Brunch at Red Rooster & Craig’s Birthday Dinner at Soto

February 17, 2011 | By | COMMENTS

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Some new restaurants deserve their buzz, others not so much.

Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster in Harlem deserves its buzz. It’s not really about the food, though the food is very good; it’s about the concept, the location, the community-mindedness of the enterprise.

I met my friend Alex for brunch there a few weeks ago and it was fascinating to see how Samuelsson didn’t just plop a fancy restaurant down on to the streets of Harlem, but how he seamlessly wove it into the fabric of the neighborhood. The people working there and eating there weren’t a homogenous group of outsiders; there were people eating there from down the street (the woman who sat down next to us, a fancy lady in a hat who may have just come from church, told Alex to lower her voice!) as well as the foodies who trekked there from many subway stations away:

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As for the food, we started with a plate of breakfast pastries:

Alex went a little crazy for the sweet potato bread:

My entree of shrimp and grits was truly fantastic:

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The grits had really deep, complex flavor and the poached egg on top was perfectly cooked with a lovely, oozy egg.

But perfectly cooked, Alex’s baked egg entree was not:

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This was such a misfire, I’m not sure where to begin. Baking eggs in a cast iron skillet in an oven is always a tricky endeavor–once those eggs get overcooked, you’re going to be eating chalk. And as you can see in the picture, the eggs and whites were weirdly separated so you got these SUPER-chalky yolk bits and then relatively floppy chunks of white. The croutons in there were a nice touch, but couldn’t save the day.

Also, I’m sorry to say, Alex’s mac & cheese with greens was watery and quite under-seasoned. It was kind of awkward to be eating such a winning dish while Alex suffered so, but Alex enjoyed the pastries so much, she didn’t care.

And we enjoyed the environment at Red Rooster so much (it’s really beautifully decorated and the staff is so friendly and helpful) that we’d definitely go back. Clearly NYC critics agree too.

* * * * *

Now you remember how I was dying last week? How I took Craig to Soto for his birthday and how we ordered the tasting menu and how, after the second course, I could barely eat another bite?

Well I took a bunch of pictures of that meal. I can’t claim to remember much, I was in such agony, but let’s see how it goes…

The first bite was emblematic of the meal to come: beautifully conceived and presented, this was black and white tofu:

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Then there was an intense miso soup with chunks of lobster in it:

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After the soup, I was pretty much done for, so here are a bunch of pretty pictures with occasional commentary, where a memory lingers:

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Here’s the birthday boy eating uni (or sea urchin):

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I love uni, but, when you’re suffering from nausea, the last thing in the world you probably want to eat is this:

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This masterful bit of decadence was totally wasted on me! The culinary gods were crying.

Let’s continue with more things I barely remember:

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That, I’m pretty sure, was lobster in mayo surrounded with lotus root and topped with caviar. I remember it because the sound it made when Craig dug his chopsticks into it almost had me racing to the bathroom, I found it so off-putting. (Again, though, this is all through the lens of illness!)

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Yes, this langoustine looks scrumptious, but can you imagine eating it when you feel like puking?

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Craig ordered two additional bites of sushi:

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At last, came some relief. A hot cup of green tea in a ceramic cup:

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And these multi-flavored mochi:

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Maybe because seafood was so off-putting in my sick-state, I ate these rice-flour coated ice cream balls ravenously. Craig was confused. “I thought you couldn’t eat!”

“I know, it’s weird, but these taste good to me right now.”

All in all, it was a meal for the ages, only this, for me, was the age of wanting to puke my guts out. Lucky for Craig, he felt great and loved his meal. And that was the point of it in the first place, so we can call the meal a success.

The chef, by the way, Mr. Soto himself is an Atlanta transplant, just like me. After it was over, we told him how impressed we were by the food and he was very gracious. Thank goodness no one sent him pictures of what happened afterwards.

Red Rooster

310 Lenox Avenue

Between 125th and 126th Streets

(212) 792-9001

Soto

357 Sixth Ave. near Washington Place

(212) 414-3088

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Categories: Greenwich Village, Harlem, Manhattan, New York, Restaurant Reviews