Harlem Eats – Where to Find Good Food in Harlem, Part 1

When I moved to Harlem more than 10 years ago, you could count on one hand the number of restaurants and banks on 125th Street and surroundings and still have fingers left over. Now, I can sample Senegalese, Jamaican, Cuban, French, American, Italian, Ethiopian, Chinese, and some new fusion foods without having to take a subway downtown.

Oh, and now I have my pick of several branches of the major banks just on 125th Street alone.

Here are a few of my favorite restaurants, the same ones I recommend to friends who come from out of town.

  • Red Rooster – Chef and author, Marcus Samuelsson, brings his award winning cooking uptown to Red Rooster, his new restaurant which features traditional American fare. The restaurant got its name from a Harlem speakeasy that was located on 138th Street and 7th Avenue where Harlem’s glitterati like Nat King Cole, Adam Clayton Powell and James Baldwin used to meet and eat. Samuelsson was a Top Chef Masters winner, and guest chef at the first State Dinner of the Obama Administration. Red Rooster, 310 Lenox Avenue, 212.792.9001. I’ve been for lunch and brunch. The food was excellent but be prepared to wait. Reservations recommended for dinner.
  • Chez Lucienne  – Next door to Red Rooster at 308 Lenox is Chez Lucienne. Before Red Rooster popped up, Chez Lucienne was the spot to go for good French food without the downtown prices. I’ve taken friends and clients here for lunch and dinner and was never disappointed. I’ve been promising to order the whole red snapper next time just so I can watch the waiter debone my fish. Drop by on Friday nights for the jazz as well. Chez Lucienne’s owned by Jerome Bougherdani, who worked at Le Bernadin and Daniel, downtown establishments. Chez Lucienne, 308 Lenox Avenue. 212-289-5555.
  • Ristorante Settepani – Opened originally as a café selling scrumptious pastries, Settepani underwent extensive renovations and reopened as a restaurant serving Mediterranean fare a little over a year ago. I fell in love with the seafood pasta dish that was cooked in parchment paper – had it several times — but it doesn’t seem to be on the latest menu. Not to worry, the owners, Leah and Nino Settepani, have maintained the same attention to detail as they did at the original café. Ristorante Settepani, 192 Lenox Avenue, 917-492-4806.
Ristorante Settepani
Ristorante Settepani
  • Native – Funky and unpretentious Native offers an excellent variety of foods – for vegetarians and those who still love some fried chicken or burger.  Native Restaurant, 161 Lenox Avenue, 212-665-2525.
Native Restaurant, Harlem
Native Restaurant
  • Mobay Uptown – Billed as a “Caribbean soul fusion” restaurant, Mobay Uptown has been in Harlem for about 8 years – one of the first upscale restaurants to open in the community. Combining Southern, Caribbean, Chinese cuisine, Mobay and its owner, Sheron Chin-Barnes, have been featured on Bobby Flay’s Throwdown. Mobay Uptown Restaurant, 17 West 125th Street, 212-876-2300
  • Melba’s – When I’m feeling for some comfort food, I head down to Melba’s Restaurant, named after owner Melba Brown. Melba’s been a fixture in the neighborhood since 2005 and is famous for their Southern Fried Chicken and Eggnog Waffles. Melba’s Restaurant, 300 W 114th Street, 212-864-7777.
  • Le Baobab Restaurant – Generous portions, good prices. Whenever I go to Le Baobab, I always have left overs. My favorite – the fried fish, whole fish fried crispy with a sauce on the side. I usually back that up with some couscous and friend plantains and top it off with a glass of their homemade ginger drink. Le Baobab Restaurant, 120 W 116th Street, 212-864-4700.
  • Amor Cubano – Yucca fries, ropa vieja, arroz con pollo, mojitos, and other traditional Cuban fare is on offer at Amor Cubano. So until the embargo on travel to the island nation is lifted, if you want a taste of good Cuban food, Amor Cubano is the place to go uptown. Amor Cubano, 2013 3rd Avenue, 212-996-1220.

