In the heart of Harlem, a new restaurant called Red Rooster is quietly making waves. During a recent visit to the Big Apple, I decided to make the journey uptown to Lenox Avenue to check out the comfort-food restaurant launched by Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit fame. I was hugely impressed, both with the quality of the food and the total experience.
I have been a big fan of Samuelsson, who has had an extraordinary career. He was born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden and moved to New York City afterwards. Soon, he took the culinary world by storm as Executive Chef of Aquavit and then became the youngest chef to receive a three-star review from the New York Times. Much to my pleasant surprise, I got to see the chef in person, greeting guests in the dining room and supervising the kitchen. In many ways, the Red Rooster marks the renaissance of Harlem. It is drawing people to Harlem and is making Lenox Avenue an increasingly cool and trendy place. And thanks to Samuelsson’s rich heritage and experience, the Red Rooster captures the spirit of Harlem by cleverly combining modernist cuisine with African-American soul food.
I really liked the cosy and warm ambience of the Red Rooster. The main dining room was crowded and abuzz with conversation as I entered. I sat at one of the large communal tables, which gives the restaurant a nice feeling of being in a cosy family kitchen. I also noticed several nice modern paintings with a Harlem theme (they apparently have an active art programme to acquire works from emerging New York artists). The service was prompt and very friendly. I must confess that I had trouble choosing from the simple menu. They had numerous interesting and intriguing dishes that I wanted to try – like fried chicken Caesar, shrimp and dirty rice, fried yard bird and crab cake. I started with the white bean and Asian pear soup, which was served with some delicious kale. The soup was thick, nutty and very flavourful. The sweetness of the pear and the bitter taste of kale was a nice combination. For the main course, I had the blackened catfish served on grits and salad. The catfish had a subtle touch of Cajun spice and the white fish was moist and succulent. In particular, I loved the grits, which is basically ground corn cooked like thick porridge. The salad came with chorizo and caper berries. It was delicious and I wiped the plate empty. For dessert, I could not resist what everyone else around me was enjoying – tiny doughnuts with sweet potato filling! It was a good judgement call. The sweet potato filling was a creamy, nutty liquid and the doughnut was soft and lusciously sugary. A very special dessert, I must say. I sat at the bar for my espresso and soaked in the atmosphere. I also noticed a small boutique selling some souvenirs and the chef’s newest book entitled “Yes, Chef”.
As I was leaving, I learned that the restaurant does a Sunday gospel brunch in its basement, a place called Ginny’s Supper Club. That would be lovely, I thought. I will let you know when I get around to doing that.
The Red Rooster
310 Lenox Avenue, New York, NY 10027
(Between 125th and 126th Avenue, in Harlem)
Tel: +1 212 792 9001