Little Things Mean a Lot

Celebrating the spring Harvest

In keeping with the same general theme, the Harvest spring menu sports a fabulous, slightly surreal interpretation of foie gras, featuring a sizable fowl's liver from the Hudson Valley, pan-seared and served on a flaky brioche colored an unnatural blue with Curaçao, an orange liqueur, and then islandized even a little further with matchsticks of mango and a "gastrique" (a name that sent me to my food dictionaries, which revealed that it's a vinegar-and-sugar-based reduction) of passionfruit. Though it was served on a field of vaguely bitter, jagged greens, the enduring visual impression was, as my wife described it, one of dozens of "googly eyes," created by the passionfruit's seeds.

In case you haven't guessed yet, I was having an ecstatic amount of fun grazing through the various choices, with subsequent selections resulting in a few more taste symphonies of Mahleresque depth and complexity. A fine fillet of pure white halibut was coated with a powdery mixture of wasabi (Japanese horseradish) and cilantro, with a Lincoln Log cabin of sweet-potato steak fries as a foundation; crisp texture and a different layer of sweetness from a slaw of pineapple and cabbage; and a "mojo" that a midget version of Gontram (he shall call him "mini-Steve") had kidnapped from a red pepper. And in another instance of Dolly Levi-quality culinary matchmaking, the final entree in our two-evening sampler was an unusual coupling of braised oxtail and grilled scallops: four jumbo scallops over a stewy mixture of slow-cooked oxtail meat mixed with barley and flavored and decorated with slivers of green onion, with more earth flavors from a roasted-carrot emulsion and a final flash of inspiration, a pinot noir reduction (visually, a lava lamp under the whole mixture), with the subtle berry flavors of the wine complementing both the land and sea components of the dish.

Harvest not only makes its own desserts but employs its own pastry chef, Miriam Aquino, who obviously has standards equal to Gontram's own. The artistic implementation of three-sided figures mentioned earlier was a strawberry-rhubarb empanada, a playful creation employing two of the treasures of the early spring crop. The sweet-crisp combination was something like a hot fruit compote, although very intense, with a iced-cream-cheese feel and taste to the sour-cream poppyseed ice cream and further concentrated flavoring from three dried strawberries arranged at each corner of the triangular serving plate.

Chef Steve Gontram of Harvest seems to have a fundamental intuition about flavor combinations that takes the basic enjoyment of a dish and turns it into an epic romance.
Jennifer Silverberg
Chef Steve Gontram of Harvest seems to have a fundamental intuition about flavor combinations that takes the basic enjoyment of a dish and turns it into an epic romance.

Aquino also makes a not-over-sweet chocolate delight using semisweet ganache cocoa as the foundation for delicate crepes; in another dessert, a takeoff on crème brûlée, she adds Madeira-roasted bananas and serves the concoction in an oversized soupbowl rather than the traditional ramekin, which results in more of a skin than a crust from the broiling process.

And as a final nice detail, Harvest is one of the few restaurants in town to offer a cheese course, populating it with such boutique American cheeses as Maytag blue from Iowa and dry-aged jack from California, accompanied by a generous portion of dried and fresh fruits.

Like the cheese selection, the wine list is meticulously drawn from primarily smaller producers, all American, with individual varieties and wineries spotlighted (this time, zinfandel for a variety, individual red and white meritages both by the bottle and by the glass, and Babcock in Santa Barbara for a producer). Although a momentary slip seems to have caused them to include a white zinfandel on the eclectic list of 16 wines by the glass, the rest of this list is a great way to wander through multiple wines (and white-zin advocates should take the next step and try the Sinskey Pinot Noir Rose). Or, if you're nervous around wine lists, you can sample three staff-picked glasses for 8 bucks, and I can virtually guarantee you won't be disappointed.

Even the multiple varieties of fresh, warm bread were special, served with choices of various unusual spreads, including garlicked, puréed white beans, honey sage and strawberry.

A handful of restaurants in any given city readily deserve unqualified superlatives, and Harvest is one of ours.

HARVEST, 1059 S. Big Bend (Richmond Heights), 645-3522. Hours: 5:30 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 5:30-10 p.m. Fri. & Sat., 5-9 p.m. Sun. Entrees: $16.95-$23.95.

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