Last week, the buzz was about Cedric, a new French bistro that had its grand opening on Monday night. Named after Cedric Lecendre, the general manager at Le Bilboquet, an eatery on the Upper East Side, Cedric is the latest chef to open an outpost in Harlem. Word is that on opening night, uptown and downtown, including Chris Noth of Law and Order, and Sex in the City fame met at Cedric.

If you ever come uptown, make sure to check out one of these restaurants. I’ll share more in another post later this week.

Bon Appetit!


Tasty Thursdays – Gelato

I can’t remember a time in my adult life when I’ve eaten more ice cream, sorbet and gelato.

A pint or more of sorbet or ice cream is on my shopping list every week. I tell myself I’ll only need a pint but if I don’t pace myself, I can eat all of it in one sitting.

Last weekend, I was in the Bronx where my friend and I had a wonderful meal at Emilia’s on Arthur Avenue. A family-style restaurant, it was packed when we arrived at a little after six. Pat, one of the owners, told us the wait would be about 20 minutes. We took a short walk down the block to check out another restaurant that had been recommended but it was closed for holiday. So civilized.

I don’t normally order lasagna when I go to an Italian restaurant but this time, I decided to. I was very pleased with my selection. The lasagna was light, each layer almost as thin as a wafer.  My friend’s Chicken Parmigiana made me wish I had ordered it instead.


When the dessert menu came, I looked longingly at the different flavors of sorbet – peach, coconut, orange and lemon – but had to pass. I had no room!

One thing that endears me to a restaurant is the people. By the time we left Emilia’s on Saturday night, we both felt as if we had returned to a place we’d been going to for years. Pat had us in conversation while we waited for our table, then she or her husband would check on us during the meal. We weren’t being singled out for special treatment, they did that routinely with everyone. Pat even introduced us to her granddaughter, who works at Emilia’s on weekends. I could see why the place was so packed when we arrived. It still was when we left hours later.

If you ever make it to the Bronx, just ask anyone how to get to Arthur Avenue in Little Italy and check out Emilia’s.

It’s been in the 90s here in the northeast this week and it made me think of gelato. There was none on the menu at Emilia’s. Anyway, here’s a recipe, courtesy of allrecipes.com


2 cups milk

1 cup heavy cream

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar



In a medium saucepan, mix milk and cream. Warm until foam forms around the edges. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar until frothy. Gradually pour the warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Return mixture to saucepan; cook over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture gels slightly and coats the back of the spoon. If small egg lumps begin to show, remove from heat immediately.

Pour the mixture through a sieve or fine strainer into a bowl. Cover, and chill for several hours or overnight.

Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker, and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to a sealed container, and freeze until firm. If the gelato is too firm, place it in the refrigerator until it reaches the desired consistency.

Buon Appetito!


A Perfect Meal

When I saw yesterday’s Daily Post prompt, Describe a Perfect Meal, I thought immediately of a dinner I was invited to several years ago.

The details of the menu have receded from my memory. What remains now, more than 15 years later, is the memory of the afternoon.

It was at the home of friends, a couple, who I have great affection for. He had been a diplomat and linguist who had had an assorted number of interesting occupations. He had lived in several countries, including a few in North Africa. She was vivacious, warm and funny. Together they had lived in several countries, including Germany and Columbia. Together, they were the picture of a lovely and loving couple who doted on each other.

Dinners and dinner parties in their home were occasions. Their guests, friends from all over the world, speaking several languages – Spanish, French, German – would discuss wines and books, art and politics and everything in between. Nothing was ever off the table.

The dinner that has stayed in my mind took place on a Saturday in summer. I can’t remember now if they had said dinner or lunch but whatever it was, it lasted from mid-afternoon until very late, so late, they invited my partner and me to stay over. I was definitely tempted — mostly so we could continue the conversation at breakfast!

It began with a light soup followed by 4 or 5 different courses, including one of pasta. That much, I remember. Each was small, about the size of tapas, and complimented by the perfect selection of wine.

There were no more than 6 or 8 of us, including our hosts, at this party. The afternoon unfolded in slow motion, there was no rush. We ate sumptuously and drank copiously, the conversation flowing as freely as the wine.

