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Harry's Bar & American Grill -- Management makes the difference

Rick Janetta leaned across the table and told me confidentially, "We have a lot of new ideas on our drawing board to really build up this business." He began to elaborate on the plans that he and his co-manager, Brian Sussman, are now putting into action.

Janetta and Sussman manage Harry's Bar & American Grill, a popular restaurant located in the heart of University Towne Center, on the ground floor of the Northern Trust Building. The restaurant is named after the eateries in Paris and Venice that were made famous by Ernest Hemingway. He not only ate and drank there (Hemingway was a legendary drinker), but he also immortalized the restaurants in his fiction.

Dining at Harry's feels good. The ambiance is extraordinarily warm and comfortable. Booths along the perimeter of the dining area are made of amazingly soft, luxurious leather. Diners may experience a sense of richness and elegance. The interior of the restaurant is luxuriously framed in wood but full of charming lighting that casts soft flattering glows onto the diners. Wide wood arches separate sections of the dining room. The floor is a sumptuous hardwood.

An enclosed patio, complete with fireplace, provides the sense of outdoor dining while fully protected from the weather. The decorative wood bar runs practically the entire length of the room, stocked with a collection of spirits that would have inspired Hemingway. The patio looks out onto a beautiful small lake, with bubbling waterfall. Enchanting modern sculpture glows at night over the waters.

Janetta and Sussman really have their hearts in their jobs. I cannot recall a time when at least one of them was not on the premises working. During service hours, they are everywhere, directing operations, helping staff and visiting with guests to make sure everything is satisfactory. Their efforts are paying off. The room was full during my visit.

"Our lunchtime is even busier," Janetta said. "Guests pour out of the nearby offices. Reservations for lunch have become absolutely necessary. This is the new place for 'power lunch' with the movers and shakers of the investment brokerage companies and pharmaceutical organizations in the neighborhood."

The lunch menu features salads and a variety of sandwiches. There is a terrific chicken salad (Insalata Tiepida di Pollo), warm chicken on a bed of mushrooms, spinach, eggs and bacon along with other good stuff. Grilled salmon (Paillard di Salmone) is served over baby greens, with avocado and tomato. Hamburger Harry's is a traditional large hamburger that comes with tasty shoestring potatoes.

"We also plan to open for breakfast, but we won't have a breakfast menu," Janetta continued. "We'd like to offer breakfast to many of the investment houses who come in early to call the East Coast, but we'll create special breakfast to meet their group requests."

"UTC is growing," Janetta said. "Apartments and condos are being built quickly. We'd like to offer a special welcoming package to people moving in to the area."

Janetta pointed to the menu and said, "We want to add new dishes to our menu. Our chef has put together some exciting ideas for seasonal items."

Harry's Bar & American Grill is part of the Spectrum Foods chain of unique themed upscale restaurants. When Spectrum took the location over, it undertook an extensive renovation of the interior, to create a warm, romantic ambiance. But, like with many big corporate environments, ideas take time to develop.

My dinner was superb. I began with Mozzarella alla Caprese, thick slices of wonderfully ripe tomato topped by thick slices of mozzarella cheese. The large mint leaves on the side were decorative but the fragrance was enchanting. My companion's Ceasar salad had large tangy slices of Parmesan cheese on top of the greens. The rib eye steak was perfectly grilled, accompanied by potato and mixed vegetables. There is also a list of pasta selections that would be heavenly to any pasta lover. Cannelloni di Vitello is a flavorful combination of veal and ricotta stuffed into fresh pasta tubes.

Management makes a difference, not only to keep the current good operation going strongly but also to move a business to new directions. Janetta and Sussman work hard to keep up Harry's Bar & American Grill's success.

Harry's Bar & American Grill is located at 4370 La Jolla Village Dr., Suite 150 in the Northern Trust Building. It is open for lunch on weekdays and dinner nightly. Prices are moderate to expensive. Call 858-373-1252 for reservations and parking information.


Rottenberg is editor of Dining San Diego Magazine and member of the California Restaurant Writers Association.

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