A People-Watching Place

The prices are high, but the food is very good
Harlow is a pop-up, nightclubby establishment that has a good but expensive menu and lots of tight white pants. Morgan McGivern

Harlow East
1 Long Wharf
Sag Harbor
631-725-5858
Tuesday to Sunday
Noon-Midnight


Harlow East is a pop-up restaurant on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor, where B. Smith’s resided for many years. It is a huge space, close to 400 seats indoors and out.

While B. Smith’s was a cheery and attractive restaurant, Harlow is much sleeker and prettier. It is simply white and blue, with some very cool artwork worth paying attention to. There are mirrors with 3D-looking koi swimming across them. A golden shark emerges from a wall, and there are portholes with soothing water videos playing inside. Behind the hostess stand is a huge rectangular flower arrangement of yellow and white chrysanthemums. This sits on a case filled entirely with boxes of Barnum’s Animal Crackers. No need to compete with the water and yacht view, but it’s all totes adorbs.

On our first visit, early on a Friday night, we were asked if we had a reservation. No, we did not. “Sorry, we are closed for a private party, but you can have some bar snacks outside,” said the lovely hostess. She was wearing a bouclé skirt with a cream top with many adornments. If Babe Paley had been edgy and hip, this is what she might have worn. Her stilettos required a Lipizzaner-like gait as she negotiated the outdoor deck surface. (Lipizzaners are those beautiful white Austrian horses that perform the haute ecole/ movements of classical dressage, kind of a fancy-prancy step. Quite stunning with horses, awkward on a girl at a marina.) More on the staff uniforms later.

We spent $100 that evening on two glasses of wine, three minuscule fish tacos, and some shishito peppers. Ouch!

The prices are high, but the food is very good. The little fish tacos were $19. The fish (striped bass or halibut) was plenty crispy and the slaw nicely spiced. The shishitos, here called pimientos de Padron, were well grilled, topped with a crunchy sprinkle of Maldon sea salt, and served with a little dish of excellent romesco sauce.

Our waiter, actually one of the bartenders, may have taken pity on us, for he comped us an order of their cauliflower side dish. This dish is so delicious I ordered it again on our next visit. The cauliflower florets are fried, then coated in a sauce reminiscent of General Tso’s chicken, sweet and spicy and orange. The cauliflower stays chewy-crunchy, so I’m guessing there is some rice flour or cornstarch involved in the batter. It is then topped with toasted sesame seeds and cilantro.

As the evening wore on we noticed that no one had shown up yet for the “private party” that was to have begun an hour earlier. So we wandered about the massive space, chatted with the D.J., and checked out the racks of clothes on display in the back. We felt so naughty overstaying our welcome.

Our second visit was for lunch. I was foolishly hoping that the prices might be a tad lower. Alas and alack, they were not.

We began with a tartine with heirloom tomatoes, and the baby octopus salad. A tartine is an open-faced sandwich; these were more like pizzettes. They were excellent. The charred, naan-like bread had a thin layer of fromage blanc, some roasted corn kernels, and cherry tomatoes with basil. This dish was prettily presented on a long wooden board, with a pea-shoot salad on the side. The tender pea shoots were, mercifully, sliced into manageable bites, and were dressed in a delicious lemony vinaigrette.

When we ordered the baby octopus salad our waiter asked if we had ever eaten it before. “Do you mean here at Harlow, or do you mean have we ever eaten octopus before?” I asked back. “Yes,” he replied. He explained that it was a “textural thing,” perhaps not to our liking. I got the impression this meant that this dish had been sent back to the kitchen a few times. Upon trying it, I could see why. The baby octopus tentacles had been cooked beyond chewy little rubber-band stage to the big, thick, eww, kind of rubber bands that hold lobster claws together stage. The warm fingerling potatoes and jalapeno vinaigrette served with them were tasty, though.

For entrees we ordered the branzino and lobster mac’n’cheese, and the aforementioned, awesomely addictive cauliflower. The branzino was beautifully prepared — light, fresh, lemony, and perfectly cooked. It was served with a topping of more pea-tendril salad, microgreens, and frizzled hearts of palm. The hearts of palm were a wonderful touch, crisp with a hint of sweet artichoke flavor. The lobster mac’n’cheese was also perfectly executed. The campanelle pasta (“little bells” or “bellflower” in Italian) was the perfect shape to hold the creamy sauce. There was a generous amount of lobster in the dish, and it was tender, not overcooked. We detected a hint of truffle oil or truffle salt, which could have been overkill but it worked.

The service at Harlow is okay to good, and the hostesses are charming and pretty. This is, for sure, a people-watching place, and the employees (actually I should say specifically the young ladies) working here are part of the scenery. The gents wear Tommy Hilfigeresque white pants, red belts, and blue shirts. Perhaps you’ve seen Jimmy Fallon’s amusing little skit/song “Tight White Pants” in which he claims to be the only person in town wearing tight white pants? Well, he would find some stiff competition here at Harlow. Some of the gals wear little blue rompers, others wear St. Tropez mini­dresses in the classic blue and white stripes. We observed quite a few nymphets attempting a discreet tug on their spandexed bottoms.

The blips in our service were being charged for an extra dessert and having our doggie bag of leftover lobster mac’n’cheese thrown away. To compensate they gave us a half-order to take home; that’s a tad tacky. 

The menu at Harlow is very short. Tapas, tartines, and salads are $15 to $29, raw bar items are $4 up to $160 for the seafood plateau, entrees are $29 to $49, sides are $12, desserts are $10. The wine list is expensive.

The desserts are made in-house. We tried two of them, the guava cheesecake mousse and kiwi-strawberry shortcake. They were quite beautiful in a nouvelle-cuisine, go-go ’80s kind of way. Rather ornate, architectural, and teensy. The guava cheesecake was a very small white square with another small square of guava paste embedded in one corner. The cheesecake mousse was on a paper-thin slice of cakey-biscuit; a petite scoop of guava sorbet accompanied it. I love guava, and this was a delicious combination of flavors.

The kiwi-strawberry shortcake wasn’t really a shortcake. It was a small white chocolate dome with a creamy interior on a thin slice of lemon sponge cake. The amount of strawberry slices within the dessert and garnishing the plate was, oh, about one large strawberry — maybe two tablespoons of fruit total. The menu said this was paired with an orange frozen yogurt, but it tasted more like a goat cheese or creme fraiche ice cream, just a bit creamy and tangy, not citrussy.

Harlow appears to be yet another nightclubby establishment plopped down for the season, overpriced for small portions, geared toward a younger, wealthy clientele. It is that, but it is also more. The menu is creative and the food mostly delicious.


Comments

Laura about covered it in the last couple of paragraphs.