A perfect meal

I have fleeting images of that meal. But what I remember clearly was how lovely the meal was. Of course, after all that wine, I’m sure I was also more than a little buzzed.

I’ve always wanted to re-create the experience but I’m not sure I could. It was a once in a lifetime moment that will live in my heart forever.

A perfect meal, to me, isn’t so much about the menu, it’s about who’s sharing it with you.


Tasty Thursdays: Broccoli Grape Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette

I was at the nail salon a few years ago when I discovered this recipe for Broccoli Grape Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette in a magazine. I figured since it had two things I love, broccoli and grapes, it would be worth trying out.

I was also intrigued by the combination or broccoli and grapes and wrote the ingredients in my notebook.  The next time I had family and friends over, I tried it. It was delicious! And the most important thing is, my friends loved it. My cousin always complains that I experiment with new recipes when I have people over but even she raved about it.

The flavor of the broccoli, the crispness of it blended well with the sweetness and soft texture of the grapes. The citrusy flavor of the vinaigrette gave it a kick.

The other thing about the Broccoli Grape Salad is that it is very simple to make. Since it’s so easy and everyone loves it, I usually make a large bowl and keep it in the refrigerator, especially in the summer.

Several months after I discovered the recipe, the citrus vinaigrette I was using disappeared from the supermarket shelves. I was crushed. I visited several supermarkets in different neighborhoods trying to find it. Eventually, I gave up and went online. I’ll share below the one I finally decided on.

Here’s the recipe for Broccoli Grape Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette. Hope you get to try it. When you do, let me know what you think.

Broccoli Grape Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette

2 bunches broccoli fleurettes, cut into bite-sized pieces (You can also blanch the broccoli to soften them up)

4 cups of red, seedless grapes, halved (or 2 of red, 2 of green)

1 cup sliced almonds


Prepare the citrus vinaigrette following the directions below and set aside.

Place broccoli and grapes into a large bowl

Pour citrus vinaigrette over the salad mixture, stirring until combine

Cover and refrigerate for 2-4 hours or overnight to allow the flavors to blend

Add nuts before serving.

Note: The salad can be doubled very easily if you have a crowd.


Citrus Vinaigrette


1/2 cup fresh orange juice (about 1 orange)

1/3 cup fresh grapefruit juice

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce

2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger


Combine all ingredients in a blender; process until smooth. Pour into a bowl; cover and chill.

Note: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Yield: 1 1/3 cups (serving size: 1 tablespoon)

Citrus Vinaigrette recipe courtesy of myrecipes.com


Tasty Thursdays: July 4th Jerk

Jerk is both a style of cooking and the mix of spices used to make jerk. It is a very popular way of cooking in Jamaica that has grown from chicken to pork, fish, sausage, tofu, lobster, etc.

My earliest memories of jerk was of a man who used to sell jerk chicken door-to-door on his

Little Ochie Jerk Lobster – Maynefoto

bicycle. Back then, making jerk was an elaborate affair – it was always slow-cooked in the open over pimento wood, which gave it a distinct flavor. Jerk all but disappeared in the 1960s but it saw a huge resurgence in the 1970s when some enterprising chefs duplicated the sauce and made it available in bottles and packages.

Thanks to Jamaicans abroad who wish for a taste of home, jerk has gone international.

At home, especially in tourist areas, jerk is big business but, as you’d expect, it’s been watered down considerably to accommodate those who are averse to the peppery jerk taste. (Earlier this year, I wrote a post, Jamaica-In Search of the Real Jerk about finding authentic jerk in Jamaica.)

Peppery or not, jerk is still a delicious way to cook. You can bet it’ll be on the menu this weekend at many July 4th barbecues.

Here are two recipes to try.

Stir-Fried Caribbean Vegetables with Jerk Tofu

I discovered this recipe a few years ago. It is one of my favorites and disappears pretty quickly whenever I make it.


