New York City’s Harlem has a rich ethnic and cultural heritage, from its Dutch origins to the waves of Italian and Jewish immigrants to the legendary 1920’s African-American Harlem Renaissance. With such storied roots, it seems only natural to witness a sophisticated culinary explosion with a melding pot of global palates and cuisines. Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster created the influx and now these five notable spots help solidify Harlem as a bona fide food and restaurant destination.
Chic and minimalist-industrial, Vinateria is a trattoria perched on the corner of Frederick Douglas Boulevard. Its warmly lit dining room features a subtle grey and blue palate, a blend of stainless steel, recycled wood, and reused materials (most notably its handsome bar). Chef Gustavo Lopez works his magic preparing small (grilled octopus with arugula salad), medium (the house made tagliatelle with pork ragu and cavolo nero), and large plates (sautéed arctic char with salmoriglio). Weekends usher in a hungry brunch crowd anxious for Bloody Mary’s and grass-fed hamburgers. Weather permitting, grab a seat outside and watch the hustle and bustle.
Notable Dish: Black spaghetti with octopus and breadcrumbs
Former Time Warner CEO Richard Parson’s has revived Mintons, the venerable institution that once housed jazz legends Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk, and Dizzy Gillespie, into a fashionable 70-seat supper club. At the bar, order the mint julep and nibble on crab cakes served by bartenders in black bow ties. Alexander Smalls, who once helmed Cafe Beulah, serves three pre-set southern revival meals with lowcountry execution (think buttermilk biscuits and she crab soup). And, it’s all gloriously accompanied by old school, live jazz music. You can’t miss the poppy mural depicting musicians Charles Charlie Christian (guitar), Hot Lips Page (trumpet), and Tony Scott (clarinet). Reservations required. Gents are required to wear jackets.
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Notable Dish: Crisp skate wing with manila clams
Minton’s sister restaurant, The Cecil, also under the hand of Chef Smalls, bills itself as New York City’s first "Afro-American brasserie." The food is an homage to African diaspora, peppered with pops of American and Asian spices. A corner seat at the bar is a perfect to observe the suspendered bartenders shake, rattle, and roll your cocktail. The spacious, golden hued main dining room showcases a warm portrait painting by New York artist Jerome Lagarrigue. The cuisine is a diverse mix of brightly colored creations plucked from a comfort food orientated menu. Nosh on deviled eggs, citrus jerk striped bass, ginger squid, and spicy black-eyed peas with lamb sausage. The okra fries are superbly salted and crisp.
Notable Dish: Cinnamon-scented fried guinea hen, a crisp thigh and breast atop charred okra and Asian red beans
As its name suggests, Barawine is a dim, sexy corner spot on Lenox Avenue and an ideal place to sip a glass of wine or two (there’s an impressive list of 40 sections). Sample the French-American cuisine while checking out the cosmopolitan clientele of neighbors and 30-somethings. The narrow, front of the house is attractive and outfitted with brasserie style chandeliers. A sophisticated black and white atmosphere is completed with a long communal bar table, flanked by bottles upon bottles of wine. The asparagus and crab salads are starter crowd-pleasers, while the charcuterie and cheese plate (hey, black truffles & béchamel sauce never hurt anyone) is perfect for sharing. Main courses include roasted duck and a braised lamb. A weekend DJ ushers in a hip, happening vibe.
Notable Dish: Vegetarian creamy rice with fava beans, peas and wild mushrooms
A Japanese duo opened Mountain Bird, a snug, charming 19-seat French-inspired "nose to tail" boutique eatery in North Central Harlem. With emphasis on all things fowl, expect fried chicken combs with honey mustard aioli and a duck gizzard spring roll perched lovingly on classic gilded, monogramed dishes. The BBQ turkey burger stuffed with truffle mornay means business. Everything is plated with simplicity in mind. Big, bold flavors emerge in the sauce arena from tartar, tomato-goulash and brandy gravy. Deserts (double layered cheese cake, dark rum 72% chocolate cake) are intensely decadent. For now, it’s cash only and BYOB with a dollar glass charge. Closed Mondays.
Notable Dish: The Mountain Bird cassoulet
Photo Credits: Vinateria: Courtesy of Vinateria; Minton’s: Courtesy of Harlem Jazz Enterprises, Minton’s; The Cecil: Courtesy of The Cecil; Barawine: Courtesy of Barawine Harlem; Mountain Bird: Courtesy of Harlem Bespoke