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Omar Niang Wants You to Feel the Harrison's Electricity

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"The money is good."Photo: Melissa Hom

Amanda Freitag’s tenure at the Harrison — where Little Owl’s Joey Campanaro and then Brian Bistrong cut their teeth before her — has yielded rave reviews from Time Out and the Times. One person who’s happy about that is Omar Niang. The Senegal native worked for Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten before coming to work for Jimmy Bradley about five years ago, but that doesn’t mean he’s been trained to spot critics. “We get Frank Bruni every night we work here,” he tells us. “Everyone is Bruni, my friend. Even if I see you for the first time, you are my Bruni!” Works for us!

The Harrison seems like a quintessential place to take your parents for something casual but nice.
Yes, we see a lot of that — young people taking their parents here. A lot of financial people. It’s very mixed.

How generously do the finance people tip?
The money is good. We work very hard and people tip you based on what you’re doing.

What menu changes have people really responded to? Has anything become a "signature" yet?
The shrimp appetizer is very popular. And we have a raw-beet salad — the beet is marinated, served with cheese, finished with pistachio. It’s amazing. And the Parmesan fritters. It’s like a beignet — a dough made with ricotta and Black Forest ham. Who would think that people could come here and enjoy those types of appetizers and have a little glass of Champagne?

You hate to see biscuits taken off a menu, though.
That was Brian Bistrong’s menu. When Amanda took over, she came with her own ideas, so we cannot have those on the menu anymore.

Do longtime diners miss stuff like that?
People are very, very comfortable with what we’re serving now. The Harrison is very well known for the French fries we used to serve, but she came up with something very new — French fries cooked with duck fat. No one can come here and dine here without ordering it.

What makes the lamb chop “English cut”?
It’s almost like a double T-bone — it’s marinated with anchovies. People say all the time, “I’d like to have a lamb, but I don’t want to have the anchovies.” I say, “No, no, you’re not going to have any fish taste with the lamb — it’s all about salt.” That makes the lamb tender.

What’s the best bet as far as ordering something off of the menu?
On Sundays, we have a special three-course menu called Sunday supper. It changes every week — you get an appetizer, entrée, and a dessert. For now, it’s only $45. And we can pair half-glasses of wine for $35.

Speaking of Sunday, why don’t you serve breakfast or lunch? Wouldn’t those outdoor tables make for a nice brunch?
It might happen one day. I have been here five years, and the only time I worked lunch was the last day of the Tribeca Film Festival.

Did De Niro come in?
I’ve never seen him. I believe we get a lot of celebrities, but I don’t know who’s who.

Is it still possible to walk in at 8 p.m. and score a two top?
It’s very difficult to even make a reservation at 8 p.m., but when people walk up to the restaurant, we always try to accommodate. We have a large bar where people can have dinner.

What’s the difference between the café and the main dining room?
[In the café], we have a bar and four tables of four. I believe they get the same service as the other part of the restaurant. The walk-ins can sit in the other side [the dining room] also. It’s the same atmosphere, I believe. It’s amazing. Feel the electricity, my friend. The Harrison!

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