1 tbsp Walkerswood Jerk Marinade or Jerk Seasoning (you can substitute any jerk seasoning from the supermarket or the one below)

2 tbsp palm, peanut, sesame or soy oil

500 g/1lb. firm tofu, cubed

1 onion, sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Oil, for frying

For the vegetables:

About 1kg/2 lbs. total of any combination of carrots, zucchini, cauliflower, green cabbage, pak choy, sweet peppers and/or broccoli


Mix together jerk seasoning and oil, add to tofu and marinate for at least an hour (preferably overnight).

Heat the frying oil in a wok or suitable skillet. Deep fry the tofu cubes for 3-5 minutes and reserve. Pour out most of the oil and stir-fry the onion and garlic; then begin to add the other vegetables, hardest first. Cook very lightly; then add the tofu and stir in gently until hot. Serve immediately.

Serves 4. Preparation time: 15 minutes plus 1 hour (or up to overnight) marinating plus 10 minutes cooking.

Jerk Tofu recipe courtesy of Walkerswood Caribbean Kitchen by Virginia Burke.

David’s Jerk Chicken


½ cup Jerk Rub*

1 onion, finely chopped

1 Scotch bonnet pepper, minced

Leaves from 1 fresh thyme sprig, minced

2 scallions, including green parts, finely chopped

1 chicken (3 to 3 ½ pounds), cut into serving pieces


Mix together the jerk seasoning, onion, pepper, thyme and scallions. Rub the chicken well all over with the jerk rub. Cover and refrigerate for 4-6 hours.

Prepare a low fire in a charcoal grill using a combination of charcoal and pimento wood. (If you don’t have pimento wood, substitute applewood or hickory, or build a fire with just charcoal. If you’re using a gas grill, preheat it to 225° to 250°F.

Place the chicken on the grill and cook, covered, for 1 to 1 ½ hours, turning every 10 minutes or so. When it’s done, the chicken will take on a very dark color, the juices will run clear when the meat is pierced, and the internal temperature will have reached 160°F.

*Jerk Chicken Rub

1 onion, finely chopped

½ cup finely chopped scallions, including green parts

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground Jamaican allspice

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

4-6 Scotch Bonnet or habanero peppers, minced fine

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Using a mortar and pestle or a food processor, combine all the ingredients and grind to a paste. Store leftover paste in the refrigerator in a tightly closed jar for about 1 month.

Makes about 1 cup; enough for 406 pounds of meat

Jerk Chicken recipe courtesy of Jerk from Jamaica by Helen Willinsky

Enjoy your 4th!


Tasty Thursdays: Coq au Vin

Solange, my almost-mother-in-law, used to make coq au vin (chicken in wine) quite often. Stylish, beautiful, generous and funny, she was a stay-at-home mom, long before the term came into vogue, to eight children. Her home was inviting and warm and almost always full of people.

With Mom and Dad

Mom had a habit of “spicing up” everything she made — it just wasn’t done until she added her own flavors and seasoned it with love. She was a stickler for attractive food presentation. “La nourriture doit plaire a l’oeil avant de plaire a l’estomac. (Food must please the eyes before it pleases the stomach.),” she’d always say. And her coq au vin was legendary.

Mom shared her recipe for coq au vin with me several years ago. I’m kicking myself now because I can’t find it anywhere. I’m hoping it’s with my own mother’s recipe for the fruit cake she used to bake every Christmas (we were all given chores — mine was to chop the fruits). She had written it in her own hand on the back of an envelope and given it to me when I was dating Mom Solange’s son. Now they’re all gone and I can’t find either the coq au vin or the Christmas cake recipe anywhere.

Epicurious.com to the rescue! I found something similar to Mom’s coq au vin which I’m sharing with you. It doesn’t have her secret spices but I think you’ll like it.


  • 1 750-ml bottle of dry red wine
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced
  • 2 onions, coarsely chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
  • 6 large fresh thyme sprigs
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 whole chicken legs with thighs
  • 1 1/2 cups pearl onions
  • 5 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 12 ounces large mushrooms, quartered
  • 4 bacon slices, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups Port
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour


Stir first 6 ingredients in heavy large nonreactive pot. Add chicken, submerging completely. Cover; chill overnight.

