Last Sunday was heavenly. Andy and I were basking in the afterglow of a wonderful wedding the night before and enjoying an early fall day: crisp, bright and blue. As we took the train back to the city, we decided to extend the warm and fuzzy feeling by treating ourselves to a nice brunch. We tossed around a few ideas, but decided to get off the train in Harlem and try our luck getting into Red Rooster.
Since its recent opening in December 2010, it has been difficult to get a dinner reservation at Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurant in Harlem. But after Barack Obama had his DNC dinner there last March, it became impossible. People are attracted to this gem in Harlem because of its solid reputation and the global, yet familiar flavors—and of course because of the charismatic chef himself.
Samuelsson, Ethiopian by birth, was adopted by Swedish parents and raised in Sweden until he moved to NYC, one of the greatest melting pots in the world. His book, The New American Table, reflects his life experience and also his fascination with the influence of immigrant cultures and how it has shaped American food culture. After studying immigration, border politics, and diasporas in my graduate program, I was totally intrigued by the intersection of migration and food.
The restaurants itself is open and bright. The semi-circular bar area in front creates a welcoming, community-vibe. Andy and I sat at the bar and had a beer while we waited for a table. But the waiting didn’t feeling like “waiting.” As we sipped our craft ales (the Speakeasy Prohibition and Keegan’s Mother’s Milk), a man set up his keyboard and a beautiful woman started singing Gospel favorites.
So enjoyable was the bar, I suggested to Andy that maybe we should just stay there and eat. But when we got to our table, I was glad to experience the dining room. Our waiter was knowledgeable and friendly. He was proud of the restaurant he worked for and the food it served—and it showed. Red Rooster scored a lot of points there: keep your staff happy, hire people that love food and share the ethos of your restaurant. It matters.
Not surprisingly, Red Rooster is a curious and delicious blend of classic American dishes and worldly flavors. Fried Yard Bird (chicken) with curry spices in the mix settled on top of a “just right” amount of curry sauce. The cornbread –there’s only one word for it: moist—is a must. And the honey butter and tomato jam they serve with it are the perfect complement. We savored every bite.
One thing is certain: I will be back to try dinner, even if it means I have to make a reservation a month in advance for 5:00 on a Tuesday night.
The only deterrent is that it’s quite a hike if you live or are staying downtown, but an express 2/3 train will have you there in minutes. If you’re prepared to relax and stay a few hours (which is how brunch should be), it’s worth the trip. Andy and I both commented that it was more of an experience than just “brunch.” We lingered, we lounged, we relaxed. We drank good beer, ate delicious food, had great service. I give Red Rooster a hearty five stars.