In NYC, some friends have told me they never venture north of a certain address, say north of 59th Street.
Too bad! These friends are missing out on one of the best nights I’ve ever had up in Harlem on 125th Street.
During my recent U.S. trip, we met up with old friends in NYC for an “expat dinner” in our honor at Red Rooster, a soul food-inspired restaurant owned by Marcus Samuelsson, former chef at Aquavit. Samuelsson, who was born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden and has been a seven-year resident of Harlem, opened the restaurant in December 2010.
When we walked into Red Rooster at 8 p.m., the bar was two and three people deep, and the dining room was packed. This was a Monday night. On 125th Street. In Harlem. (My friend made the reservation nearly 2 months in advance.) The restaurant was pulsing with energy and excitement. Members of the live blues and jazz band were setting up with their instruments.
I repeat, this was a Monday night!
In the past, maybe 10 years ago or so, Harlem wasn’t necessarily a neighborhood you would GO to in Manhattan. But in recent years, Harlem has been gentrifying with refurbished brownstones and turning into a modern place where you DO want to go and hang out with friends.
Red Rooster is a part of the new, modern Harlem.
Our group started with a round of drinks at the bar where a handsome bartender donning a bowtie was working. I selected a sweet drink, aptly named “Yes, chef,” that contained mint-infused vodka, ginger beer, pineapple and spices. I think I had two more of these during dinner!
Once we sat down at our table, we ordered three appetizers – crab cakes with a fiery mayonnaise, smoked trout with a green goddess dressing and a smoked salmon tartare. The smoked trout was my favorite.
The restaurant’s famous corn bread, cut in gigantic slabs, arrived with a pat of honey butter and a ramekin of spicy tomato jam. I could have eaten a whole plate of this sweet corn bread!
Our favorite entrees included the fried yard bird (chicken, in the slang of old Harlem) served with a white gravy and a ramekin of hot sauce and a complicated version of macaroni and cheese, featuring orecchiette pasta and a mix of Gouda, New York Cheddar and Comté cheeses, with a crisp arugula salad on the side. I loved my bite of my friend’s mac-n-cheese!
I was slightly disappointed with my jerk chicken dish because I expected it to be spicier. One of my old roommates was from Barbados, and she made the best, tear-inducing jerk chicken I’ve ever eaten. Another disappointment was the restaurant’s take on dirty rice and shrimp, made with basmati rice and bourbon maple syrup.
Oh well, I guess it’s hit or miss with some of the food.
For dessert, we ended with fried sweet-potato dumpling holes with cinnamon sugar and the house mud pie served with caramelized bananas. The doughnuts were right up my alley!
All the while we were eating and drinking, the band played familiar-sounding blues and jazz songs. I almost thought I had been transported to New Orleans – one of my favorite southern cities. At one point, I wanted to get up and dance even though there was no room to dance!
We had a blast eating, drinking and hanging out with our good friends in Harlem.
Red Rooster is definitely one address north of 59th Street I’d travel to in NYC anytime!
|Hanging out with old friends. Two of my girlfriends here I've known for 30 years!|
310 Lenox Avenue (at 125th Street)
New York, NY
Take the 2/3 subway line to 125th Street. The restaurant is just around the corner on Lenox Avenue.