Cook pearl onions in large pot of boiling salted water 3 minutes. Drain and cool. Peel. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pearl onions and mushrooms and sauté until mushrooms are tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer to bowl. Add bacon to same skillet and sauté until brown and crisp. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Wipe skillet clean.

Using slotted spoon, transfer chicken from marinade to strainer (reserve marinade in pot). Pat chicken dry with paper towels; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and sauté until skin is brown, turning once, about 10 minutes. Transfer chicken to pot of marinade; bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered until chicken is very tender, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Strain chicken and cooking liquid over large bowl. Transfer chicken to medium bowl; discard vegetables in strainer. Return liquid to pot. Add Port and bring to boil. Combine flour and remaining 2 tablespoons butter in small bowl. Whisk into cooking liquid. Boil over medium heat until sauce thickens and is slightly reduced, about 15 minutes. Return chicken to pot. Add pearl onions, mushrooms and bacon to sauce in pot. Simmer until heated through and flavors blend, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Recipe courtesy of epicurious.com




Tasty Thursdays: Steak and Fries

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had steak. Once when I saw Ella Fitzgerald in concert in Toronto, and the other at Le Relais de l’Entrecôte in Paris.

I wouldn’t have known about Le Relais de l’Entrecôte but for my friend, Karen, who’d been working in Paris for a few months before I arrived. Karen and I had tried to meet for dinner in New York but couldn’t seem to synchronize our schedules. Then we found out we were going to be in Paris at the same time, we knew we had to meet.

When Karen mentioned Le Relais, admittedly, I was hesitant. Steak is never my first choice for a meal and the idea of having steak in a country that is known for its delectable cuisine seemed, well, pedestrian. But she sold me and since I’m always ready to try something different – who wouldn’t want to try steak and fries in Paris? – I relented.

At Le Relais de l’Entrecôte, steak and fries are the only things on the menu. I guess the only difference in each order is how the steak is prepared – rare, medium or done.

Steak & Fries from Le Relais de l'Entrecôte
Steak and Fries

We decided on 7 p.m., an early dinner, by Parisian standards, and there was still a short wait for a table.

Each plate arrived with steak doused in a lovely greenish gravy backed up by a side of fries. I wish I had the recipe to share but believe me when I tell you, it was good. When I finished, the only thing left was the plate. Yes, and the flatware. Neither Karen nor I even looked at dessert.

Our server was pleasant and efficient. Although I speak enough French, it was great to know that our server spoke some English.  There was constant turnover during the time we were there and a line outside when we left.

Although I’m a steak novice, I’d give the steak and fries at Le Relais de l’Entrecôte a thumbs up.

If you ever make it to Paris, be sure to check them out. You’ll not be disappointed.

Le Relais de l’Entrecôte
20 Bis Rue Saint-Benoît
Metro:  Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Tasty Thursdays: Easter Bun (and Cheese)

When I was growing up in Jamaica, certain foods were associated with certain religious holidays, days of the week, etc. For example, rice and peas were reserved for Sundays and special occasions, like weddings, parties, etc., rum cake at Christmas, and Easter bun for, you guessed it, Easter. Now, the Easter bun can be found in most grocery stores at any time during the year, rice and peas has become an everyday and rum cake can be bought at any time.

I didn’t always like Easter bun. learned to like it when I was away at university. And I started making it myself a few years ago. It’s not particularly difficult to make. I found two recipes that I liked in The Real Taste of Jamaica, by Enid Donaldson, and combined the ingredients I wanted in my bun.

So here’s my recipe for a popular favorite – our answer to the Hot Crossed Bun.

How to Make Easter Bun


3 cups flour
4 tsps. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. lime juice
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup cherries (you can also use mixed fruits)
1 cup Guinness  stout


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 Degrees
  2. Over low heat, dissolve sugar, butter, spices in stout.
  3. Mix flour and baking powder.
  4. Beat egg and mix all the ingredients together
  5. Pour into a greased loaf tin and bake for 1 hour.
  6. Remove and allow to cool.

Easter bun’s usually accompanied by a processed cheese that’s close in taste to Chedder but use the cheese you like. It also works with American cheese. Some people substitute butter for cheese.

Hope you can try this out and let me know what you think.


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