An Oktoberfest Dinner at Harley’s American Grille

When you hear or see the word Oktoberfest, what primarily comes to your mind? The German themed festival full food, beer, and dancing should naturally come to mind. But what about experiencing the food and culture of Oktoberfest through a different lens, inside of a restaurant, and an American themed one at that?

Earlier in mid October, I was able to attend an Oktoberfest chef’s table dinner at Harley’s American Grille in Farmingdale, NY. Walking in was a complete surprise of what to expect for German-esque or Oktober fest themed food, but leaving after indulging in a rather interesting combination of food choices left room for imagination about the other possibilities of other Oktoberfest foods.

Walking into Harley’s provides a feeling of a simple yet urban restaurant. The interior is simple yet kind of chic, just using black leather chairs and white walls, a black and white tiled floor, and black and white seating. Normally, you’d be seated at a booth or table somewhere, but the Chef’s Table Dinner provides you with a different experience akin to being seated at a very long table on Thanksgiving Day. Around twenty or more people are seated, all arranged on both sides of the table facing one another. If you thought a normal night of chatter at a restaurant on normal or peak hours was harsh, you won’t be hearing your partner or companion well at the chef table due to the amount of people close by near you chattering in dinner conversation all at once.

On the contrary, it’s amazing as to how silent everyone goes once they see the food being prepared in front of them. The chefs set up their workstation for plating and final touches behind the bar nearby, leaving an open view for patrons to watch them finish preparing and plating dishes. A bit of a culinary show is put display, as blowtorches akin to a heat lamp were used to melt cheese on pastrami, and fire used to light up the mountains of salt covering codfish before serving, reminiscent of a baked Alaska being flambéed.

Salt crusted cod on fire before being uncovered

Starting off strong was with the first dish, the pretzel slider, really set the bar a bit high for the night. Tender and salty pastrami that pulls apart easily matches well with a buttery, slightly toasted pretzel bun atop muenster cheese. The cheese together with the pastrami provides a velvety bite of melted, salty goodness, with the pretzel bun providing a soft but still noticeable crunch. A dollop of stone ground mustard is added to the side of the plate to add at your own leisure, a gesture much appreciated to add how much mustard you want to slather on your slider. The mustard provides a noticeable grainy texture and earthy level of spice, complimenting the rest of the slider perfectly. Sweet Gherkin pickles to the side offer a nice palate cleanser in the form of a crisp crunch and sweet taste. The only downside to this dish is the fact that there was just only one slider; another would have scratched the itch that the first one leaves on your tastebuds.

After finishing one course, plates are quickly gathered and the next dish approaches rather quickly, with the wait time just being mere minutes before the next dish. Next on the list was the short rib rye spätzle with the latter being a central European egg noodle. This was a pasta-based dish with a mixture of lager braised short rib and a mushroom sauce and wrinkles of mini unique shaped noodles.

There is a sort of comfort in eating a dish like this that makes you want to stay home curled up in a warm blanket and sit on the couch while you drift off to sleep. That’s the kind of feeling you get from eating something like this, satisfying, delicious, coma-inducing in a good way. The short rib and mushroom cream were salty and perfectly seasoned, having a nice touch of umami to add combined with al dente pasta makes for a delicious dish that would have you licking the plate until it’s clear of sauce. The ratio of pasta to meat and sauce seemed a tiny bit small, but it is a 5-course dinner, so portions may seem a bit tighter here as you go through each individual course. Keeping all that in mind, this was easily and personally the best part of the dish for the night.

Next, we move onto the Salt Crusted Cod, which tasted…… salty.  This is not a bad thing at all as both the natural flavor of the fish was increased thanks to the salt, and it did not retain the typical fish smell after being salt-crusted. The fish remained moist even after being removed; it was not dry nor overly salty. The salt must have increased both the tenderness and flakiness of the fish, as it effortlessly cut apart with just a fork. The Potato Pancake that supported the fish had me reminiscing of a nice oily breakfast hashbrown or potato hash. Surprisingly, neither the cod or the potato overpowers each other when eaten together and paired with the onion jam, there’s a subtle tartness and nuttiness which pairs well with the cod and potato.

It’s sad that this dish coming up would be the last entrée offered up tonight, as this is where a slight decline in the experience happens. The bratwurst stuffed pork roll may sound promising on paper, but it was a bit disappointing in execution. The bratwurst stuffed inside felt way too chewy to eat compared to the pork roll and seemed a bit under seasoned. (The Bratwurst stuffed inside also looked a bit too pink for my taste, personally.) Visually, the color on the pork roll looked a bit too grey as well.

On the contrary, the other parts of the dish managed to stick out well. The red cabbage puree was incredibly smooth and vibrant, cutting the fattiness of the pork roll, for a nice fresh taste. Its purple hue helps contrast the dull pork roll that sits upon it, as it was quite literally carrying the dish in more ways than one. The bacon potatoes were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and like the cabbage puree, helped add a nice form of color contrast to the dish. It’s a real shame this was the last entrée; had this came out earlier instead of fourth on the menu for dinner it could have been forgiven a bit as the other dishes outshine it greatly. Perhaps the issue was trying to cook both meats at once.

Luckily, the desert managed to turn that around and end on a positive note thanks to the black forest cake. A sweet cherry compote sits at the center of a moist sponge cake, with a chocolate ganache sitting at the top and below the cake. The chocolate icing atop and the ganache below makes the cake satisfyingly sweet, rich, and moist, while the compote in the provides a faint, needed, tartness. Before eating, it was revealed that it was made in house by their pastry chef, and you can certainty tell it was made with love.

The shining stars of this dinner course were easily the short rib Spätzle and pretzel slider as they came out swinging hard with flavor and lingered on my mind for hours after dinner. On the contrary, the pork roll was at the bottom of the barrel for me. It slightly lowered my feelings on the overall experience of the tasting menu especially with it being the last entrée before desert.

Despite this, the idea of a themed chef’s table dinner menu was highly enjoyable to watch and most importantly participate in via eating, as you can view the executive chef and team make finishing touches on dishes and plate them, as well as hear the explanation behind each dish. This dinner per person was $75 dollars (plus tax and gratuity), which seems somewhat reasonable for a themed dinner course, and makes for an unique night out with a partner. Overall, Harley’s  and their Oktoberfest themed menu gets 8 out of 10. While the Oktoberfest menu may not be available anymore (yes, I know I’m posting this in November), the idea of the themed Chef’s table seems to be continuing at Harley’s. On December 13th, Harley’s will be hosting a seafood themed Chef’s Table dinner course titled Feast of the Seven Fishes. Whether you decide to try a unique experience in a chef tasting menu, or just want to stop by for a regular dinner or lunch, greatly consider stopping by Harley’s at some point in your life if you are in the Farmingdale, Long Island area. There clearly seems to be some creativity and thought behind their food, and that alone should be worth a visit.

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