Red Rooster (NYC)

310 Lenox Avenue (at 125th Street)
New York, NY
212.792.9001
http://redroosterharlem.com/


5 Second Summary:
Price Range- Dinner entrees range from $14-32 (at time of posting)
Ambiance- Uptown chic, casual/hip dress
Cuisine- Comfort food influenced by owner Marcus Samuelsson’s Scandinavian/Ethiopian background
Hits- Nuts with sour cherry and injera (on the “snack” menu), spiced duck liver pudding, “chicken & egg” appetizer, Helga’s meatballs, desserts, knowledgeable and professional waitstaff
Misses- Open only about two months, Red Rooster still has a bit to work out regarding its reservation system.

My text message went something like this: “Left my camera battery at home in the charger! I’m going to cry!!!”

My husband Rich and I were already at Red Rooster’s copper U-shaped bar thirty minutes ahead of our reservation time, waiting for our friends Jesse and Jessica to arrive.  We had been talking up Marcus Samuelsson’s newest venture for two straight months, consumed with anticipation.  I paused outside to take my signature “front door shot,” and realized the camera wouldn’t click. My stomach sank… oh no! I had walked clear out of the house without my camera battery! It was like that recurring nightmare where you show up to class for a final exam with no pencil, or worse- no pants.  Drowning my sorrows in “the Savoy” —a refreshing cocktail made with Wodka vodka, lemon, muddled grapes, and agave— I resigned myself to the situation (admittedly this was only after testing the limits of my cell phone camera and finding them utterly unsatisfactory).  Sometimes, it seems, Fate reminds you that it’s normal to eat at a restaurant without leaning obnoxiously over everyone’s food to snap photos.

“Sometimes,” my husband consoled, “you need to just enjoy yourself and eat.”

SIGH.  FINE.

Jesse and Jessica arrived only a few minutes after us with appetites in tow.  We had a few impatient cocktails at the bar and hovered at the hostess station as the time got further and further from our 9:30pm reservation.  The hostesses were gracious and pleasant, bringing four glasses of champagne over as the clock neared 10:15.  We were finally seated more than forty-five minutes past our reservation time.  Okay, I get it.  Red Rooster is popular.  It’s delicious, it’s trendy, it’s new, and it’s chic.  But with a celebrity chef-owner of Samuelsson’s stature, nothing makes a 45-minute wait even remotely acceptable.

Fortunately, this was my only bone to pick all evening.  Our server was welcoming and well-informed, noting my shellfish allergy (which I had long ago filled out and forgotten on my OpenTable reservation profile) and outlining which dishes to try or avoid.  This attention to detail was typical of the night and the hallmark of brilliant (warm, friendly, knowledgeable) service.

At this point, I have to admit that I feel a little “naked” without my pictures, but I guess I don’t need them to tell you how incredible Red Rooster’s food was.  We ordered a veritable smorgasbord of snacks, appetizers, entrees, and desserts for the table, and I’m going to share them a little differently than usual:

SNACKS

  • Nuts with dried sour cherries and crisp injera (thin Ethiopian flatbread)– This small bowl was utterly delectable, one of the simplest but most flavorful surprises of the night.  The snack was flavored strongly with mint (or maybe Thai basil?), and it was both savory and sweet.
  • Beef patty with salsa verde– a few small, bland empanadas plated with an insipid tomatillo sauce, definitely had missed potential

APPETIZERS

  • Corn tacos and tostadas- These four teeny, amuse-bouche sized chips were very prettily plated but looked like something out of Gulliver’s travels.  There were two small yellow corn tortillas and two round tostada chips served with yellowtail and salmon ceviche and avocado.  The flavors were fresh and very clean.
  • Crab cakes- Made from lump blue crab with spiced mayo, I’m told they were quite tasty and had great texture
  • Dirty rice and shrimp- I “tested my allergy” (which is, thankfully, not severe) with a forkful of the aged basmati rice with curry leaves.  It was hearty, wholesome, and definitely had that signature shrimp taste.
  • “The Chicken and Egg”- This appetizer really shouldn’t be missed.  Delicious “pulled” (shredded) chicken in Ethiopian berbere spice (I don’t know Red Rooster’s proprietary blend, but berbere usually has a gorgeous tawny color and includes -among other spices- garlic, ginger, fenugreek, pepper, chili, and basil) topped with an egg, and a pop-in-your-mouth seared duck liver wrapped in soft injera.
  • Spiced duck liver pudding- My husband ordered the star of the night.   This foie gras looked like a tiny British dessert pudding and functioned like a lava cake… you know, spongy on the outside with that exploding liquid center.  Absolutely.  Brilliant.  It was one of the more innovative foie gras preparations I’ve seen, and we unanimously agreed upon its genius around the table.  It was deliciously paired with slices of duck “pastrami” and just-sweet-enough almond and pear.
  • We did not try the gravlax (Scandinavian cold-cured salmon), but —I mean, really— how much food can four people really eat? 🙂

