Helaina Hovitz

A young Tribeca entrepreneur tries to bring "downtown" to Flatiron

Finally, a high-quality restaurant catering to all of the beautiful people of the Flatiron district.

"I wanted to merge the world of downtown and the Upper East Side. There's nothing like this up here," says 26-year-old Spencer Slaine as he kicks back in the den of his nearly one-year-old restaurant, Harding's (32 East 21st Street).

By night, the American restaurant and bar is packed with the "in-crowd," thanks to his partner, infamous Downtown club promoter Cody Pruitt. It has already been the backdrop for several major films and TV shows.

Harding's is a lively, warm place to go on a cool autumn night, but, as is the dilemma of many a trendy place, the tension between the lounge and the dining room is palpable; diners prefer quiet intimacy, which makes people at the bar feel awkward, and, on other nights, the bar scene in front can be loud and disruptive to diners.

Regardless of where you sit, however, one thing is spot on, and that's the food.

Chef Ariel Fox, who previously worked at STK and ACME, describes her first Executive Chef venture as a "domestic" one, and likes to buy ingredients from local downtown markets.

"We have to sustain and support each other, just like we send people to other neighborhood restaurants," she said.

"Also, we're not bringing in truffles or anything," she added, "We believe in a simple approach, that less is more."

For appetizers, best bets are the fig toast with warm whipped goat cheese and mission figs, stuffed padron peppers with sausage, onions, apples, and apricot, and the house cured salmon with fennel and capers. For dinner, try the ground Angus burger, pan roasted hake, Atlantic Branzini, or sea scallops with succotash, grilled scallions and corn essence. You've got several sumptuous choices for weekend brunch as well: Fox's Griddlecake, seared tuna and asparagus salad, and a fun variety of baked eggs.

The décor is "antique chic," boasting artifacts like a 118-year-old American flag, a vintage lingerie clipping from the early 20th century, and Civil War bullets that are literally lodged into the wall.

Regulars from the local business community (like Tumblr, whose offices are across the street) pop in for lunch and after work on a daily basis, but Slaine is currently trying to bring more local residents in to join the party. Recently, they've opened up the lounge to neighborhood locals during the day, offering them Wi-Fi and the opportunity to hang without having to order a thing.

Slaine is one of many ambitious Lower Manhattanites who have left the monotonous security of a finance job on Wall Street in search of bigger, more meaningful things. In his downtime-which is virtually non-existent these days-Slaine enjoys reading, preferably a book by Danny Meyer (he's read Setting The Table four times), or taking a "five minute jog" down the West Side Highway, after which point he gets exhausted.

With the fall season in full swing, Harding's has been seeing about 300 folks for dinner every night, mainly couples on dates and guests in big groups of eight or more who particularly love sitting on the mezzanine level.
"What I really want to give our guests is a sense of warmth when they come in here," said Slaine, rolling up his shirtsleeve to reveal theHarding's logo tattooed on his arm, explaining that Chef Fox got a matching one on her ankle.
"This should show you how serious we are about making this work."