For normal couples, an anniversary might include a champagne toast or dinner somewhere fancy and expensive. To celebrate our one-year, my boyfriend and I stuffed our faces at Red Rooster Harlem. And it was perfect.
Chef Marcus Samuelsson, who learned to cook from his adoptive Swedish grandmother and got his start at Nordic restaurant Aquavit, brings a Scandinavian influence to Red Rooster with dishes like gravlax and meatballs with lingonberries, braised green cabbage, and dill stewed potatoes. The crux of the menu, though, is down and dirty soul food and people come for the cornbread and fried yard bird.
At 8:30 on a Saturday night, the place was packed. With all types of people. An old, black man with a handlebar mustache and a seersucker suit was surrounded by a group of white cougars at the U-shaped bar upfront. Behind them, a family of five sat next to a young, gay couple in a dining room decorated with work by Harlem artists. And then there was us, at the end of the communal table running along the open kitchen in back. I was both surprised and happy to realize that Red Rooster is just as much a local’s spot as a destination restaurant for Manhattanites. An eclectic scene, with friendly, helpful service and fair prices. Bright, loud, and lively.
The drink menu offers house cocktails, craft beers, and even wine on tap, but we just opted for a bottle of red. Way too excited about the food to worry too much about what we were drinking. To start, we each got the five-spice duck salad. Rubbed with star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, and fennel and topped with red onion, the duck was the perfect combination of sweet and savory. And I loved the radishes and fingerling chips with the mesclun lettuce.
Next, I went for the crab cakes and Nick the aforementioned fried chicken. We also split an order of mac and greens and a side of cornbread. The crab cakes were somewhat unimpressive, more breading than lump blue crab but saved by the curry aioli. The chicken was outrageous, though. Juicy pieces of dark meat drenched in white mace gravy, with mashed potatoes and pickles. Then there was the mac and cheese, my favorite. The orecchiette pasta proved the ideal vehicle for holding pools of creamy Gouda, New York Cheddar, and Comté and the bitter collard greens cut the richness of the cheese nicely. The corn bread, spread with the accompanying honey butter and tomato jam, was amazing as well.
We finished with the apple caramel sundae and the sweet potato doughnuts. The sundae was basically a deconstructed pie, with crumbles of buttery crust and chunks of apple. Plus tart apple sorbet, caramel sauce, and vanilla cream. In a word, incredible. The sweet potato doughnuts were great, too. Warm and crispy, rolled in cinnamon sugar and served with a vanilla dipping sauce. So, so good.
We rolled home and straight into bed after dinner at Red Rooster but it was so worth it. I want to go back for the Latin, blues, or Stevie Wonder cover nights at downstairs Ginny’s Supper Club or even for the gospel brunch on Sunday mornings. This time I'll be sure to take the 2/3, and not the 1, to 125th Street though...oops.
Just steps from the subway, Red Rooster transports you to the heart of Harlem. Go for the neighborhood feel and the stick-to-your-ribs food. You won't be disappointed, no matter the occasion.