As a Harlemite, the most exciting and heralded restaurant event of the last six months was by far was the opening of Red Rooster.  A black celebrity chef opening a soul food restaurant in Harlem!  Nevermind that he’s Swedish.  The tittering commenced.  Aunties and church members from across the country called and asked, “Have you been to that Marcus Samuels restaurant yet?” (They always butcher his last name.)  And before Red Rooster, I always had to reply, “No, unfortunately I can’t afford to go to Aquavit.”

But Red Rooster is a delight of a place, another showpiece in Harlem’s popping restaurant scene.  The decor is welcoming, there’s always a vibrant scene of people waiting, eating, drinking, mingling in the front bar.  And the downstairs lounge is never empty Thursday to Saturday, a racially and generationally diverse crowd boogie-ing down to old school jams on the early side, hip hop and dancehall after midnight.

Then there’s the food.  Having never sat down to a full meal at one of Mr. Samuelsson’s other venues, I have no basis for comparison.  But from years of observing him and following his career, I expected soul food, but with his signature international flavor profiles and his own fine-dining finesse.  And I wasn’t disappointed.

I heard a few grumbles from the local color that “well it wasn’t all that” and “it wasn’t enough food” and whatnot…  But one must understand: it’s soul food, something that is defined as variably and subjectively as each cook or eater’s tastes.  Is it going to taste like your mother’s?  Or the favorite neighborhood spot back home that had the bomb [fill-in-the-blank] whatever?  NO!!!  This is Marcus Samuelsson’s vision, the vision of an Afro-Swede’s interpretation of American soul food.  It’s not going to be to “your” taste, or even to a “traditional” taste.  It’s to his.  You either like it and enjoy it, or you don’t.  No shade, but I personally hate both Sylvia’s and Amy Ruth’s food, both heralded as staples of Harlem soul food.  Too greasy, not enough thought or spice for my cultured creole tastebuds.  But I loved this.

The food and drinks were simply delicious.  Yes I had the fried chicken.  No, it wasn’t earth shattering and groundbreaking – it was fried chicken and french toast.  But expertly made, with a unique flair.  Worth a trip uptown, for those daring enough to brave the 2/3 train to 125th.


Veggie Omelette, Il Caffe Latte, Harlem

Veggie Omelette + Mimosa, Il Caffe Latte, Harlem

If you can beat the weekend rush (by going super early or super late), Il Caffe Latte is a totally worth it, a great, relatively quiet place to nurse a hangover or catch a nice strong latte.

One of my favorite breakfast meals growing up was oatmeal…  It felt like a warm hug from grandma.  I like mine stiff, with cinnamon, raisins and a fat cube of butter in the middle, drenched in whole milk.  But trying to conceptualize oatmeal as a savory dish is both compelling and mind-blowing for me.  I’m dipping my toe gingerly into the mix, this time adding a dry-aged grana padano cheese grated over my regular recipe.

Oatmeal w/Grana Padano cheese

Oatmeal w/Grana Padano cheese

Now, Mark Bittman suggested scallions and soy sauce…  But I’m leaning more toward the fried egg and sausage mix some Chowhounders recommended, with a little tomato relish or salsa…  Any thoughts or suggestions?

When I was on a hunt for gumbo ingredients the other day (beef smoked sausage and possibly andouille sausage) in Harlem, I found myself in the C-town on 125th.  While for a long time that grocery was the only one for miles around aside from Fairway and a few exorbitantly priced organic markets… that doesn’t excuse the fact that in general, all C-towns in the city have a faint lingering odor of under-refrigerated meat and dairy products.  I braced myself and ran in, all the way to the back, where I knew the prepackaged Hillshire Farms sausage would be.

Once inside though, I was fascinated by the proliferation of “regular” groceries.  I’d insulated myself in a bubble of organic fresh fruits and veggies and sustainably packaged grains and granolas for so long, the sight of hundreds of boxes of Fruit Loops and other neon cereals startled me.  And then I remembered how much I *loved* Frosted Flakes as a kid, and grabbed a box.

So I quickly found the beef smoked sausage and allowed my eyes to peruse the shelf to see what other odd random “regular” groceries they had.  Hot sausage by the 5 lb box, but something about it was a little too neon red to pique my interest.  Then I found the beef bacon.  I found duck bacon at Fairway once before and it was a delightful experience, so I figured this would be tasty if not delicious.  Good god, was I wrong!

It was like salt cured beef with no smoke flavor…  All grease and stringy mush.  I threw it away.  Couldn’t eat it.

All that said, I would be willing to bet that if I got the beef bacon from Fairway, Whole Foods, or some other fancy organic market, or from a good local source it might be delicious.  No. 7 in Fort Greene taught me well that all prepared meats are NOT created equal!

But those fancy markets never had it.  Because beef bacon is… gauche.

I suffer, so you don’t have to.

Beef Bacon raw, w/packaging

It seemed like a good idea at the time

Beef Bacon in a pan

it turned out a disaster

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