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The house salad was a sadder story. It looked beautiful, all decked out with crumbles of blue-tinted Gorgonzola, chopped red tomato and purple onions. But it was seriously overdressed with an oily tomato vinaigrette that made it nearly inedible.
Matters improved when Roth arrived with our entrées: for Claudine, a perfectly cooked beef tenderloin glazed with a shiny sheath of melted Gorgonzola; for me, a hefty bowl of linguini Bolognese. The beef, perched on a mound of piping-hot mashed new potatoes, was gorgeously tender and flavorful. (The dish is also offered in a superb appetizer version.) The pasta, named for the hearty meat sauce beloved in the sausage-making city of Bologna, was thick and tasty with brashly spiced sausage.
On a subsequent visit, my friends Jim and Marie were put off by the uncomfortable bistro chairs and the noise level. To put it bluntly, Harry's needs to turn down the volume. The sound bounces off the brick walls and the painted tin ceiling in a confined space that's a lot more hospitable during the summer months, when the dozen-plus windows near the original entrance (the building spent half of the twentieth century as Doershuk's Drugstore) are open. In the winter, the place is too loud, and one pungent cigar can smoke up the whole room until not even the most fragrantly garlicky bowl of sautéed Scampi al Burro can compete with the aroma.
On this particular evening, though, we were able to enjoy the scampi -- buttery and augmented with the bite of chopped chilies -- unhindered by stogies. Also excellent was a twin hummus appetizer, a traditional version matched with a fiery, roasted-red-pepper preparation and accompanied by crumbles of salty feta cheese and fat, juicy cloves of roasted garlic.
When it came to the main courses, a Tutto Mare was Tutto Dullsville. Though the menu listed clams as an ingredient, we failed to find a single one among the shrimp and chopped mushrooms. The supposedly "lightly curried" cream sauce, meanwhile, tasted as bland as any store-bought alfredo. Plenty of smoky bacon and chopped chicken inhabited a creamy chicken carbonara, which was tossed in a thick sauce of cream, egg and Parmesan cheese. Chicken Parmesan, on the other hand, was brought down by a jarringly sweet house-made marinara that topped the lightly breaded breast. "It needs red peppers," said Marie. She preferred the jazzier flavors of the aromatic Gorgonzola chicken pizza, which featured a paper-thin flatbread crust. An Italian-sausage pizza packed even more heat, thanks to spicy sausage, a red-pepper cream sauce and an extra jolt of fire from a drizzle of neon-red chili-garlic coulis.
Speaking of hot stuff, one of the desserts exhibited a bit of a kick: The toasted-almond napoleon is layered with phyllo pastry glazed with almonds and sugar, swirls of chocolate ganache and fluffy dollops of cream whipped with vanilla, almond and cinnamon. It's served, with dramatic flair, in a martini glass. Visually it's dazzling, though it's awkward to eat and even harder to share.
But it's a sensual dessert, and that's a good omen, because Harry's has gotten a little tame since losing the effervescent spirit that Harry Murphy and Loy Edge brought to the place. "All the food should look as attractive as the manager," observed Claudine as she coyly licked the cream off her spoon. "Put that in your review."