Not every wonderful meal is prepared by a name-brand chef.
I write about restaurants and food for a living and am often invited to experience restaurants’ food and ambiance. Many of these restaurants, like San Francisco’s Angler and Napa’s Bear, are pushing the boundaries of flavor and texture. Others are an opportunity to dive into a brand’s experiential marketing, as I did at San Francisco’s RH Palm Court.
But I don’t want every meal I eat to be a thrill ride or an experiential zigzag. Sometimes, a great meal is one that meets you where you are that day or serves a perfect martini or a meal you remember for a server who went out of their way for your table in some small but meaningful way. These meals’ delights are more comfortable than sensorial, the delight of the familiar, if you will. Harris’ Restaurant continues its resounding success story (it’s going on 40 years in the business) because it is a restaurant that knows what it is: a place for well-executed aged beef in a comfortable yet refined setting.
In days of yore, the dark maroon, tufted banquettes, swaying palms and vested, bow-tied servers would commit a writer to using words like “clubby” and “well-heeled.” I prefer something more elegant to describe a room where the interior is designed to invite connection – not shouting matches – the soft murmur of conversations and the strains of live music from the adjoining piano bar washes over the room in a gentle soundscape that even the most effortless Spotify channel cannot replicate. Inviting. Relaxed. Welcoming.
Especially welcoming. After our Covid years nearly did away with dining and its built-in elements of table side service, Harris’ is doubling down on making their steakhouse experience a memorable one, due, in no small part, to its well-trained staff. Attired in formalwear, staff greets you at the door and guides you to a table napped in pristine linen, handing you off by name to the server who arrives to inquire about your comfort. Though busy, our server does not rush our drink order, answering questions about ingredients and dishes that amplify each drink’s attributes. Steak cuts are explained.
What to Drink
You cannot go wrong with a Single Barrel Manhattan and The Bee’s Knees goes the extra mile for bees by supporting Barr Hill Gin, a distillate finished with honey, and infused with honey from the same farm as the gin. I went for the Vieux Carré which blends rye whiskey and brandy with Benedictine with notes of baking spices, honey and orange peel. The half barrel the carafe is served in is a nice touch. During our appetizers, a suited sommelier arrived to discuss my love of anything from Saint Emilion (Bordeaux Right Bank) and Croze Hermitage (Northern Rhone). We landed on a medium-bodied 2018 Grand Cru Saint Emilion Pavillon Taillefer from Chateau Vieux Taillefer, a medium-bodied red that worked well with the steak.
What to Eat
Though I was tempted by the seared and sliced Japanese A5 Wagyu ribeye appetizer, the sensible side of my brain prevailed and a half dozen raw oysters, served with mignonette, cocktail sauce and a lemon wedge, was an able companion for the Vieux Carré.
For dinner, however, it had to be steak. I was here for steak. An argument can be made for seafood at almost every steakhouse and, if I was pescatarian, I would indulge in the salmon filet or whole Maine lobster. I’m a petite filet mignon, medium rare type – I want the interior cool and the jus to flavor the potato. See for yourself the hard sear yet nearly bloody inside.
I typically do not indulge in steakhouse sauces but a brandy, cream and peppercorn sauce or a demi-glace infused with Cognac and shallots would be right at home alongside the meat. The veggies were gently steamed. A baked potato is accompanied by sour cream and chives.
Baked Alaska for dessert? Yep, you can get it here and it feels like a just-right way to end a meal that feels just right.
Well-executed steak and traditional dishes like an iceberg wedge and veal sweetbreads are why you came to Harris’ Restaurant, right? Or maybe it is the cool interiors, including a hopping piano bar. It all feels just right at a time when so much feels turned upside-down.
2100 Van Ness, San Francisco, CA