On Monday night, I finally made my way to Red Rooster Harlem, Marcus Samuelsson's restaurant that I have been talking about for months. Since I had been waiting so long to go, my expectations had gotten higher and higher, so the pressure was on. I took my cell phone to take pictures, since it was smaller, and seem less obvious. It ended up just looking like I was more interested in texting than my date. I wasn't texting - promise!
Red Rooster is located on 125th and Lenox Avenue, a main cross street in Harlem. When you enter inside the restaurant you instantly get a warm vibe. The front half of the restaurant is dedicated to a large copper-top horseshoe-shaped bar with a tall wall of shelving filled with glasses behind it to separate the main dining section. The restaurant is large and the tables are actually spaced out decently, so you don't have to hear your neighbors conversation (like in a lot of NYC restaurants). There are some communal tables, which I sat at, but there was enough space between the dinner parties to feel like you were at your own. Red Rooster exudes a modern, upscale farm house with bentwood chairs, clean wood tables dressed with leather placemats, and tea towels for napkins. At the very back was the open kitchen, where you could literally see Marcus Samuelsson cooking. We sat right next to it, and although it was exciting, it might be off-putting to some since you can hear the line cook yell for the orders throughout your meal. My favorite part was the artwork on the wall, a mix of contemporary artist, a lot from Harlem. Oh and there was wonderful jazz singer and small band there too.Overall, this is most well decorated restaurant I have been to in a long time. I liked that there was a definite eclectic vibe, but it didn't feel forced or cheesy.
Okay, now to the food. First off, I will just say I was irked, because they had slightly changed their Valentine's prix-fix menu from the one they had online. There was no fish option anymore. Fortunately, our waiter let me order the red snapper, but the other issue was that cocktail pairings were no longer available either. There was no explanation, which was annoying. I quickly moved passed it (a miracle for me) and ordered the Cat's Meow, which ended up being way too sweet for my taste, but didn't stop me from drinking it. Then out came the cornbread with tomato jam and honey butter. If I could add sound here, it would be the angels singing "Hallelujah" over and over again. The cornbread was to die for. Super buttery, moist, and the best part was the sprinkle of salt along the top. The tomato jam was herby, smoky, spicy, and complex. I added the jam to most of my bread, but kept the cornbread's edges plain, because it was so good that way.
Next came the candied grapefruit and lobster salad. This was such an interesting salad. It had steamed lobster, slices of grapefruit, as well as its candied peel, pea shoots, black sesame seeds, and some toasted almonds hidden at the bottom, and chili oil was brushed on the side. It was really wonderful, and every bite was different.
Next, out came the red snapper in sour tomato broth. This was unfortunately, the low point of my meal. Overall, the dish was fine, but it was just that - fine. The snapper was a little overcooked, but had a nice charred top. The broth was tangy, and I enjoyed the cauliflower and the green tomatoes (or maybe tomatillos), but the couscous was overdone and overall the plate just turned into a bit of a sad mess.
Finally dessert came, which was chocolate cake with cherry ice cream. The chocolate cake was good, the ice cream was just alright, but when you mixed everything together you get a pretty nice bite. One interesting part of the ice cream, was the small crushed cherry candy hidden underneath. Almost like a crunched cherry sucker. I like surprises like that.
Overall, I had a nice time at Red Rooster. Does it need improvement? Yes. Would I come back? Absolutely. Red Rooster has only been open a couple of months and has room to grow and improve. The staff was very friendly, the atmosphere is warm, and Marcus Samuelsson took a couple of breaks from cooking and walked around to chat with the diners. I was too shy to make eye contact. Next time I come back, I will grab a seat at the bar, order a drink called the Earl of Harlem, some appetizers, and definitely that cornbread.
Click here to for a tomato soup recipe.