When in New York recently, Judy had on her "have to do" list a visit to Red Rooster, a restaurant in Harlem owned by Marcus Samuelson. In her classes at Crafton Hills College she has been using the book, Yes, Chef: A Memoir, by Samuelson. Samuelson was born in Ethiopia, but adopted to a family in Goteborg, Sweden after his mother died. He got interested in cooking through his adoptive grandmother, went to culinary school in Sweden, did apprenticeships in Switzerland and Austria, then apprenticed at the Restaurant Aquavit in New York where he got a three star review from the New York Times at age 24. In 2004 he got the James Beard Award as Best Chef in New York City and started a restaurant Ringo in New York. There is much more to his resume, including guest-chef for the first state dinner of President Obama in honor of the Indian Prime Minister and many appearances on various food shows. He opened Red Rooster in Harlem in December 2010. Several months later Red Rooster hosted a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee attended by President Obama which raised $1.5 million at $30,800 per plate. This is by far the most celebrity restaurant we have visited. Fortunately, our brunch cost substantially less than $30,800 per person.
We visited Red Rooster on a cold Saturday morning, arriving right when it opened about 10:00 a.m. We'd been told it was virtually impossible to get reservations in the evening without substantial advance notice, but that we would be able to walk-in if we arrived early for the brunch. We may have been the first two customers in the restaurant as we waited for Andrew to meet us. It was slow to fill, but by the time we left it was packed.
The decor was fun, had kind of an eclectic, home-grown, feel to it. For example, the bench we sat on had swaths of colorful fabric attached to it, including a piece with a sphinx. On one wall was a beautiful star-shaped quilt and there were photographs, collages and other items that made it fun to survey the room. Many of the people, both staff and customers, were even more interesting than the decor. Wild looking hats, hairstyles and clothing that I don't normally see.
For starters we ordered deviled eggs with duck salame. The egg yolk filling greatly expanded its volume so that it towered above its hard-boiled egg-white base. The eggs were held in place by what appeared to be peanut butter (or perhaps cashew butter) and each had a chunk of bacon on top. The eggs were good, certainly visually different, but the taste was not significantly better or different than other deviled eggs I've had.
We also ordered cornbread with honey butter and tomato jam. I'm not sure I even tried the jam. I did use the honey butter. The corn bread was good, but not great or memorable.
Frogmore stew is a Low Country (South Carolina) dish also known as "low-country boil" and "Beaufort stew." Frogmore is the mailing address for the residents of St. Helena island off the South Carolina coast and has nothing to do with frog legs, or any other part of the frog. The two main ingredients are fresh shrimp and freshly-shucked yellow corn. Piri piri is a chili pepper that grows in parts of Africa and then was taken to India by the Portuguese. It is also called African bird's eye chili. The shrimp was tender and the frogmore stew, with just a tad bit of piri piri spiciness, inundated the grits like a heavy rainfall swamps our back lawn. The grits were creamy, but I focused on spoonfuls of frogmore and left the less saturated grits mixture behind. This was creative, different and good - but you've got to really love grits to put that much away.