I was sorry to see Phat Thai go, but I respected Mark Fischer’s insistence to Westword that closure was preferable to a P.F. Chang’s-style makeover. With the notable exception of Ondo’s, Cherry Creek just doesn’t do food that hasn’t been scrubbed clean of most of its original influences.
The food at its successor, Harman’s eat & drink, is therefore understandably clean. Though the menu does have its offhand foreign accents—Mediterranean, Latin, Asian—they’re added in service of a broadly accessible culinary lexicon.
With a few quirky exceptions, that is. Though the combinations of chocolate & bacon, salt & caramel have gone mainstream, most permutations of savory & sweet continue to strike most Americans as strange. Not so the denizens of any region that was ever touched, directly or indirectly, by Moorish culture, including the Sicilians—think melanzane al cioccolato—& for that matter the Brits with their mincemeat pie; compare to meat dishes that incorporate fruit & baking spices, like Moroccan tagines & bastilla. But Harman’s dessert of cake-batter ice cream drizzled in rum caramel; topped with cinnamon-sugar-sprinkled, deep-fried pork rinds; & bathed in a compote of blueberries & chunks of golden-skinned pork belly—whew—is its own kind of triumph: cool & soft, warm & crunchy, the pork fat melting into the ice cream (or vice versa) amid bursts of fresh fruit. Way stimulating.
Pork rinds are also to be found among the appetizers, sprinkled in truffle oil & grana padano. Pal @Mantonat, who said he has “truffle blindness,” couldn’t really detect its funk; A & I certainly could, & indeed the suggestion of musk on pigskin was strong enough that a little went a long way for me, though it was balanced by impressive weightlessness & near-greaselessness.
Also greaseless, with vibrantly herbaceous, moist interiors, were the pea falafel balls with a dip that walked the line between the tzatziki it’s advertised as & aioli, only subtly tangy in its richness.
As for entrées, for all its emphasis on familiarity, the kitchen sure threw me with an Italian dish I’d never heard of: cianfotta. Upon looking it up, I—who does, after all, pride herself on knowing quite a lot about Italy’s regional cuisines—was embarrassed to discover it’s not terribly obscure; heck, Eater Denver’s Andra Zeppelin offered her own recipe for it a couple years ago. In any case, the Campagnan vegetable mélange is often, reasonably enough, compared to Provençal ratatouille; Harman’s version follows the model in that, rather than melded to a stew, the vegetables are cooked (perhaps, à la Jacques Pépin, individually) to stand out each in its turn: eggplant, crisp green beans, tomatoes, carrots, celery, onion, mushrooms so meaty I thought they were shreds of chicken at first, & so on. Suspended in a marvelously light parmesan brodo, they’re barely seasoned beyond the generous dollop of pesto on top—which does all the work of salt & pepper once it’s stirred in.
I think I was even fonder of the roasted-vegetable crostini, however. Two thin, oblong slices of grilled bread were smeared with housemade ricotta & topped with a more finely chopped, balsamic-drizzled mixture of seasonal veggies that, if not doused in wine, sure tasted like it. There were cubes of eggplant & onion & peppers, of course, & wedges of something that had 3 of us—2 of us food writers—absolutely flummoxed. It was tenderly rooty, slightly tart—some sort of squash we couldn’t place? I literally put a piece in the hand of our server Chip & asked if he wouldn’t mind finding out. (I mean, I asked him first, I didn’t just suddenly smash food in his palm.) He came back with the supposed answer: radish. I’m still not convinced. Anyway, it was all tucked beneath a mound of vinaigrette-dressed greens to highly refreshing effect.
There were 3 dishes I didn’t try over the course of my 1st 2 meals here, but not because they didn’t appeal. Mantonat’s porchetta over stone-ground grits with fennel salad & fennel agrodolce (literally “sweet-sour”) looked plenty elegant (though to his mind, a bit more seasoning would’ve brought out the flavor of the meat better).
Even sans potato bun, the burger, smothered in white cheddar & caramelized onions, beckoned. I did swipe a sweet-potato fry, & yep, it was as good as sweet-potato fries generally are.
And for a small salad, my mom got a fair heap of kale Caesar.
So there you have it: Harman’s is aiming to please, not challenge, & thus far it’s working. (You still want Thai, head to Aurora.)