Field Report:
Easter Brunch at the Harvard Club
SuSu

People believe the club to be an exclusive enclave for the elite. They aren't wrong, of course. You have to be a graduate of Harvard or Radcliffe to join. I mean, for crying out loud, Teddy Roosevelt's hunting trophies are on the walls (albeit, the result of his widow cleaning out the house upon the great man's death).


I was invited by a member to attend Easter brunch with family and friends -- but this isn't a restaurant review, for unless you are a member or a guest of one, you can't sit in the dining halls at any price. This is a field report.

It was a gathering of people (about 20 of us) who only see one another once or twice a year, but who really want to see each other more often. A table is booked, and we "dress for seated meal" (meaning the semi-formal dinner we had to attend two to four times a week with faculty). We clean up pretty nicely, actually!

The dining hall (which is Harvard Hall, the wide photo, above, with furniture moved around a lot) reminded us of the schools we all attended (ivy-covered walls, dark paneling, oil paint portraits of flinty New England types in clerical robes, etc.), and the food was good and conservative, and presented in food stations (appetizers, hot food line with flames under the chafing dishes, dessert) buffet style. The hot food was served by men in the uniform of the club, and plates were refreshed regularly. There was a frightening ice sculpture of an anthropomorphized rabbit that turned in the center of the appetizer table. There was also a children's menu where I sent some of the more picky eaters, which featured Chicken Fingers, Penne Primavera, "Freedom Fries" (ugh! The anti-French thing has gone way too far when that happens! They really should know better ...).

The menu for the adults was nothing like boarding school, thank goodness:

    APPETIZER STATION
  • Smoked Salmon with Condiments with Mini Bagels -- we heard one guy refer to it s "pink fish" to his young child. fortunately, it was orangey, not pink!
  • Jumbo Shrimp, Horseradish Sauce -- the sauce of grated horseradish and ketchup ... we realized this simple recipe is posted on Hut Cuisine!
  • Assorted Deviled Eggs: Herbs, Vegetable, Crabmeat -- rather a nice way to color your stuffed egg filling, several recipes are on Hut Cuisine, check them out!
  • Caesar Salad with Garlic Croutons -- it was good, not sure what they did ... not a real caesar, but a real one would have wilted fast
  • Pasta Salad with Spring Vegetables, Olives, Basil
  • Avocado, Red Onion, Tomato Salad with Cilantro Dressing
  • Crudités with Bleu Cheese Dreassing
  • Mixed Mesclun Salad

    HOT CHEF'S TABLE
  • Smoked Chicken and Mascarpone cheese Ravioli with Roasted Walnut Truffle Sauce
  • Piccata of Lemon Chicken with Sugar Snap Peas and Pearl Tomatoes
  • Tempura of Soft-Shell Crab with Wasabi Dip -- alas, we had superlative salt-baked crabs the night before, so these seemed greasy and heavy.
  • Hand-Carved Mediterrranean Olive Crusted Rack of Lamb with Mint Sauce -- "eat lamb early and often" our host had ordered, so we did. Completely worth it, the chef carved and you got as many as you dared ask for, served with mint jelly and gravy.
  • Steamed Asparagus with Lemon Butter -- peeled stems, very tender and yummy
  • Shallot Roasted New Potatoes
  • Saffron Risotto with Roasted Peppers and Cilantro Cake -- not bad, but weird presentation -- little patties!

    DESSERT STATION
  • Mango Ice Box Cheesecake
  • Lemon Tart with Blueberries -- ick!
  • Chocolate Fudge Cake
  • Carrot Cake
  • Easter Cake
  • Sliced Fresh Fruit -- always a great bet: melon, strawberry, raspberries, pineapple, etc.

The menu is quite "WASP-y" but it was done quite well. Our host commanded us to "eat lamb early and often" and to leave the appetizers till later. In a way, when people get together after not seeing one another, we revert to being the age we were when we used to see one another every day. To the Harvard Club's credit, they didn't tell us to grow up or leave!

The club is more than a place to get together for a holiday brunch. It also has rooms for members -- and their friends and family -- to book, and anything/everything you want/need can be obtained in or by this club. They even have a fitness center, squash courts, barber and shoeshiner, as well as a dry-cleaning pickup service; they used to have a cigar shop, too. Of course, they have leather sofas all over and tables for playing chess or just hanging out. As much as possible, this is very much like an exclusive boarding school (though the bedrooms are much, much nicer!). It's actually a pretty simple thing to pick out the guests who've never been in this environment.

The club recently underwent a major renovation, with an adjacent addition being rebuilt from the ground upward. When the scaffolding came down and the face was finally revealed, New York City actually organized a parade for the event. It's hard to explain how important places like this are important to the running of high order political, business, and financial stuff of the city and the world. And most of it is invisible; the average person will never know ...

Some people will rebel at the institution. Some will feel inadequate and uncomfortable. Yes, it's a privilege, but it's also a family atmosphere. Through war, intrigue, union strikes, changes in social order, the admission of women (didn't happen till about the mid-1980s, when the first women graduated from Harvard; previous to that time, they graduated from Radcliffe), the club remains a bastion. They change, too, but every time I step in there, I remember boarding school, college, and knowing you belong.

Images courtesy and property of the Harvard Club of New York City.


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