Cédric Bistro in Harlem

Cedric Bistro Harlem

I love to cook, but I also love to explore exciting restaurants.  Whenever friends come to New York City to visit--which is often--I'm asked about what restaurants they should try.  So, now that I'm back in New York City and living in one of the great restaurant capitals, I will be writing more restaurant reviews which you can easily view on the new "Restaurants" tab.  I recently had a memorable meal at Cedric.  It wasn't just the food--it was the atmosphere.  It was the perfect ambiance for chatting over a small candle for hours, rekindling dwindling relationships.

At the corner of 119th Street and St Nicolas Avenue sits Cedric, an intimate French bistro just off the burgeoning “restaurant row” in West Harlem.  Cedric expertly blends French cuisine with New York sensibility by offering a welcomed balance of French bistro fare, relaxed yet attentive service and a friendly and knowledgeable waitstaff.

We started the evening with Champagne cocktails, spiked with an elderflower liqueur.  The tastefully-dimmed lights invited us to cast away our cares for the next few hours.  The crooning of soulful ballads gently serenaded us, although we were wholly unaware of the music until those blissful moments when the talking ceased and everyone at the table was occupied with taking those first few bites of the main course.

I ordered the Organic Roasted Chicken with Mashed Potato.  The silky mashed potatoes lingered luxuriously along my tongue, and just as quickly melted, like a snowflake leisurely floating down from the clouds and landing on sun-warmed pavement--instantly dissipating.  The roasted chicken came atop a delightfully tannic red wine sauce.  This was the type of sauce that you carefully dunk and drench eat bite of chicken in, and if there is any left over, you start dunking the mashed potatoes and bread as well. The skin on the roasted chicken was crispy and well-seasoned, and to both my delight and dismay, there were practically no bones in the chicken.  I admit that I love boneless chicken because I can be lazy about cutting meat off of the bone, but roasting a bird with the bones in adds a distinct layer of flavor that was missing from this dish.  However, as a whole, the dish was balanced and simply worked.

I sampled my companion’s fish and chips—a dish that is about as unclassically French as one can get.  There is much more than the English Channel that separates France and England gastronomically. Despite this rift, Cedric displayed its versatility and lack of pretension by nailing the batter-fried cod and crispy potatoes.

The entrees were good, but the giant, crackling crème brûleé was as flawless as a caramelized, creamy, custardy concoction can be. I performed my obligatory crème brûleé tradition: I gently tapped my spoon on the crust of the hardened sugar.  All at once, the brown bubbles of sugar that appeared suspended in time yielded to the weight of my spoon with a satisfying crackle.  I continued, scooping out the indulgently rich, yolky vanilla custard.  The velvety texture perfectly complemented the sugary crust, making a marriage of opposites in texture in a way that only crème brûleé can.

In true French fashion, you must request your check.  There will be no unasked-for checks lingering on the table while you are reflecting and reveling in the splendor of having just enjoyed a downright satisfying meal.