Archive for Thursday, June 4, 1998

ELEGANT FOOD AND A FRIENDLY, CASUAL ATMOSPHERE MARK THIS WESTPORT EATERY.

June 4, 1998

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— Along one wall of the long, high-ceilinged front room at Harry's Bar and Tables hangs an oil portrait of old blue eyes, Frank Sinatra.

During a recent Sunday evening the painting was draped in black mourning creche. Sinatra tunes played on the sound system.

Harry's is the kind of place where Frank would have felt right at home. It's a masculine joint, from the spartan tile floor to the exposed brick walls to the bronze-painted pressed-tin ceiling. No fern bar this.

A magazine rack near the entrance, where independent weeklies from Chicago and New York share space with the Wall Street Journal and Investors Business Daily, bespeaks a mixed clientele of arty types and business people. On weekdays, the bar does a brisk business selling drinks and cigars to the after-work crowd.

Out back, a split-level patio more than doubles the restaurant's seating. On this lazy Sunday, the majority of diners were taking advantage of the mild weather to dine alfresco beneath the shade trees lining Pennsylvania Avenue.

My wife, Mary, and I chose a table before the tall front windows that look out on the intersection of Westport Road and Pennsylvania. The waitress brought drinks. Big, brimming martinis with a skim of ice on top, so full "you had to go down to them," as Denis Johnson wrote, "like a hummingbird over a blossom."

It was a prime spot for watching the crowds that wander Westport, or for simply contemplating the play of evening light through a cocktail glass. Sunlight pooled on our table. Across the street, a woman sat on the curb in front of Kelly's Bar to have her hair braided by a man wearing clown pants.

We scanned the abundant selection of tapas-style appetizers on the menu, which include risotto dumplings and blue point oysters on the half shell with Absolute Peppar Vodka and cocktail sauce. But we already knew we'd order our old favorite, the housemade hummus.

Two varieties of hummus -- mild and spicy -- are served on a tile with a garnish of calamata olives, feta cheese, artichoke hearts, onions, a sun-dried tomato filled with pesto and toasted pita for dipping. It's consistently delicious.

Harry's dinner entrees range from $7.50 for spicy chorizo-stuffed mushrooms served with a cool minted cucumber sauce, to $14 for a grilled KC strip. The steak is served au jus on a bed of sourdough toast with garlic mashed potatoes, grilled peppers and onions.

Diners can choose from two kinds of pizza, as well. One is topped with marinated grilled chicken and rosemary roasted potatoes. The other features roma tomatoes, chevre (a cheese made from goat's milk), spinach, scallions and herb pesto.

Mary ordered pan-seared salmon. Accompanied by a salsa verde of capers, onions and cornichons and arranged over tender lettuce leaves topped with tomato vinaigrette, the salmon was perfectly cooked -- crisp on the outside, tender and flaky inside.

I ordered angel hair pasta and seared prawns. Tossed with garlic and olive oil and sprinkled with chili flakes, the dish was spicy. A generous amount of hefty prawns made for a filling meal.

For nonsmokers and anyone who finds cigar smoke offensive, a word of warning is in order. Harry's has limited nonsmoking seating during lunch hours, and none at night. The bar sells cigars, and the big front room can fill up with cigar smokers, especially during happy hour.

While the patio offers a fresh-air option in fair weather, a rainy day at Harry's might try the patience of even the most tolerant nonsmoker.

That said, Harry's is a friendly establishment with the homey feel of a neighborhood bistro. It's a great place to enjoy an appetizer and a drink, or to drop in on a whim for an elegant meal in a casual atmosphere.

-- The Mag's phone message number is 832-7146. Send e-mail to jbiles@ljworld.com.

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