Photographs by Julie Bidwell
Above: Spring mushroom dumplings
Since opening six years ago, Harlan Social has embodied New American cuisine that highlights the craft food movement. With nods to local breads, cheese, beer and artisan products, owner and chef Stephen Lewandowski’s new summer menu—and outdoor sidewalk seating—now gives us more reason to keep coming back to this Harbor Point pioneer. (Lewandowski has since expanded his brand to SoNo with Harlan Publick and Harlan Haus, a German beer hall in Bridgeport.)
Inside, the high-ceiling dining room reminds me of a city loft. The industrial vibe is warmed by a tall wood shelf of wine. Cozy curved banquettes line two walls, and simple wood tables and chairs sit on wide-planked wood floors. On a recent evening, the bar room was buzzing, high-topped tables filled with friends sipping drinks and sharing dishes. That’s where the casual conviviality of Harlan Social comes into play, with the menu’s Shared Dishes.
Great news: The Harlan Chips are back, housemade crisp, golden potato chips sprinkled with roasted lardon and drizzled with blue cheese sauce. It’s the ultimate bar food, great with sweet summer drinks, like the blueberry lemonata, a blend of Absolut Citron, blueberries muddled with basil, and a splash of sprite. (If you don’t want it too sweet, top with seltzer instead.)
Baja fish tacos look festive, tempura-fried nuggets of mahi mahi embellished with colorful, and impressively minced, mango-pineapple salsa. Against a touch of heat from smoky habanero mayo, the salsa is sweet and juicy with the crunch and clean flavor of the steaming white fish. With it, I suggest drinking the equally festive Rum Swizzle, with its sunrise-like layers of color of Real McCoy, an artisan rum from Barbados, aged three years in oak bourbon casks, poured with pineapple and orange juice, bitters and grenadine. Everyone loves burrata, that round ball of soft, creamy, fresh cheese. Topping it with zesty Meyer lemon jam brings a bright note to a rich dish. It’s served on a thick slice of grilled sourdough (you can add prosciutto). I’d sip Harlan’s cucumber martini with this.
Spring mushroom dumplings were a favorite at our table. Pan-sautéed, with crisp against soft textures, they had a satisfying umami flavor. They arrived in a bowl of finely shredded napa cabbage in what Chef Randall Obach described as kimchi broth. It’s like an ode to the Korean preserved cabbage without the funk. Spicy cocktail lovers like me might pair the dumpling with a Red Tail, pepper vodka, passionfruit and Thai chili.
For hearty eaters looking to share, the house-smoked St. Louis ribs for two is served on a wood board, bearing the bourbon-glazed ribs, macaroni and cheese, thick-sliced cornbread and salad. The smoky ribs were tender; the meat pulled from the bone with a tug of the teeth, just as it’s supposed to (check out the St. Louis BBQ Society judging rules). The cornbread was lightly textured, with a spicy kick from finely minced jalapeño, and it had been lightly toasted before serving, one of those small but important touches that Harlan Social adds.
Sometimes you don’t want to share because you’ve found a dish you love. For vegetarians, sweet corn ravioli is a marvel of lightness, with such thin, delicate pasta encasing creamy ricotta filling. The bowl was filled with grilled kernels of corn, baby zucchini slices and yellow patty pan squash in a very rich, melted butter-lemon sauce that I wished had a touch more lemon.
Sea scallops, with a caramelized sear, were served over big slices of oyster mushrooms, soft yet meaty, contrasting with rather crisp asparagus. The flavors were boosted by roasted lardon and truffle vinaigrette.
Harlan Social has a good-sized selection of American and European wines, and rotating taps of craft beers, including the Harlan Honey Kölsch, made especially for the restaurant by Captain Lawrence Brewing Company. For wine, with our entrées, we chose Chateau d’Escalan Whispering Angel rosé.
For dessert, our table got back to sharing. We dipped spoons through fluffy whipped cream into dark chocolate pot de crème. It had an intriguing deep, fruity flavor of pomegranate, and was garnished with glistening, crimson pomegranate berries. Summer berry crumble also called to us, and could eat no more after that. We lingered over wine, knowing there will be a next time at Harlan Social.
121 Towne St. 203-883-8000
CUISINE: New American
Mon. 11:30 a.m.–4 p.m., 4:30–9 p.m.
Tue.–Thu. 11:30 a.m.–4 p.m., 4:30–10 p.m.
Fri. 11:30 a.m.–4 p.m., 4:30–11 p.m.
Sat. 11 a.m.–4 p.m., 4:30–11 p.m.