Harpers Restaurant Century City
When restaurants started closing willy nilly at the Century City shopping mall, hopes were high that the replacements would be superior in every way. Alas, this was not to be. The prices of the sandwiches at the new deli are still $10 (I guess youre paying for the insipid Hollywood names of the gustatory creations), Gulfstream (sister restaurant to Houstons) serves up reasonable fare at unreasonable prices, and the latest new addition Harpers Italian Restaurant is a downright insult.
At first glance, Harpers appears to be a welcome addition. A smallish space, but well laid out with an airy feel and heated outdoor patio. Light and relaxed where Houstons is dark and clubby.
But as the old saying goes, never judge a book by its cover. Okay, granted we werent wearing Armani and Gaultier, but we didnt look like rag pickers either. Usually during the first month of a new restaurants operation, anyone with a wallet is more than welcome, so we werent expecting to be treated like lepers. The first place we were offered was directly in the line of traffic by the front door at a tiny table that couldnt have been any bigger than a bistro table. When we declined, they offered us a table outside. As it was a bit chilly, I asked for a table well inside the restaurant, out of the draft. But the patio is well heated, the host assured us. Inside, we had to insist. It took him a full minute to decide where to stick us (even though the restaurant was only ¼ full). There were plenty of empty booths for two, but he led us to another tiny table near the kitchen. We decided not to press the issue and sat.
We should have taken the hint and left, but no! Id just been paid and this was a new restaurant and by thunder I was going to have a go or die trying!
Then came the menu. How many restaurants have you been to that claim to be full-out Italian that offer quesadillas in the appetizer section (just under beef carpaccio). Oh, and lets not forget the special that exquisite Italian delicacy, seared ahi tuna! Oooh! Never had that before!
The pricing was also off kilter. New York steak was $27 (Nick & Stephs dry aged isnt that high), a steak sandwich was $18 (that better be Kobe beef, buddy), a veal chop was $20 and the swordfish was at Maine lobster prices. After casting many a dubious glance at one another, my dining partner settled on a calzone while I selected the fettuccini with mixed seafood mussels, clams, shrimp, scallop and squid. Two simple and usually predictable dishes (i.e., edible). Right?
The calzone was pasty and undercooked throughout, with burnt spots dotting the exterior. The filling appeared to consist of about a tablespoon each of ricotta cheese, thin tomato sauce and chopped ham. It took my dining partner at least six bites before he found any filling at all. The marinara dipping sauce that accompanied the dish had the taste and texture of the tin it had apparently been poured from.
My dish was no better. The pasta was soggy and overcooked as were the shellfish and there were no shrimp or squid in evidence. The mussels looked like theyd been harvested from the Santa Monica Pier and two were obviously dead long before theyd ever seen a cooking pot. The scallops were neither diver nor bay and had all the flavor and texture of an old shoe. And last and least, the sauce is best and most succinctly described as red water.
The only thing this place has going for it is an eager if under trained wait staff.
As soon as the bill was paid, we bolted for Houstons and had dinner.
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