Marcus Samuelsson’s Harlem
This month the Sweden-raised Top Chef Masters winner opens Red Rooster, an American comfort food restaurant, near where he lives in Harlem. Below, his favorite spots in the area.
“I like to start my morning at Il Caffe Latte (breakfast for two $18), a low-key café with bracing coffee and delicious croissants.”
“From there, it’s a short stroll to the Studio Museum in Harlem, where chief curator Thelma Golden showcases rising talent (Julie Mehretu and Kara Walker exhibited here before they appeared at MoMA).”
“The authentic Amor Cubano (dinner for two $42) serves an excellent Cuban sandwich with roast pork and fried plantains.” Garden “To relax, I enjoy walking in the Conservatory Garden, in Central Park just off East 105th Street.”
“At Swing, the contemporary housewares could easily hold their own in Stockholm or SoHo.”
“The 5 & Diamond (dinner for two $90) has innovative American dishes like shrimp-and-grits hush puppies.”
“Harlem’s creative side is on view at the edgy Maysles Cinema, where films such as the recent Harlem Homegrown series are screened.”
Samuelsson’s Red Rooster Harlem opens this month at 310 Lenox Avenue.
New York Conservatory Garden
In Central Park is the New York Conservatory Garden - six acres of tranquility and order. The gardens are divided into three styles: French, Italian, and English. The centerpiece of the French garden is the Three Dancing Maidens sculpture, which is surrounded by 20,000 tulips in the spring and 2,000 chrysanthemums in the autumn. The Italian garden features a walkway shaded by pink and white crabapples and a twelve foot jet fountain. Fans of Frances Hodgson Burnett will delight in the English garden's fountain, which features a boy playing the pipes and a girl offering water to the birds.
Il Caffe Latte
Installed in a small, sunny storefront in East Harlem, Il Caffe Latte is a tidy, red-brick neighborhood café serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Mornings start with the café’s selection of notoriously strong Columbian coffee drinks and menu items like the Latin egg wrap, Acapulco breakfast platter, and make-your-own-omelets. Over the remainder of the day, the Latin- and Italian-influenced menu features everything from a spicy black bean burger to a panini with homemade meatballs to New York Steak au poivre. If you're going the sandwich route, the sweet potatoe fries are a must-try side item.
Studio Museum in Harlem
Opened in 1968 in a rented loft at Fifth Avenue and 125th Street, the Studio Museum in Harlem has long been showcasing the works of artists of African descent. With its Artist-in-Residence program, the museum has become the place for rising talent, having graduated nearly 100 artists, including Chakaia Booker, David Hammons, Julie Mehretu, Wangechi Mutu, and Kehinde Wiley. In addition to rotating exhibitions, the museum houses a permanent collection of more than 1,700 works ranging from paintings to sculpture, and it also serves as custodian of an extensive archive of photographer James VanDerZee's work.
Hosts Mario Zarate and Julio Quevedo want all their guests to feel the Amor Cubano (Cuban love) in everything at this Spanish Harlem restaurant which has been serving traditional Cuban food since 2007. The white laundry hanging from lines strung across exposed brick walls, the thatched roof over the bar, and the distinctly bright art throughout add to the ambiance created by the authentic live Cuban music, which is what keeps many patrons coming back. That, and classically executed dishes like the ropa vieja, shredded skirt steak made in garlic sauce. The restaurant has a full bar and features eight different mojitos. Reservations are recommended.
Opened in 2009, Swing, A Concept Shop, is the creation of native New Yorker, designer, and globetrotter Helena Greene. The first to bring designer labels like Rick Owens and Racquel Allegra to Harlem, Swing’s well-lit white walls let the quality of each hand-selected item speak for itself. Fashion-conscious parents can browse designer labels for kids from lines like the hip, French Finger in the Nose. Sipping a cup of espresso or Kusmi tea (also sold in the shop), shoppers can browse an eclectic collection of house wares, lighting, art, and music.
5 & Diamond
Located on Restaurant Row on Frederick Douglass Boulevard, this Harlem eatery serves up refined American entrees alongside upgraded burgers, steak sandwiches, and truffled French fries. Served on unpretentious wooden tables set against an upholstered banquette that runs the length of the restaurant, the menu of upscale American favorites created by chef David Martinez includes comfort food favorites like St. Louis Style Short Ribs and burgers seasoned with Old Bay. During Monday’s Mac and Cheese Mania, you can sample five types of mac and cheese: the 5 and Diamond gruyere, short rib, crab, truffle, and house cured bacon. Reservations are recommended.
If you are a fan of documentaries, the Maysles Cinema more than delivers. Founded by Albert Maysles, who with his late brother made non-fiction films like the classic Grey Gardens, this non-profit Harlem theatre shows only documentary films, each screening accompanied by a discussion forum where filmgoers can interact with the filmmaker. In addition to scheduled documentary programming and forums at least four nights a week, the theater hosts community-initiated arts and educational events to increase exposure for under-represented social interests and artists. A price of $10 general admission is suggested.