Local food, hot shot Chef Stephen Lewandowski from NYC, swanky new space in the new Harbor Point area, ginormous bar, craft beers–from the day we heard about Harlan Social it seemed to have exactly what it takes to be the go-to, happening new spot in Stamford. And, it was for that exact reason that we had to pounce on opening week to check it out for ourselves and see if it was the real deal.
We always try not to let the hype of a newly anticipated restaurant give us inflated expectations, so we walked in with open minds. The experience started off wonderfully. The host & hostesses greeted us with big smiles and lead us immediately to our seats. The space overall was nice: very large, modern, comfortable and warmly decorated. There were plenty of tables, some outside, and a huge, hip looking bar. Within minutes our waitress came over and asked us what we’d like to drink. Unfortunately, from this point forward everything sort of went downhill…
Being huge supporters of Half Full Brewery in Stamford we heard they made a shipment to Harlan Social the day before, so of course we had to order it. The waitress looked at us as if we ordered in a foreign language. But this look was not one of confusion, but rather one of disgust and annoyance as we tried to explain to her what it was and what we had heard. Finally, we just nicely asked her to check with her manager if it was available yet. She huffed away and came back 10 minutes later asking us what we wanted to eat. We asked what she found out about Half Full, and it became quickly apparent that she had forgotten to ask, covering it up with an abrupt, “Yeah we don’t carry that.” Not wanting to push, we ordered different drinks and placed our food order.
We started off with some small plates which we asked to be brought out one at a time, but unfortunately they came out all at once:
Caramelized Onion Pierogies
The pierogies themselves were nicely crisped on the outside and fluffy on the inside. They came on top of a thick slathering of aoili that we can only liken to tartar sauce with a salty, relishy, olivey, capery flavor. It just didn’t seem to work with the pierogies. When we asked the manager walking by what the sauce was, he said he didn’t know but thought it was a Romesco before abruptly walking away saying he’ll find out. It was definitely not a Romesco which is red in color, made with tomatoes, red peppers, almonds, and more. And, he never found out for us either. Then we asked the waitress and she said she didn’t know but thought it had truffle in it. She made no offer to find out. Oh, and speaking of truffle, the mushrooms that came on the dish…yeah…they had dirt all over them, creating a very unpleasant crunch. Not a great start.
Chilled Organic Tomato Soup with Whipped Burrata
BEST dish, by far. Actually quite fantastic. The soup had just the right amount of acidity balanced with some basil and a spicy kick from red pepper. And the burrata, WOW, melt in your mouth. Highlight of the night.
Roasted Baby Beets Salad with Honey Crisp Apples, Almonds and Sherry Vinaigrette
A light and refreshing salad, but lacking in flavor beyond that of the beets and apples. Needed some oomph like goat cheese or more almonds. So, so.
Then onto the main dish and side dish:
We’re big fans of small plates…as long as they are clearly called small plates and priced accordingly. While there was enough for us given all the dishes we ordered, this main dish was definitely sized as a small plate portion and priced (at $26) at a main dish price. The meat was cooked nicely and flaked off with a slight tug. The sauce was earthy with a nice bite from the onion. The puree was creamy and a good compliment to the meat, but we didn’t really taste the parmesan.
The crumbs were nice and crispy on top, the pasta cooked al dente, the cheese not too thick and not too oily. They went pretty light on the cheese though, causing this to be kind of light for a mac and cheese. Definitely not the kind of mac and cheese your mom made, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just different.
And lastly, the obligatory desserts:
We were kind of full, and that’s a good thing because this dessert was TINY! We’ve never seen a smaller panna cotta before. The flavor was fruity and refreshing, while the texture was airy.
Warm Cinnamon Donuts with Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce
We weren’t fans of this dish at all. Maybe we’re spoiled from the amazing donuts at Olio, but these were just very dry and hollowed out. They also came out luke warm. Disappointing.
As you probably can see, we found the food to be generally decent overall, with some definite highlights (the chilled tomato soup) and some definite lowlights (the cinnamon donuts and dirty mushrooms), and the rest somewhere in between. It definitely didn’t live up to what we expected from such an experienced chef, but it wasn’t bad either. Also, the main entrees should be more accurately labeled (and priced) to reflect their smaller portion size.
We always try to tread lightly on restaurants in their first few weeks of opening because there are always a ton of kinks to work out and it’s hard work for them. If the service is slow, we excuse it. If the food is cold, we ignore it. All that aside, we were really turned off by the service. We left feeling as though our waitress could care less and the manager would rather spend time chatting with large groups of tables ordering bottles of fine wine than tell us what the sauce was in a dish. The service wasn’t outright rude, but it was most definitely not warm and friendly.
We might try Harlan Social again in the future to be sure this wasn’t a fluke experience, but we’re definitely going to wait a while. We’re just not that excited to return with many better (and cheaper) options in Stamford alone, let alone the rest of Fairfield County.
Noms: 3 (Will need to revisit)
Address: 121 Towne Street (next to Fairway Market)
Hours: Lunch: 11:30am / Dinner: 5:30pm / Saturday & Sunday Brunch: 11:00am / Closed Mondays Thru Labor Day