Restaurants

Red Rooster: Sunday Brunch in Harlem

El Jefe: Fried eggs, cheese grits, homemade chorizo, and lime crema Music from a five-piece band, a wandering gospel singer, and conversation from Harlemites and international tourists alike clamor in the background, as colorful and lively as the Harlem-historic art plastered on the walls. Sunday brunch at Red Rooster makes any diner feel like they are really experiencing a part of Harlem.  The vibrant and warm atmosphere makes all of the diners feel right at home, even on the chilliest winter Sundays.

I recently had brunch at Red Rooster with some out-of-town guests I was showing around Harlem.  Once we were seated, we examined both the brunch menu and the extensive cocktail menu.  We were celebrating a milestone birthday (60), so we all ordered cocktails!  The prices may have been stiff, but the drinks were stiffer.  I'm always intrigued by cocktails with St. Germain, so I ordered the brownstoner.  I took one sip and immediately felt a warm shiver travel down my throat, all the way to the tips of my fingers and toes.  My body momentarily felt as though it had been hit by a truck.  The sheer amount of liquor in the brownstoner should disqualify it as a Sunday, before-5pm kind of drink, but I’m no quitter.   I was determined to finish it!  For brunch, however, I'd recommend one of the gentler cocktails like the Yes, Chef, a blend of housemade ginger beer, berbere, pineapple, and vodka.

Yes, Chef Cocktail

The food showcases Marcus Samelsson’s culinary eclecticism--boldly updating southern classics with spices from around the world.  The Fried Delta Catfish sandwich was spiked with curry, which displayed the Chef-Owner's Ethiopian heritage.  I ordered the El Jefe: fried eggs, cheese grits, housemade chorizo, and lime crema.  Despite the traditionally-southern cheese grits, this dish was more "Latin American" than even the name suggests.  To my surprise, it also came with black beans, and the lime crema effectively accented the other Latin American flavors of the dish.

Seemingly on cue, as we wrapped up our meal and were preparing to depart, the wandering, lone gospel singer wandered our way and handed me the mic.  Feeling the effects of the brownstoner, I was down to have a little fun!  But when I realized that the mic she put up to me was indeed on, I passed the mic to the birthday girl.  We quite literally left on a high note as the birthday girl and the gospel singer sang the soprano part of Wade in the Water to their hearts' content.

Despite my nearly-finished brownstoner, I wasn't ready for my gospel debut

Harlem State of Mind

Foodie in New Orleans: Emeril's

Mirliton I recently dined at Emeril's Delmonico on the historic and charming St. Charles Avenue--the St. Charles Streetcar stops right outside.  I've never been to any of the Emeril's Restaurants and was somewhat wary about whether the popularity of this restaurant was due to its celebrity chef's celebrity status; however the food was a beautiful hodgepodge of southern classics and modern flavors.  Due to the prime location of this restaurant, I've passed it countless times walking or driving down St. Charles Avenue.  I figured it would be the perfect place to celebrate my sister's birthday.  We were about 15 minutes early for our reservation, so they ushered us to the bar.  The bartender at the "welcome bar" was highly knowledgeable and suggested a lovely red wine that my mom loved. Plus, the highly talented pianist played some jazz favorites as we sipped our wine near the bar area.

The fam in front of Emeril's Delmonico

We started the evening with the merleton appetizer (pictured at top).  Merleton is a vegetable that folks eat here in south Louisiana. It's kind of a hybrid between a squash, a potato, and a pepper, and it's traditionally eaten at Thanksgiving.  It's also called "chayote" or "alligator pear."  One of the many outstanding servers shared a story of how his grandfather prepared this vegetable back in the day.  The spicy sauce was the star of the plate, nicely complimenting the mild, fleshy merleton and the buttery Louisiana crab.  The restaurant also served cornbread and potato rolls that are freshly baked in-house.  But be careful:  these hot-out-the-oven dinner rolls might just melt in your mouth, and you definitely want to save room for dessert.

My sister and I decided to order different entrees so that we could taste each other's dishes.  I had the "dry aged moulard duck breast," served over a bed of sweet corn maque choux, brussels sprouts, roasted poblano, cheddar grits, and tasso jam.  I must admit that I ordered this dish more for the sides than the actual duck breast.  The corn maque choux with cheddar grits sounded irresistible, and it was.  The sweetness of the corn in the maque choux balanced savory and creaminess of the cheddar grits, making it a phenomenal dish.  All of the components fit together like the pieces of a puzzle.  The spicy-sweet tasso jam added a nice complement to the savory roasted brussels sprouts.  I am not really a big red meat eater, but I ordered the duck breast cooked medium.  The skin was crispy and the fleshy inside was tender.  There was certainly a generous serving of duck breast; although, the other components of the dish were the true stars.