ENTREES

  • Jesse had the fried “yard bird” (dark meat chicken) with white mace gravy, a bit of hot sauce, and platano verde (less sweet/ripe plantain).  The outside coating was crisp, the inside tender, juicy, and flavorful.  Earned nods of approval around the table.
  • Rich had the oxtail braised in Mother’s Milk Stout, which was served with thinly sliced, delicate plantain chips.  There are only a few things in the world (including both oxtail and foie gras) that my husband simply cannot turn down on a menu.  The oxtail itself was moist, meaty, and won over even the skeptics at the table.  We agreed it was one of the best entrees of the four.
  • Jess had the red snapper with sour tomato broth and flavored with kaffir lime.  She didn’t particularly love it.  We all tasted, and -to the kitchen’s credit- the fish was nicely cooked.  With the other intensely flavorful choices at the table, the snapper wasn’t quite as strongly seasoned.  Once again, our hospitable server noticed her dismay and truly wanted to make it right, offering something else on the menu.  “I can take it,” she promised us, inviting criticism.
  • I had Helga’s meatballs, from a recipe honoring Samuelsson’s Swedish grandmother.  Our waitress had recommended the dish, promising (and I paraphrase), “I really didn’t have much of an opinion on meatballs, but these changed everything.”   SOLD.  Sign me up!  Not for the dietary faint of heart, these delicious meatballs are made with cream, sirloin (or chuck), veal, pork, breadcrumbs, and honey.  They’re served with deliciously thin, vinegary-sweet shavings of pickled cucumber, bright red lingonberries, and hearty garlic mashed potatoes.

SIDES

  • Black vinegar cauliflower- with sesame, sumac, and olive.  This generously portioned side  was both acidic (vinegar-y), sweet (also, I presume from the black vinegar), and lemony (from the sumac).  It has a beautiful yellow color.  Between the sumac and the black vinegar (which can have a really complex, grainy flavor), I expected a bit more from the final product.  It was okay but not my favorite.

DESSERTS

  • The sweet potato doughnuts with cinnamon sugar were like richer, thicker, orange-ish zeppoles.  They weren’t the lightest I’ve seen, but sweet potato has to weigh down that dough a bit.  They also weren’t excessively sweet.
  • The recommended spiced pudding was an unexpected hit.  Subtle, enticing, exotically spiced, it was accompanied by apricot and black currant flavors.  There’s nothing I love more than a great, cake-y, British-style pudding, and this one was incredible.
  • Finally, we had the black and white mud.  This dessert was a two-layered “pie.”  The bottom layer was a hot vanilla bean flavor, and the top layer was chocolate.  The layers had a consistency slightly thicker than mousse, and the whole thing was contained by a chocolate wafer crust and topped with a candied orange rind.  I can only describe this crust, which made the dessert -hands down- everyone’s favorite, as reminiscent of one’s first Oreo cookie only a thousand times richer, as if it were made by pulsing whole Oreos —maybe even Double Stuff— into a fine crumble in a food processor.  But the real surprise was this large-grained salt crunch at the bottom… unexpected taste and texture.
  • The only dessert we missed was a warm apple pie with soft cheddar crust and vanilla whip.  The promise of sweet and savory called to us, but we were at this point —honestly— trying to inconspicuously loosen the top buttons on our too-tight waistbands.

Besides, we need something to come back for…  🙂

Red Rooster was worth every second of our wait.  Even more delicious is Samuelsson’s welcoming revival of a circa-1900 speakeasy, his commitment to the Harlem community, and the restaurant’s inviting “for all people” atmosphere.  With successful (and pricey) Aquavit under his belt, Red Rooster becomes something more approachable, more homey, and more down-to-earth.  And down to earth as it may be, Red Rooster had us over the moon.

We’ll be back.

This time with the camera.  🙂

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One Response to “Red Rooster (NYC)”

  1. You nailed it.

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