With local and organic foods bursting into our consciousness, Henry’s restaurant is moving down the right path. Owner Henry Rinehart knew that with 10 years in business, it was time to revamp the menu and start featuring regional fare. First step in the process: hiring Mark Barrett, a chef who trained with Mario Batali and studied in Italy.
Now, Henry’s menu features American bistro food with an Italian flair. For the past year, Barrett has worked hard to perfect dishes that are now restaurant staples. The best and most innovative—yet simplest—item on the menu is what the chef refers to as the “girl salad,” a shredded kale salad ($10). Sound too green? Not at all. Barrett soaks the kale so it loses a bit of its stiffness, then he lightly coats it with a maple-tinged vinaigrette and tosses it with endive, fruit (grapes in this case), a hard cheese like parmesan and nuts. The resulting salad was far from boring, and had enough richness thanks to the nuts and cheese to make it feel like more then just basic greens.
Of course, we didn’t go to Henry’s on a recent Monday night just for the salad. In honor of the restaurant’s 10th anniversary, Rinehart started a new, weekly special: spaghetti with buoyant and savory baked ricotta meatballs; a gently dressed, salty Caesar salad; and warm, gooey chocolate cake—all for $19. And the first Monday of the month features a bevy of young, talented singers who perform at 10 p.m. in “Sing For Your Supper.”
“It’s an opportunity to give a great room and warm welcome to the musicians in our community,” Rinehart said, “to see the talent we have living on the Upper West Side.”
Hosted by regular Steven Blier, who plays piano, the young singers ranged from students to New York City Opera performers. They did a fun combination of saucy songs by the likes of Cole Porter and Gershwin. As opera singer Liza Forrester’s clear voice busted out a ditty in French, the packed restaurant, and most of the staff, were transfixed. Something about Henry’s wide space, not-too-high ceilings and warm atmosphere made it an ideal place to listen to cabaret style music.
But even when you are not there for
dinner and music, the space feels comforting and inviting. The tables are covered with checkered cloths, waiters proved friendly and reliable, and the large, bright posters of Herman Miller’s “Summer Picnic” series bring a whimsical feel to the upscale dining room. As we ate, the owner made his rounds to the tables, hugging one regular and shaking the hand of another. Rinehart’s warmth is only part of why Henry’s is such a popular neighborhood staple. The owners have also committed themselves to catering to the community, starting with hosting the first “Green Market Chef Tasting and Tour” at the Columbia farmer’s market. At the last tour, Rinehart and Barrett took a group of people to the vendors and showed them how they, as professionals, shopped. Then they went back to the restaurant and cooked a feast with the ingredients.
From staples like the melty duck confit spring roll ($9) with a thick, savory hoisin sauce, the basket of freshly prepared, lightly fried calamari ($10), or the classic sirloin burger ($10), it’s not difficult to have a good meal here.
In addition to the kale salad, another dish that really stood out was the red wine braised lamb shank ($25). We ignored the small pile of spinach under the meat and concentrated on each forkful of juicy, molassesy chunks of tender lamb. The dish comes with a side of wild mushroom risotto that felt a little too sticky and had large, barely cooked slices of fungi mashed in, so we skipped the rest of that and finished the delicious meat.
Of course, the night couldn’t be complete without dessert. The warm chocolate cake ($8) that came with Monday’s special was perfectly good, though nothing made it stand out from other molten cakes we have had. The lemon tart ($8), however, tasted divine. The top came caramelized like a crème brûlée, but with a bright yellow, smooth, sweet and sour curd teasing our tongue. By the end of our meal we felt culturally stimulated, full and happy. As we took our coats from the convenient hooks that line the walls by the tables, we left with a sense that Henry’s will always be a place where you can hang your hat.
(at 105th Street)
Entrées: $14 to $27
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