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This review by Richard Pawlak was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

September 30, 1998. All rights reserved.

Dining Out: Harriette’s

Little did Steve and Harriette Willis realize, when

they snatched chef Alex Cormier from the tumultuous restaurant scene

in Philadelphia, that they would be getting a talented chef, with

a very personal style, for their new Witherspoon Street bistro,

Harriette’s,

which opened quietly earlier this month. Formerly the home of

Quilty’s,

this new venture for investment banker Willis and his wife raises

the bar for Princeton dining in several ways.

While retaining much of the cosmopolitan feel of the former tenant,

Harriette’s pares down the decor to focus attention squarely on the

food. A good move. Cormier’s food is sophisticated home cooking, free

of pretentious complexity and bursting with uncomplicated flavors.

His considerable experience at some of Philly’s finest dining rooms

(the Fountain Room at the Four Seasons Hotel, Ciboulette, Cibo, and

his own place, Alex on South), has given him an obvious appreciation

for the high quality ingredients and restrained technique he displays

here. And his obvious respect for the Willis’ food acumen has given

him the confidence and comfort level to make a serious statement with

his cooking.

Dinner began with a little gift from the kitchen, mini-crabcakes

studded

with cilantro, scallions and chives atop a tangle of crispy noodles

ringed with honeyed soy sauce, crunchy bites with tang, sweet and

salt, strange and delicious. Our hostess, who turned out to be

Cormier’s

wife, Donna, recommended we sample a bottle of Highland Scottish

mineral

water with dinner; it was unusually soft and supple.

The well-chosen wine list featured a wide range of domestic and

imported

vintages and wines by the glass. This will be a short-lived luxury

at Harriette’s; the current liquor license will be moving to the

Willis’

second restaurant venture, Zanzibar, within the month, and Harriette’s

will go the BYOB route.

You may want to start with Cormier’s buttery Cream of Potato-Leek

soup, or sublimely light Chicken and Pancetta dumplings, their

wrappers

practically translucent, and topped with shavings of salty Parmesan.

Braised Salmon ($20), nestled on mashed yucca and drizzled with fresh

peas and slivers of baby onion, begs for that bottle of Riesling from

your home cabinet; roast Loin of Pork ($24), wrapped with woody,

smoked

bacon and bundled with a showy display of morels, shiitake and enoki

mushrooms, asparagus and baby carrots, and glossed with a smoky wine

reduction, has to have a glass of bouncy Pinot Noir beside it. Both

entrees were easily two of the best dishes I’ve tasted this year.

Desserts ($6.50), all house-made, include a luxurious Chocolate

Fondant,

fresh fruit tarts (Strawberry and Pear, both with lemon custard, the

night I visited), Brown Butter Crepes with Butter Rum Pecan ice cream,

a Hot Almond Financier and exotic sorbets of changing variety. Cormier

is also offering a cheese course here, something returning to

popularity

in many fine restaurants, and a telling statement about his ambitions

for the place. With its small scale (50 seats) and neighborhood bistro

feel, the young chef can afford to change the menu frequently, keep

the prices reasonable, and push the envelope creatively.

The lunch menu also dazzles and intrigues: A Lobster BLT on grilled

brioche ($15), ground Ostrich steak with a port wine sauce ($15);

Tuna a la Basque, marinated in red wine and grilled ($14); and an

Italian Roast Pork sandwich with long, hot peppers ($9) are among

the offerings — hardly the stuff of a typical Princeton lunch.

— Richard Pawlak

Harriette’s, 18 Witherspoon Street, 609-683-4771. Lunch,

Monday to Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Dinner Monday to Thursday,

5:30 to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Reservations

suggested.


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