I hate people who are not serious about their meals. -- Oscar Wilde

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Red Rooster Harlem: Don't worry, the 125th subway stop is right there

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: You know Harlem ain't hood no more when Martha Stewart rolls up to the Red Rooster. 

The first time I went to Harlem was back in senior year of college and it was during NJ free transit week. My roommate and I were watching The Food Network and something about Chicken and Waffles came on. We both never had Chicken and Waffles and not having real responsibilities, in the middle of the week at 9 at night we decided to go on an adventure and get Chicken and Waffles at Amy Ruth’s. Imagine two Asian kids venturing into Harlem and we were by far the whitest people in the restaurant and the 116th street stop. Harlem still had that aurora of being “hood” and not the best place for 2 Asian kids to be venturing into late at night. Couple of chicken and waffles and years later, I headed back to Harlem to try out Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster to find that there was actual white people there, a lot of them and when Martha Stewart rolls up, this officially marks (for me at least) Harlem as changed. Although she does not have any street cred, going to jail does not count (she went to like safe white collar jail!) she does walk in with a whole lot of swagger!
Marcus Samuelsson is like the culinary equivalent of Justin Bieber minus the underage fans, being Canadian and not looking like a pre-pubescent lesbian (I also believe that there is not disease or a fever that can be attributed to Marcus, but this cannot be confirmed). It comes to no surprise that Red Rooster, his newest venture has gotten a lot of buzz and everyone is heading way uptown to try it out. The food at Red Rooster is a copy of Samuelsson in which it has North African (he is Ethiopian), Swedish (adopted by Swedes) influences and southern comfort food (he is in Harlem). Given that our fair President just dined at this establishment a couple of days ago with guest for a dinner costing about 30,000 big ones, I ventured out here to see what 30,000 dollars looked like and tasted like. 
 I do not usually go into the whole décor and vibe of the place but it is worth noting at Red Rooster. The restaurant fits right into the neighborhood like a snuggie on a cat lady. It feels as if the restaurant has been there just as long as Sylvia’s, which a couple of doors down from the Red Rooster. The dining room is a bit small but the high ceilings and open kitchen neutralized the tight feeling and the art and the graffiti on the walls made it feel sheek and modern without overwhelming you or feeling that you left your shutter shades at home. The crowd is worth noting and it felt like that the people eating here got lost on the way to a Danny Meyers restaurant. 
Food After the Jump!
I went here with my sister and everything thing is served a la carte so we both ordered an appetizer, entrée, one of the bar snacks, side. She is not a glutton swine like I am, I was able to get a good taste of everything. We started off with the Cornbread with honey butter and tomato jam. 
Cornbread with Tomato Jam and Honey Butter
I envision cornbread to be square or skillet like slices but I was bit surprised when they came out in bread loaf slices. The cornbread did not have the grittiness and loose crumb structure that I was expecting, the cornbread was more like a quick bread but it was a great snack. The bread was tender and actual corn was present in this bread giving it natural sweetness and some underlying saltiness tasted great. The Tomato jam, balanced drew sweetness from the multiple vegetables and had North African flavors to it and worked great with the bread. I even did the whole Top Chef primal taste it using a knife and it makes food taste better and you feel so cool doing it. The honey butter was fine; however it was texturally more like whipped cream and felt like the butter was sitting out in the pass for too long. 
Crab Cakes with Spicy Mayo and Sweet Pea Puree
Next up we got our appetizers, the Crab Cakes and the Chicken and the Egg. The crab cakes, served with a spicy mayo and a pea puree or some sort was solid choice. In too many restaurants, crab cakes is a sucker’s dish because unless you truly know the crab cakes are made with real crabs, they are frozen and dip in the fry pool and dosed in a thick cream sauce, masking the frozen seafood taste. These were densely packed and given a sear leaving them delicate and with the subtle use of Old Bay, gave it that Southern feel. The spicy mayo had a good kick and the subtle sweet pea puree worked in tandem. The dish was good, but not a mind blowing dish that all raved about. 
Chicken and the Egg
