NYC

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

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!

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

Mad For Chicken: The Best. Fried. Chicken. Period!

So you've probably guessed that the best fried chicken I've ever had was not in Paris.

Your next guess is probably New Orleans, or somewhere in south Louisiana. Wrong again.

A few weeks ago, a friend and I stumbled upon this Chicken "Speakeasy" in Manhattan. The door was unmarked. There was no sign to inform passerby. We walked up a staircase and down a hall, and there it was. Mad for Chicken.  (Unfortunately, the super hip location has closed, but they have additional locations- Updated 2013)

It was a Tuesday night at 10 p.m., but the place was packed.  This hidden gem may be hard to find if you've never been there, but its customers keep coming back.  I had never had "Korean Fried Chicken" before.  The crispy skin was the most delicious part! Normally, I avoid eating chicken skin, but there was no stopping me!

You can try either the soy garlic drums/wings, or the hot drums/wings--or both! Normally, I must have hot wings.. otherwise, I just get bored!  But, I had the soy garlic, and the flavor was explosive.  The best part about the chicken here is that the skin is crispy and flavorful, while the meat itself is juicy and succulent.

This place is open til 4 am on weeknights and 6 am on weekends, making it the perfect stop after a night out. Plus, the ambience and decor may  be just as good as the fried chicken. There is a loungy feel, like you are truly in a speakeasy--a secret enterprise selling some forbidden product!  Though the decor is chic, the service is super friendly.

I have also tried their crunchy spicy tuna rolls. Ok, I have never been a spicy tuna roll fan, but it was amazing. This is sushi done RIGHT. I think "Mad For Chicken" just may be one of those places where everything on the menu is incredible. So fear not pescatarians and vegetarians, there are extensive non-chicken options for you as well.