86 S. Tyson Ave., Floral Park
SERVICE: Charming and vigilant, if occasionally still learning the ropes.
AMBIENCE: Irish tavern meets rat pack-era hangout with dramatic lighting, luxe booths and a gorgeous and spirited bar.
ESSENTIALS: Open daily, 4 to 11 p.m.; street and lot parking (across the street); wheelchair accessible; credit cards accepted
If looks could kill, The Harrison would slay. Over the last year, the Floral Park spot that was Koenig’s for 70 years was transformed — via mahogany wainscoting, moody wood-paneled walls, luxe booths and dramatic lighting — into a place that feels like a love child between a public house and a rat pack-era hangout, easily one of the most alluring and comfortable restaurants to open in recent memory.
The Harrison’s story is not without drama, though. A few weeks after opening in late October, executive chef Joe Dobias took his exit, leaving the place and its lengthy continental menu without a helmsman.
Does it show? While the four owners — including Vincent Dirico, who also owns Luigi’s in New Hyde Park — hunt for a new head chef, sous chefs Rodrigo Cadenillas and Josseline Jimenez are holding down the kitchen; while their dishes can come with a measure of aplomb, you might also sense hesitation during a dinner that has its share of high and low moments.
The Harrison’s stunning, backlit mahogany bar draws its own crowd, one that feels deeply local and seems nonplussed by standing three deep during busy nights. Pints of craft beer fill many hands, but The Harrison barkeeps also pour a half-dozen batched cocktails on tap, including (at least recently) a Paloma with a tingly hint of chili-driven heat. The upside of batched cocktails is that your drink arrives quickly; the downside is that there can be a lack of zingy freshness. Wines are considered, but one night I had to help my server open a bottle. (The servers, on the whole, are delightful, if still occasionally learning the ropes).
Away from the spirited bar, on the other side of an etched glass divide, is a relatively sedate dining room, one lined by cushy half-moon booths. Soon after you sink into one, a skillet of warm Parker House rolls arrives; they’re especially buttery, speckled with herbs and sea salt, and you have to be vigilant about not filling up on them as you parse the sprawling menu.
This bistro-style menu has its fingers in many pies, from pub-like starters to steaks to sushi rolls to a raw bar to weekly specials. This something-for-everyone ethos seems swell at first glance, but once you drill down, the carefully coiffed Harrison begins to feel like it might have an identity crisis.
The sushi rolls are a solid place to start; the gracefully composed lobster roll, in particular, was filled with generous lumps of meat. Its distant cousin, the kitchen’s clever tuna tartare “tacos” — shattery, wonton-esque shells filled with gingered-up cubed tuna and slivers of avocado — will disappear quickly.
Another on-point starter was sticky house wings whose honey glaze is held in check by chili smolder. An oily spinach dip, however, had already begun to separate by the time it reached the table; served with tortilla chips and, puzzlingly, sour cream and salsa, it was sort of two mediocre dishes in one.
That same spinach dip seemed to reappear beneath fried oysters St. Charles, which, with nothing to lend pop, landed with a thud on the palate. Oysters on the half shell (Blue Points and Wellfleets among them), by contrast, tasted super fresh and came with a pungent mignonette.
The Harrison’s unfussy steak menu was designed to be gentler on wallets than at the average steakhouse, but the filet mignon I tried, while well-seared, lacked a depth of flavor. The chewy rotisserie potatoes alongside felt like they had been lounging under a heat lamp. Beef-wise, I’d opt again (and again) for The Harrison burger, a double-stack tower of power in the form of a luxe-tasting Pat LaFrieda patty draped with American cheese; boosted with a fried egg, it will set you for hours, if you can crush it down enough to fit in your mouth.
An anchor item here, rotisserie chicken, begins life as a brined organic bird spit-roasted until burnished and coppery. As far as roasted chicken goes, it’s moist and satisfying, heads above fried chicken with soggy batter and blunted flavor. Another tavern staple, baby back ribs, was dry; a better bet among the larger plates is the kitchen’s take on cod “chowder," a well-cooked fillet (lounging in a puddle of bacon-studded chowder) that tasted almost cured. I appreciated its chutzpah.
If you need to fill in caloric gaps, do it with greens rather than sweets: Both salads we tried, from an Americanized Greek salad with superb feta to a playful construction of roasted red and golden beets with crunchy balls of fried goat cheese, were pitch perfect. Desserts, less so.
Soon, The Harrison will inevitably have a new head chef. Its sister takeout spot, Little Harrison, will open this spring, and the restaurant will add lunch and brunch service. In its nascent form, though, the restaurant feels like it has already found its spot in the community, if still honing its identity.