32 East 21st Street
New York, NY 10010
Upscale casual American food, blended with a cocktail-heavy bar menu has become a defining characteristic in this generation of dining out in the city. Bistros aren't as plentiful as I feel that they used to be. Gastropubs haven't fully taken root in New York yet. Steakhouses are for wealthy old people and the people trying to be in their will. "Family style" is usually code for "we serve the same thing you can make at home with a jar of Ragu." Harding's, in Flatiron, is the upscale casual American place I decided to take Myna to for no reason and it embodies the role in consummationem.
Walking in, one is well advised to dress like someone in their 30s who receives more than their fair share of Restoration Hardware and Design Within Reach catalogs. Jeans are fine, but I don't think I saw a single t-shirt (that guy in the photo is wearing a polo.... I checked). Vintage-style chandeliers, exposed brick walls with little to no artwork, a vaulted tin ceiling, cast-iron balcony fencing, and chairs and tables that look like they were stolen from the ballroom of a haunted mansion complete the look, subliminally telling you to order a sazerac, "and don't skimp on the bitters".
I arrived a good half hour earlier than both my reservation and Myna, so I sat at the bar with a drink and worked on a crossword puzzle to kill time. Eventually, Myna arrived, filled in some empty squares for me, and we got a table. P.S., small diversion. I loaned my camera to Bro and haven't gotten it back yet. So, having only a camera phone camera, they didn't come out too good and I tossed most of them. Sucks. Anyway.
Myna started with the Fig Toast, a very delightful layering of warm whipped goat cheese, mission figs, and rosemary honey over what you would be correct in guessing was toasted bread. I tried making a similar dish at a dinner party last month and this was far better. Myna was irked that that the toast was as charred as it was, but it was a helluva lot better that the slop I tried to pass off as food. The rosemary honey was a nice touch. I ordered the Cauliflower Soup, made with basil and pepper. It was fantastic. Creamy without being too creamy and with a more suitable hint of char from the roasting of the cauliflower before being pureed. I'm not just saying that it was great because it was freezing out and therefore all soup is good. I genuinely suggest you order this when you go.
Come entree-time, I went with the Berkshire Pork, an herb roasted tenderloin served with cider braised savoy cabbage, pork belly, and an apple mayonnaise. The pork tenderloin was excellent and pork dishes almost never really wow me. I liked the little bit of pork belly, but there wasn't enough of it and there was way way too much cabbage, which was far far too sour. I don't want to sound overly negative because it wasn't bad bad at all, but I doubt I'd get the dish again (although, it was pretty low carb). Myna tried the Icelandic Cod, which was served with littleneck clams, applewood smoked bacon, charred baby onion, and crispy grilled fennel. Then, over that, they poured New England clam chowder. The fish was well made and tender and I liked the addition of the fennel. Soaking the dish in clam chowder might make it a bit rich for some tastes and, though both Myna and I thought it worked well, it will be filling. So don't load up on bread, even if it's burned bread with fig and goat cheese.
Up until this point, we were pretty much pleased with everything. So it was natural to give dessert a whirl and the Lemon Cheesecake with a spiced port cranberry glaze and a candied orange seemed like a good choice. Alas, 'twas not to be, for when yonder choice came hither thus didst we wisheth upon our plate a lava cake in its stead. Forgetting that I couldn't find any candied orange, and then forgetting that there was so much cranberry glaze that you could barely taste anything but said glaze, and the forgetting that there was far too little lemon in the lemon cheesecake, this was maybe the most dense dessert I've ever had. Banish any expectations of a creamy, velvety, pudding-smooth texture rolling across your tongue. Picture instead half-cured cement. See the photo? That fork stayed like that, at an angle, until I pulled it free, for five photos and a refill of coffee.
In the end, Myna and I had a very good time and enjoyed mostly very good food. Yes, there were some misses here and there, but mostly hits. The pours of wine they gave were quite large, the atmosphere was energetic (though whether that was a function of the customers having to be louder than the music is up for debate), and the cocktail menu was a good one. The service was, unfortunately, extremely slow. I don't mean that the service was a little slow and am exaggerating for effect because it's more interesting. I mean, "wow, they're sure taking their sweet-assed time" slow. So heads up to all the impatient, crotchety SOBs out there. Harding's may not be for you.
Two appetizers, two entrees, two glasses of wine, some cola, a dessert, and two coffees, plus tax and tip came to $135.
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