You might want to bring binoculars to Haven, which crouches beside the Hudson River on Edgewater’s burgeoning Gold Coast of high-rises and shopping centers. From its glass-walled dining room and outdoor patio, Haven offers panoramic views of Manhattan’s Upper West Side and the George Washington Bridge. Yes, the view is enticing, but executive chef Peter Larsen’s food more than holds your attention.
Raised in Copenhagen, Larsen “saw a lot of the world before I was 11,” he told me in a phone call after my visits. His father, a pathologist and expert on autopsies, lectured at universities around the world and often brought his family along. Larsen graduated from culinary school in Denmark, but only after a somewhat obligatory stint in art school. His father’s family includes a long line of painters, culminating in the respected late-19th-century Danish artist Georg Seligmann, Larsen’s great-great-grandfather.
“Art school was too pretentious for me,” he said. “I found out that medium really wasn’t me. While I was in art school, I worked at a bar and apprenticed at one of the best restaurants in Denmark. I loved the nightlife and forgot all about painting.”
Still, you find art as well as science in Larsen’s food. At 44, he has cooked in Copenhagen, Ireland, San Francisco, Las Vegas (Nobu) and Manhattan (Geoffrey Zakarian’s Town and Terrance Brennan’s Artisanal). Larsen lives in Bergen County with his wife, who grew up there, and their two daughters. Last year, he joined 3Forty Grill in Hoboken as executive chef. Soon after, its owners, Jerry Maher and Kerri Ann Sweeten, offered him the same position at the new restaurant they were about to open in Edgewater.
Opening Haven last October cut Larsen’s commute by at least a third. What makes the drive worthwhile for people coming from what co-owner Maher calls “inland”—Edgewater is a sliver on the river with just a few access points—is the fun Larsen and his crew are having in the kitchen.
“I’ve done almost everything,” Larsen says, “and Haven is a mix of what I like to do: French, Modern American, Danish and a bit of California cuisine. I used to do [molecular] El Bulli stuff, but who wants to eat that way anymore? I try to make an accessible menu that is not too weird.”
Haven has a split personality. Its hip, lively bar scene has a thumping soundtrack that carries over, somewhat subdued, to the stylish, modern dining room, where serious food keeps the view from monopolizing attention.
Fried Korean chicken salad sounds like it would appall devotees of reality star Bethenny Frankel’s Skinnygirl diet (her Skinnygirl cocktails are on the drinks menu). Bell & Evans chicken breast is cooked sous vide, cubed, sprinkled with cornstarch and quick fried, then tossed in Korean fermented chili paste gentled with mirin and soy sauce. Sprinkled with sesame seeds, it’s served with bean sprouts, snow-pea leaves, scallions, cilantro, watermelon radish, cucumber and peanuts. Surprise, girls! It’s light and delicious.
Larsen adds avocado to tuna tartare for a rewarding starter dressed in a spicy yuzu vinaigrette with crispy bits of flash-fried, sweet red seaweed from Canada. Another starter, pan-seared scallops, sidesteps cliché with chunks of Spanish chorizo, smoked paprika oil and a shimmering globe of potato foam. A salsa verde comes on the side. Octopus fricassee, cooked sous vide six hours, then pan seared, was supremely tender but short on flavor, an absence the accompanying bacon-turnip-potato ragù and lemongrass broth could not conceal.
Prep is the soul of every kitchen. A lot of detail work goes into achieving focused, harmonious ends. Or, as Larsen put it, “Simple food is not really that simple.” Take, for example, Larsen’s sensuous butternut-squash ravioli. The filling includes mascarpone, parmesan and a touch of hazelnut oil. The butter sauce is flavored with sage. On its way to the table, the dish receives a bon-voyage shower of toasted pumpkin seeds, crushed amaretto cookies and toasted hazelnuts.
“I like Chilean sea bass,” Larsen told me. “It’s a strong fish from South America’s cold Humboldt Current, and it stands up to a lot.” He submerges the fillets for two to three days in a marinade of miso, sugar, mirin and sake, which cures and firms the flesh. After a quick pan sear, he completes this winning dish with fried shiitakes, fat udon noodles, a smoked bacon-dashi broth and a garnish of candied kombu seaweed. Seafood risotto, though made with coveted riso venere black rice from Italy, lacked personality, and its topping of whole shrimp were woefully overcooked.
Prime Angus beef short ribs from Creekstone Farms in Kansas—“lovingly braised for eight hours,” Larsen said—are so popular he serves them two ways, both excellent. Choose from a fist-sized hunk on a barley stew rife with mushrooms, truffles and sunchoke chips; or shredded into a ragù with San Marzano tomatoes over house-made pappardelle tossed at the last second with an orange-rosemary gremolata.
Larsen’s apple cider-brined pork tenderloin was a triumph of soulful, harmonious flavors—porky, smoky, tangy and bittersweet. It was served cassoulet-style with white coco beans (a smaller variety of Navy beans) and andouille sausage from Salumeria Biellese in Hackensack. A sweet-and-sour glaze (made from Louisiana blackstrap molasses, Dijon mustard and red-wine vinegar and soy) completed the seduction.
The attention to detail carries through to Larsen’s desserts. His salted caramel ice cream sundae starts with house-made caramel ice cream flecked with grains of fleur de sel. Butterscotch is streaked inside the glass, and the sundae is layered with chocolate granola made in house from peanuts, hazelnuts, crunchy cocoa nibs, cocoa powder and bits of crisped pastry crust. A frothy crown of malt foam provides the final flourish.
The sundae—salty, sweet, crunchy, sticky, with a chorus of flavors demanding attention—is intense, even demanding. You have to be up for it. I was. Yet his best finale, to my taste, is apple pie à la mode. It’s baked in a tarte shell under two kinds of crunchy oat streusel. It picks up vanilla ice cream and maple syrup gelée on its way out the kitchen door. “My parents lived in Philadelphia before I was born—it’s basically my mother’s recipe,” Larsen said. “I grew up on it. It’s a little homage to my mom. I can’t take the credit.” He can for just about everything else that works at Haven.Click here to leave a comment