New Restaurant Harvist Aims to Continue Harlem's Culinary Growth

New Restaurant Harvist Aims to Continue Harlem's Culinary Growth
Thursday, January 31, 2013

By Jeff Mays, DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HARLEM — As a kid growing up on Long Island, Cassandra Quinlan-Ashford relished Sundays, when she would come to Harlem with her minister parents. After church they'd hit now-shuttered local restaurants familiar to longtime Harlemites such as Pan Pan, Wells and even an eatery hidden in a brownstone.

"You'd walk inside and there was this whole other world. The owner would be cooking fried chicken and potato salad. There'd be some guys playing dominoes and some women talking in the back," said Quinlan-Ashford. "I want to bring some of that back to Harlem."

As the executive chef of Harvist, a new restaurant that is part of My Image Studios LLC (MIST), a $21 million performance space at 40 West 116th St. between Lenox and Fifth avenues, Quinlan-Ashford said her first menu reflects that old-Harlem vibe.

"The menus are a reinterpretation of my Southern background mixed with my American cuisine training," said Quinlan-Ashford who has worked at Judson Grill, Aquavit and Tabla.

Quinlan-Ashford calls it "rustic American with a low-country influence."

Take the pork osso buco for example. The pork shank is braised with beer and chicken and veal stock. Underneath is a layer of black-eyed peas with mushrooms and bacon topped with pear salsa made with cilantro and red onions.

Shrimp and grits is another soul-food classic. Quinlan-Ashford makes hers with prawns with the head on, served with slab bacon soaked in buttermilk and fried. The millet grits are straight from North Carolina.

"We make sexy, creamy grits," Quinlan-Ashford said.

After a couple of nights of trial runs, Harvist opens to the public Thursday night.

"This will be one of the top-flight restaurants in Harlem," said Roland Laird, MIST's chief executive officer.

On a busy day before a family and friends dinner, Quinlan-Ashford, in her first executive chef position, has been at the restaurant since early morning.

The line chefs snap to attention when she enters the kitchen. One is cutting greens, the butcher is preparing the pork shank for the osso buco. Quinlan-Ashford is trying to get a maintenance worker to fix a clock in the kitchen.

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