Harvest Supper, New Canaan
Harvest Supper ★★1/2 (Very Good-Superior)
15 Elm St., New Canaan (203/966-5595)
Open Tuesday through Saturday 5:30 to 10 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday. Wheelchair access. Major credit cards. Price range: Small plates $7 to $16, desserts $8 to $9. Five-course tasting menu $50.
The dining room is small, the kitchen is minuscule and the menu consists solely of little plates, but one way or another Harvest Supper makes a big impact. Some say it's too cramped for comfort and godawful noisy to boot. Others say, "Who cares, when the food is to die for?"
Both camps have a point. I prefer to dine in a quiet room without an errant elbow threatening my wine glass. On the other hand, I would hate to have missed the parade of delicacies that captured and held our attention on a recent visit. It's also fun to be transported from a modern storefront to a Colonial farmhouse by way of decor.
A sophisticated faux-primitive mural of fields and fences, sheep and cows abets the fancy. As does a menu of small dishes "From the Garden," "From the Ocean" and "From Field and Air." With 15 options plus specials to choose from, our table talk morphed into a gastronomic summit meeting. Harvest Supper would be a good place to take a first date. No awkward silences here.
And it's hard to go wrong. Harvest Supper is the latest brainchild of Jack and Grace Lamb, talented restaurateurs famous for cute little East Village restaurants (Jewel Bako, Degustation) in Manhattan. Miniaturism is their forte. If anybody knows how to do "small," it's these two. Accordingly, we ordered with abandon.
I immediately fell in love with the Wagyu short-rib carpaccio. How could it be so seductively tender? Don't you have to braise or bake short ribs for hours? But these delicate petals of raw beef were literally fork-tender, dressed with a glisten of oil and layered with paper-thin slices of intensely flavorful Parmesan. A cornichon and a few wisps of arugula completed the composition. We were off to a four-star start.
English pea arancini seconded the motion in the form of a golf-ball-size fried-rice ball filled with marinated peas. In Italy, arancini are filled with any- and everything from truffles to tomatoes. Heavy or light, greasy or not, tasty or dull, their appeal depends on the skill of the cook. One taste and we knew we were in good hands. Crispy as could be on the outside, moist within, suffused with the fresh green flavor of English peas, our little beauty preened on a bed of pea shoots.
Deceptively simple, ravioli with tomato sauce excelled because of the excellence of its ingredients-delicately tender pasta, assertively tasty Parmesan and a vibrant scarlet purée of smoked tomato and oregano. Sea scallops, too, were delicious, served with cubes of polenta wrapped in bacon and sauced with sweet corn purée.
At this point, as plates were cleared and new dishes arrived, we stopped thinking in terms of courses. But while I do not remember the precise order in which these little plates arrived, I have no difficulty recalling how they looked and tasted. Each was memorable in some way.
In this kitchen, creativity reigns. The chef, Michael Campbell, formerly of Hearth and Blue Hill in New York, is a brilliant saucier and endlessly inventive. He makes changes to his menu at least twice a week.
With such a wide-ranging agenda, it would not be surprising for shortfalls to occur. We experienced a few. Seared halibut was too salty, and sliced duck breast, glowing ruby-red on the plate, was surprisingly tough and too raw to have much flavor. Our disappointment with Kobe skirt steak was perhaps uncalled for: Skirt steak is skirt steak, after all, not filet mignon. But seduced by the magic word Kobe, we expected more than it could deliver. Too thick-sliced to be carpaccio, it was a little too raw and a little too tough.
But what's a miss or two amid a cornucopia of hits, among them a minimasterpiece of yellowtail and sunchokes. The fish was stunningly fresh, lemon-cured and served on a bed of cubed, roasted sunchoke hearts topped with deep-fried sunchoke chips as crisp as autumn leaves.
Also outstanding was veal cheek, in a multinuanced sauce paired with tiny sphere-shaped Sardinian pasta called fregola. Each meat, fish and poultry offering seemed to be balanced with a different starch: polenta, black rice, baby favas, potatoes Lyonnaise.
The dessert list is short and choice. Yogurt cheese pie was silkier and cheesier than any in memory, and something called "brûléed brioche" was the airiest bread pudding in the world under fluffy clouds of caramel foam. The "chocolate coconut and peanut tart caramel parfait," heavy and dense, was too much for me but if you succumb to temptation, you don't have far to fall. Like everything else on the menu, it's small.
I do have a small complaint. They don't serve coffee. I wish they did. I think they should.Harvest Supper, New Canaan