Sunday, May 15, 2016

Red Rooster - Harlem, New York

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. 
Judy's scarf fit the decor.

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.
Andrew ordered "the bird and the egg," consisting of fried chicken, an egg, a waffle and red eye gravy. I might've ordered this if he hadn't. The fried chicken was very nice, but I've had very good chicken at KFC. And I love an egg with anything. Very good - yes, spectacular -no. 
Judy ordered "el jefe," a short rib, black kale, eggs and grana padano cheese. This is the other item I might've ordered if Judy hadn't. Two eggs are better than one and I always love eggs with beef. It was good, I look at the picture and it looks good, but it was not memorable. I had no angst for not ordering it.
My top two choices taken, I went for "shrimp & grits," which was cheddar grits, "piri piri" and "frogmore stew." 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.
For dessert, yes dessert, even though its not yet near noon, Judy got "music roots" pie with hot fudge and marshmallow ice cream. It was visually different, like a combination waffle iron, wash basin and coon-skin cap. I took small tastes of the different elements and nothing tempted me to go on beyond that.
But, the dessert I ordered, the "creme de coco" with coconut panna cotta, mango and pistachio was incredible, probably the best of our menu items. It was smooth and creamy and the fresh mango taste dominated it wonderfully.
I'm a little conflicted about this restaurant experience. The setting is wonderfully fun and the clientele is even more interesting. So many stories I'd love to hear from backgrounds so different than mine. Judy was excited to be there and her excitement rubbed off. Having Andrew and his take on the world also added to the mix. The food was good, very good, but aside from one of the desserts, I didn't really feel like it was world class - President Obama, $30,800 per plate class (although I know the menu of that night had to be substantially different than what we were eating). I don't feel any particular need or desire to go back, although I would certainly do so. The dinner menu does look like it has more pizzazz. I give it a five (of five), but among the subset of five it would range in the middle, not toward the top. I also may be biased because of the chicken theme. If it was the golden calf, the black sheep, the galloping goat, Pilate's pig, or the magi's camel, I probably would have had more of an affinity for it. 


  1. I agree--the food was good but the atmosphere was a blast. I'd love to try dinner there. I think we'd get a little more pizazz in our meal.

  2. I'm trying to imagine the tastiness of $30,000 food. Nope. Can't do it.