The chicken and the egg consisted of a thick slab of toast topped with confit chicken and seared foie gras topped with a sunny side up egg. Even before eating this I knew this was going to be good because a perfectly cooked egg on top of anything is amazing and sexy. Crouton like toast, tender chicken, rich foie gras and a runny egg? Imagine shoving that into your mouth. That is all that needs to be really, but lets put it this way: this is a dish is so good, it tuned out the next table loud conversation of a hipster-yuppie 30 year old asking mom and pop to finance her “movie” to help like, disadvantage school kids (she said, “to help like, disadvantaged school kids”). 
The Yard Bird
I have been craving fried chicken like a pregnant lady for the past couple of weeks so I could not pass up the Yard Bird. The yard bird is a drumstick and a thigh served with collard greens, white mace gravy and “shake” which a small shaker filled with smoky and slightly spicy spices. I am a big eater and a drumstick and a thigh would not hold me over but the chickens they are using are big hefty chickens, like so big they can not jump to conclusions chickens. The yard bird is fried chicken cannot be categorized as Southern fried chicken; it is like naively assuming Southern fried chicken is the same as Korean fried chicken. The chicken does not have that proverbial crunch or crackling that you associate with fried chicken; the crust is more like a bark, thick, dark and has a heavy brittle crunch. The chicken seasoned with Berber spices like fenugreek, chili powder, mace, garlic which would lead you to believe for the chicken to be spicy, but turned out to be smoky and earthy. The shake was a great accompaniment and enhanced rather than change the flavors and properly cooked collards complimented the chicken. 
The Yard Bird with the Shake.
My sister had the Blackened Catfish that was pan seared, served on top of black eyed peas and had a dollop of coleslaw on top. The blacken catfish was cooked properly and the blackened seasoning imparted Cajun flavors. The catfish alone would have made this a perfect dish. However, the black eyed peas although were cooked properly as well, were slightly salty and when eaten with the catfish, it was too much, reaching for a sip of water. Combining the coleslaw, black eyed peas, and catfish made it into a balanced bite but there was clearly not enough coleslaw to ration through the dish but against my better judgment, we did not do a send back. After starting out great, this dish was the first discrepancy in a pretty smooth meal. 
Blackened Catfish with Black Eyed Peas
Thankfully the side of the Black Vinegar Cauliflower with Sesame, Sumac and Olives was so good a picky 5 year old would love it. Treated with respect, the cauliflower roasted, leaving it with a slight char and giving bite, combined with the syrupy-like black vinegar, which was more sweet than acidic and spices made it tasty. This side outshines the blackened catfish.
Black Vinegar Cauliflower with Sesame, Sumac and Olives
 Thankfully, my sister shares the same enthusiasm for sweets so we went with two desserts. We got the Sweet Potato Donuts with a cinnamon cream filling, severed with a side of whipped cream and lemon yogurt sorbet and the Spiced Chocolate Cake served with a black cherry ice cream. The desserts unfortunately despite reviews, missed the mark completely and shows why I do not trust people’s reviews on Yelp. 
Sweet Potato Donuts with Lemon Yogurt Sorbet and Whipped Cream.
The Sweet Potato Donuts did not have any donut-like characteristics except for that it was fried. The Donuts were dense, dry, over-yeasted bread bombolini and although the cinnamon cream now that I looked back was good, the texture and how bad the donuts were was way to distracting and the sweet potato aspect of it was like trying to find any academic or educational value of paying Snooki 32,000 to speak at Rutgers (there is none and I am embarrassed as an RU alumni). The best part of the whole dish was the saucer of lemon yogurt sorbet that was tangy and refreshing which eaten.
Damn, they even look hefty and doughy
The Spiced Chocolate Cake fared better, meaning it was just mediocre. Although our server described it as being a layer cake, the chocolate cake was just fine and just…normal and no spice to it at all. It was not very moist, but it was not dry, the chocolate came through and the black cherry ice cream and gastric smear did the whole warm and cool compliment it, it was just middle of the road. It was doing 45 mph in a 45 mph road. All in all, the desserts were underwhelming. 
Spiced Chocolate Cake with Black Cherry Ice Cream.
The build-up for the Red Rooster left me puzzled after the meal. Although there were highs in the meals, there were a lot of low points and the restaurant has been open since late last year, there are still inconsistencies. However, the food and restaurant is a direct reflection of Samuelsson. He does not muddle his food by creating fusions of his background and shove it all onto a plate, rather he pairs and compliments his backgrounds with sincerity and his vision is clear. However I unless I have a reason to be up in Harlem, I do no think this is a place I will go out of my way for again. 
The Red Rooster
310 Lenox Ave
125th St & 126th St)
New York, NY 10027

No comments:

Post a Comment