Last summer, I went to a book signing for Marcus Samuelsson's new cookbook, New American Table. Fresh off his win of Top Chef Masters 2, he talked about cooking for President Obama's first state dinner (an opportunity for which he also had to compete), his ethnic and culinary mix (Samuelsson is Ethiopian but he was adopted by a Swedish family), and his choice to open a new restaurant, "Red Rooster," in Harlem.
After winning acclaim at Aquavit for Scandanavian cuisine (who knew?) Red Rooster would be a mix of American, Scandanavian, and African flavors. It would be a community gathering place. It would be pretty awesome. But just as I was ready to book my reservation for the first available day, I realized that Red Rooster would not be opening for five or six months, long after I had left the city for the summer. So I bought two copies of his book instead.
Red Rooster opened in December, which means it has had 6 months to tweak and perfect its menu.
Andrew and I ordered two of the signature dishes. The "fried yard bird" was perfect--juicy, dark meat fried and topped with some unusual spices, a splatter of hot sauce (like a spiced mayo) on the side along with the collard greens. I went for "Helga's Meatballs," eager to see what had won Samuelsson so much praise at Aquavit.
These meatballs took me instantly back to the cooking of the Scandanavian grandmother I never had. They were both traditional and modern, as the meatballs sat on top of a light gravy and beneath a foam--one of the most surprisingly successful uses of foam I have tried. Something about the earthy meat combined with the moisture of the foam made for a wonderful bite. With a side of mashed potatoes ("mash"), lingonberries, and pickled cucumber, this dish was able to be both comforting and exotic at the same time.
Red Rooster also serves cornbread, which makes it a restaurant after my own heart. A $4 order gets you two large slices, each with a nice bit of crust, along with some honey butter and a tomato jam that packs real flavor (no bland tomato sauce here.)
Desserts were another hit. Sweet potato donuts, rolled in cinnamon sugar, had a filling of pureed sweet potato and cinnamon, sweetened to seem like a jam. A dessert called "Black and White Mud" was not very unusual but was very pleasing: vanilla mousse and chocolate mousse on an oreo crust. The best part of the dessert were the extra bits of salt in the crust and on top, turning it into a sweet-salty combo.
Overall, I think this restaurant is very unique and very polished, and it's one of my favorite meals I've had in the city. In fact, the only item of the night that was a miss was a glass of Sangria. But hey, the restaurant promises American, African, and Scandinavian influences. Asking for Spain was going a little too far.
310 Lenox Avenue
New York, NY 10027