu recently. Other recent specials have included squid from Long Island and mackerel from Montauk.
In both apps and entrées, seafood often plays a subsidiary role in bright canvases of flavor, reminding us that we can also promote the sustainability of seafood by simply eating less of it. But still, good as the food is, the question lingers: In a city that craves big servings of plainly prepared seafood, isn’t Harbour swimming upstream?