duck breast

My sister ordered the jumbo gulf shrimp bordelaise, with chaurice sausage, zucchini, sweet peppers, chick peas, garlic butter, and oregano breadcrumbs.  This dish was nearly entirely paleo----no major amount of carbs in it----just meat and veggies.  She described it as "gumbo without the rice," which is a gross simplification of this beautifully complex dish. But, I must admit, I do love my sides so this meat and veg dish was not as good as mine--but it was still a beautiful, thoughtful dish.  My mom's gumbo was great.  I'm typically wary of ordering gumbo from a restaurant----any restaurant. But, the sausage in this dish really made it stand out.

shrimp bordelaise

We didn't have room for dessert, but they surprised my sister with scoop of house-made sorbet.  I asked one of our servers what flavor it was.  He wasn't sure----he said "either dreamsicle or passion fruit."  I got way too excited about the prospect of passion fruit; so, he promised to bring an extra scoop of passion fruit in case it was dreamsicle and not passion fruit.

Happy Birthday Lu: Delicious dreamsicle sorbet

It was dreamsicle.  And to my surprise, it was divine.  When I think of dreamsicle or creamsicle, i think of those syrupy sweet orange-dyed popsicles with vanilla ice cream inside.  Not bad, but not exactly "gourmet."  This scoop of dreamsicle sorbet was more than gourmet--it reinvented an old-fashioned, childhood classic to a sophisticated and classy, seemingly simple sorbet.  I imagine that it was gelato or sorbet made with ripe, fresh oranges.  It wasn't creamy, so I'm not sure if there was cream, but it tasted like fresh Madagascar or Tahitian Vanilla Beans.  I had to let the server know that I was so glad that they brought the dreamsicle, because I would not have tried it otherwise!  Despite how great it was, he demanded that we also try the passion fruit, so we did.  The passion fruit was super tart and tangy.  For those who are not familiar with passion fruit, the juice is about as tart as a lemon.  I love it in desserts because the tartness provides a great contrast to the sweetness.  Eating a scoop alone was pretty hard though; I prefer to eat it with vanilla (or even chocolate!)  But, I was glad that we got to sample it.

We had a lovely evening filled with great food, and amazing service.  Cheers to our waitstaff that made our night so special.

lucy 2

Jacob's Pickles

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I had a chance to embrace some of these last few days of pleasant Fall weather by dining outside for brunch at the hip new-ish Southern Spot, Jacob's Pickles, on NYC's Upper West Side.  For the non New Yorkers--the Upper West Side has become a super fancy place--yet less formal than the Upper East Side.

Jacob's Pickles, in true UWS fashion, doesn't take reservations unless you have a huge party. So, try to snag a seat at the communal dining area or bar.  Otherwise, be prepared to wait!  (We were told there was a 1hr 15min wait on a Sunday at 1:30, but we were able to grab a seat outside when we saw a couple leave because they thought it was going to rain.)

We started our meal with a cocktail.  My friend ordered the spicy brine margarita--a house infused jalapeño Espolon Tequilla, spicy Pickle Brine.  It was indeed spicy!

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I was feeling seasonal, so I tried the "Chilled Apple Pie Moonshine."  Mine came in a much smaller jar, but it definitely tasted an awful lot like apple pie!  And it wasn't too strong ;)  But, in addition to great hand-crafted cocktails, this place has quite the beer selection!  The owner actually discovered his passion for artisan-crafted beers while studying abroad in the Czech  Republic.  Plus, any place that has 8 different pumpkin/squash beer selections certainly gets my vote!

The food was yummy!  The shrimp and grits were seasoned extremely well--and I just love that some shrimp had the heads on and shells on the tails.  I actually don't like having to de-shell shrimp tails when I'm eating, but it adds so much flavor!  The grits were delish--my only complaint is that there weren't more of them. (I'm a southern girl, I love my grits!)  Everything was organic--the menu even tells you what farm the pigs came from!  I admire their commitment to sustainable and conscious farming and livestock practices.

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Shrimp and Bacon Grits--gotta love finding shrimp cooked with the heads on!

I also ordered the banana pancakes, "fluffy biscuit pancakes with caramelized bananas."  They had me at caramelized bananas... plus, the syrup was some type of homemade molasses-based syrup----super rich and super satisfying.

So, next time Alice's Tea Cup is telling me there's a two-hour wait for tea and scones... I may be heading over to Jacobs Pickles for some real food!

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Thanks for the great resto rec Aimee!

