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The Trouble with Harry's

In the expanding world of bar/restaurants, you have your Q Cafes -- where the food is better than it has to be -- and you have your Harry's American Bars, where it's only as good as it has to be, and sometimes worse. Harry's, a pseudo British-colonial watering hole that once held forth on the Shepherd site of the notorious Dick Head's, recently resurrected itself at the hot intersection of San Felipe and Post Oak; the question that lingers after a meal here is, "Why?"

All the dark woods, clubby booths and Raj-like trappings in the world can't compensate for atrocities such as Harry's fried calamari, so heavy and drear they might as well have been produced by Mrs. Paul. No ersatz menu biography of the alleged adventurer and bon vivant Harry, with his alleged connoisseurship of fine dining, can atone for the extreme mushiness of tiny crab fingers in a pleasant-enough garlic butter. No attempts to co-opt the macho glamour of Papa Hemingway -- or his beloved hangout, the real Harry's of Venice and Paris -- can cancel out salty sauces that smack of Kitchen Bouquet or processed bouillon.

These flubs seem perfectly okay with the older, easygoing Galleria set that uses Harry's as its own schmoozeria and after-work drinking spot. Gals of a certain age drink red wine and chat intensely, glancing up now and then to see if Mr. Right has walked in. A graying fellow in a country-club polo shirt dines solo. Two up-and-coming yups try to impress their thin, blond dates by handicapping the elections. It seems to be working.

What's not working is the kitchen, which manages to send out my steak (usually a safe bet in a guy-food place like Harry's) medium-rare-hell-bent-for-medium instead of charred rare, the way I asked for it. Its alleged red-wine sauce is thin, salty, dimensionless. The brown sauce on my friend's plate is no better -- but his pork loin stuffed with sun-dried plums is the best dish of the night: subtle and unsweet, slightly charcoaly, cooked just right.

On our plates are plain, al dente vegetables -- snow peas, green beans, carrots -- of the sort that inspire neither joy nor sorrow, although they are certain to make your doctor happy. Like Harry's itself, they're just sort of there.

"I had a really good B.L.T. at lunch here one day," claims my friend glumly. I want to believe him. I really do.

-- Alison Cook

Harry's American Bar, 1717 Post Oak, 622-0022.

Harry's:

Pork loin stuffed with sun-dried plums, $10.95.

 
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