Bistro Bites Review – Red Rooster Harlem & Ginny’s Supper Club

Marcus Samuelsson greeted customers at his Red Rooster Harlem restaurant. Photo: Michael Appleton, The New York Times

Near the corner of 125th Street and Lenox Avenue, you’ll find a bustling hot spot where you can dine, drink, enjoy live bands, or experience performances in an intimate downstairs cabaret.  Welcome to Red Rooster Harlem and Ginny’s Supper Club!

Created by Andrew Chapman and Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson, the aim of Red Rooster is to elevate and celebrate the historic Harlem neighborhood by hiring from within the area, showcasing local artists, and supporting local purveyors.  Named after a legendary speakeasy during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and ’30s, this Red Rooster is emblematic of today’s Harlem — diverse and inclusive.  It’s more than just a restaurant— it’s a sort of living history lesson.

Co-creator and Owner, Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson

My partner Vincent and I had been to Red Rooster before, but this time there was more to see, hear and experience — from the front bar, which takes up about half the floor space of the upper level, to the dining area, the entire place was packed for a Monday!  To our left as we entered, a live band played R&B hits by Prince, Michael Jackson, and Pharrell Williams, a tall gentleman wearing voodoo skull face paint roamed the bar, and hungry diners waited for their tables while enjoying the entertainment.  There was art everywhere: I spied a bookcase filled with old books, toys, and trophies.  Vintage dresses, jackets, and hats were hung around the room, reminding us of the elegance of days gone by.  Shelves behind the bar held pictures in antique frames, vintage lamps, old handbags, and other tchotchkes, and there was fabulous visual art – gorgeous framed photos by Pontus Höök, and a dazzling painting of Little Richard by Mark Leckey above the open kitchen.

As crowded as it was, we managed to snag a great table, and we began our evening with cocktails; the spicy, fruity Caribbean Punch for Vincent, while I chose the Yes, Chef – vodka, fresh mint, ginger, honey, pineapple, and a lemon slice garnish, dusted with berbere,  a fiery Ethiopian spice blend.  Both drinks were refreshing and well balanced, with a touch of heat that prepared us for the meal ahead.

Cornbread with honey butter & tomato jam (l), Deviled Eggs (r) – Photos: Michael Barbieri

We ordered two of the Snacks: the Cornbread – light, warm, and delicious, with whipped butter and cranberry jam, and the Deviled Eggs – smooth and tangy, on a bed of creamy hummus, each garnished with a morsel of duck salami, which played nicely against the tang of the egg yolk.  Our appetizers came next: Vincent had the “Hot” Chicken & Waffle – a crispy half-waffle with juicy fried chicken, topped with a black bean chili syrup, and pickled daikon.  While the chicken’s crust may have been a tiny bit overdone, it was still very tasty, with a touch of heat from the chili syrup and contrasting acidity from the radish.  I went with the Shrimp & Calamari Hot Rice.  Resembling a marriage of shrimp & grits and calamari fried rice, this was stunning!  Perfectly cooked heads-on shrimp atop nutty, soy-tinged fried rice, with a hint of chili oil, and a ribbon of fermented cabbage, this dish hit all the flavor profiles: sweet, salty, earthy, and spicy, with the cabbage providing a bite of acid.  If it were available, a full order would make a fantastic main course!

Photos: Michael Barbieri
“Hot” Chicken & Waffle (l), Shrimp & Calamari Hot Rice (r) – Photos: Michael Barbieri

Speaking of main courses, ours followed soon behind.  I opted for the 310 Steak Frites — succulent, coffee rubbed flat-iron steak, paired with a sinfully rich ox marrow pudding, a bright, herbal mustard green cream, and zingy Bermuda onion jam.  The coffee rub gave the beef a nice earthiness, while the marrow brought to mind the lovely fattiness of a great foie-gras.  I tried to get a bit of everything on each forkful, to create a perfectly balanced bite.

Photos: Michael Barbieri
310 Steak Frites – Photos: Michael Barbieri

Vincent ordered Helga’s Meatballs, Ethiopian-born chef Samuelsson’s nod to his adoptive Swedish heritage — a tribute to his grandmother Helga.  Deliciously light meatballs, made from beef, pork, and veal, sat on a bed of braised cabbage, smothered in a slightly tart sauce made with cream, chicken stock, lingonberry preserves and pickle juice!  Paired with buttermilk mashed potatoes, Samuelsson has called this the most popular dish on his menu.  I could see why!

Photo: Michael Barbieri
Mashed Potatoes (l), Helga’s Meatballs (r) – Photo: Michael Barbieri

Finally, a subtle, but yummy dessert: the Blueberry Hill – a creamy mix of cardamom custard, blueberries, and a crispy ginger cookie crumble.  This was a delectable, yet not too sweet end to a fantastic meal!

Blueberry Hill – Photo: Michael Barbieri

One final note: To one side of the dining room, a staircase leads down to Ginny’s Supper Club, an intimate cabaret-style venue that’s a true throwback to the speakeasies of yesteryear – white tablecloths, elegant banquettes, amber-tinged lighting, and candles on every table, the vibe is captured perfectly.  On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings, you can dine on Marcus Samuelsson’s fabulous Red Rooster cuisine, while enjoying music that hearkens back to the days of classic jazz and big bands, or stop by on a Sunday for their Gospel Brunch!

We had a wonderful time at Red Rooster Harlem – our servers were friendly and efficient, especially considering how crowded it was, the atmosphere was lively and fun, and the food was fantastic, presenting us with plenty of “wow” moments!  So head uptown to Red Rooster and Ginny’s Supper Club, and get a taste of old Harlem…and of the new Harlem!

About Michael Barbieri 3 Articles
Las Vegas/New York City Food Critic, publisher of and writer for QVegas