Foodie in DC: Sticky Fingers Bakery

Image Sticky Fingers Bakery is a vegan bakery located in the up-and-coming neighborhood Columbia Heights in Northwest Washington, DC.  And it's already a neighborhood staple.  Chef and Founder, Doron Peterson, is committed to serving tasty sweet and savory fare that is free of animals and animal byproducts.  She is also a 2-time winner on the hit series, Cupcake Wars. Food aside, this quaint little bakery has a great ambience, complete with kitchen decor from our grandmothers' era--an old timey refrigerator, oven, and even a kitchen aid mixer. Plus, the friendly staff seems to really enjoy being a part of the Sticky team.

I sampled three items: the cup of vegan chilli, the cowvin cookie (vanilla cream-filled oatmeal cookie sandwich), and the seasonal sweet potato cupcake with maple frosting and a toasted marshmallow.  The cowvin cookie was one of the orginal three items available from Sticky Fingers Bakery, and the person I went with said he orders it every time he goes! (and he isn't vegan.)  I tried it, and the flavor was delicious and the size was gigantic.  My only criticism is that the edges of the cookies were too hard for my liking.

Cowvin Cookie: vanilla cream-filled oatmeal cookie sandwich

Stick Fingers Bakery also serves a number of savory vegan items--including salads, burgers, soups, and brunch.  I didn't want to eat cookies and cupcakes on an empty stomach, so I tried the "veggie chilli," a mix of black beans, kidney beans, veggies, peppers and spices.  I happen to really love vegetable chilli, and I shared a fantastic vegan chilli recipe several years ago.  My only issue with the chilli, though it was tasty, is that it had faux meat in it. I suppose that if I were an actual vegan, I'd appreciate this. But, I find the beans in vegan chilli give it enough protein, so processed faux meat substitutes seem unnecessary. Plus, the online menu failed to mention that there was faux meat in the chilli. But, at 2.99 a cup and 3.99 a bowl, I can't really complain (and I'd order it again!)

Cup of vegan chilli--perfect for the "chilly" fall day yesterday :)

The last item I sampled was the sweet potato cupcake with maple frosting (pictured at top of post). This is one of their seasonal offerings, and since this place is a two-time winner of cupcake wars, I figured that I should try a cupcake.  Plus, I asked what the most popular cupcake was, and this was it! The cupcake itself was tasty, but it was a little dry and the frosting left something to be desired. And the marshmallow on top was just--hard. I scraped the frosting (and marshmallow) off, and pretended like it was just a muffin. Not bad--but not sure if it was worth $4 (especially since I didn't enjoy the frosting).

All in all, I'd return to Sticky Fingers Bakery because it feels great supporting local businesses with a conscience! Plus, I need to try the dish that Sticky Fingers was named after--the sticky bun!

Red Rooster- Marcus Samuelsson's New Restaurant in Harlem

Foodies and Top Chef Masters' Fans, the long wait is finally over!  Marcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster Restaurant is up and running in Harlem.  It's almost as if the neighborhood of Harlem has let out a sigh of relief--finally a hip place in the neighborhood to kick back after work or church with friends.  The mood is lively and jovial, yet you don't have to yell at the person you're dining with just so they can hear you.  The music is a mix of 90s hits and jazz and soul classics--and there is often live music and a DJ.  The drinks are stiff and the prices are comparable to other restaurants in the neighborhood.  You need to make reservations about two weeks ahead; but, you can still enjoy the place without a reservation.  Just arrive around 5:15 when they start taking walk-ins for dinner. Put your name on the list, or head to the bar, where you can order everything on the restaurant's menu.  If you show up around 8 pm without a reservation you can still enjoy a drink by the bar, but chances are it will be standing room only.

The Ambience:  Don't expect white table cloths with a matching pretentious attitude.  The ambience is laid back, yet classy and interesting. The music will take you to a warm fuzzy place in the 90s.

The Crowd: You've got a mix of locals, people that used to live in Harlem, and people who trekked to Harlem from downtown just to see what this restaurant is about!

The Drinks: Extensive and varied beer list, decent wine list, cocktails range from $10-$15--but they are STRONG.  I ordered the "brownstoner"--and I watched the bartender make it and put 3 full shots of liquor in the drink.  As far as non-alcoholic drinks--watch out! They charged us for refills!

The Food: A bit eclectic--Swedish and soul food.  The menu has some hits and some near-hits.  The juicy burger with caramelized onions--a real winner. The "Helga" meatballs have also gotten rave reviews.  I had the "hearth baked lemon chicken" which reminded me of a Moroccan tangine.  The chicken was expertly cooked--baked yet the skin was crispy.

"Hearth baked lemon chicken" over a bed of couscous, olives, raisins, and pomegranate seeds