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Posts from the ‘Harlem’ Category

Newborn: Sushi Inoue

Despite its less than savory reputation, it’s because of Tinder that I was able to enjoy a preview of the delights (that would still be delightful full price) being prepared at Sushi Inoue, a restaurant with 14-seat sushi counter that opened this weekend on the ground floor of a newish condo building in Harlem. This is less neighborhood takeout sushi than an understated showcase for hyper-fresh seafood flown from Japan and prepared by Chef Shinichi Inoue, formerly of Michelin-starred Sushi Azabu (and app-introduced friend of a friend).

A la carte sushi and omakase (three levels ranging from $80 to $120) are both available. What follows is a sampling of what you might expect as part of the chef’s choice.

sushi inoue one

Amuses like a cherry tomato in gelee, tender nuggets of tako wasabi, and a jumbo pacific clam, large enough to be sliced into three bites and spiked with black pepper.

sushi inoue two

There’s something about being instructed “Don’t touch the head” that only makes you want to prod it more. Ten minutes on, the shrimp’s spindly legs and antennae were still moving with only the slightest provocation. While the sashimi was pristine, the squares of tomago stood out, sweet, with the texture of a burnished sponge cake rather than custardy. The chawanmushi topped with corn and two rounds of okra was smoky, from what, I’m not sure. Any morbid temptation to rip into the translucent flesh hidden in prawn’s shell was worth suppressing for its re-purposing as messy finger food in an intense mushroomy miso broth.

sushi inoue three

The sushi, compact and incorporating barely sweetened rice dabbed with wasabi, was the highlight despite my inability to recall every nuance  (many pours of  sweetish Junmai Daiginjo, “Dreams Come True” followed by Dassai Beyond, apparently good enough to serve Obama, didn’t help my memory). Four days later, and I can still taste the uni, creamy, almost like seawater emulsified with happiness. Probably because I ate two. My favorite, though, was the pink chevron-patterned nodoguro, sea bass barely seared and garnished with the tiniest dollop of yuzu kosho, a spicy paste of pickled green chiles and yuzu peel. Eel, octopus, scallops, otoro, what looked like mackerel but was actually shad, were all lovely too. Oh, and matcha cheesecake, accompanied by a round of “Happy Birthday” sung by the staff, just an hour before my day kicked in officially.

Sushi Inoue * 381 Lenox Ave., New York, NY 

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Taco Salad, Hot & Messy Sandwiches, Cheddar Bay Biscuits

el cortez duo

El Cortez. If you like piña coladas…then 2015 is a great time to be alive. Technically, this isn’t a piña colada but The Commodore (rum, coconut, pineapple, amaretto float) which only serves to remind that El Cortez is a clone-in-spirit of said Williamsburg bar but more tiki and ’80s-leaning (I refuse to let the ’90s claim this breed of suburban junk food Mex) hence the additional presence of the Orange Julio, a nod to everyone’s favorite Creamsicle-esque mall beverage. I don’t even like taco salad (I was so traumatized by a spell in the early ’80s where my mom made weekly taco salads with packet-seasoned ground beef, canned kidney beans, grated cheddar, shredded iceberg, Catalina dressing, and tortilla chips that turned to damp mush when we had to eat leftovers that it somehow made it into my 2011 Elle profile–pretty much my only food blog fame) but I couldn’t stop thinking about the taco salad after learning of its existence. It was totally a crush from afar. But it held up in reality, as well. It’s all about the fried shell, really. Ripping and dipping. If you just eat the beefy bean guts out, you may be saving calories and carbs but you may as well be dead inside. The taco salad, itself, is pure of form, with a base of beans and ground beef, heaving with all of the classic cheddar, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and importantly sliced black olives, no overt twists or upgrades–that’s all in the condiments, a line-up of squeeze bottle salsas (the orange one packs serious throat-tickling heat). The finishing touch? A ramekin of dill ranch foam. I am so going back for the chimichanga.

union pizza works pie

Union Pizza Works. The thing about dining at 5pm is that by 10:30pm, it’s entirely possible to eat another meal. No regrets about sharing an onion and Gorgonzola pizza and a carafe of Chianti out on the cement patio. And if you’ve had enough to drink, you might hear biscuit pronounced with an Italian accent as Bisquick and order the chocolate dessert for the novelty.

streetbird trio

Streetbird. Surprisingly little chicken got eaten for being a restaurant supposedly specializing in rotisseried poultry. That’s because the Hot & Messy, an open-faced toasted cornbread sandwich smeared with peanut butter, and smothered with avocado, bacon scant pulled chicken, and runny-yolked egg jumped off the page with its excess. (Plus, I don’t know if I need to go all the way to Harlem for roasted chicken when I’m surrounded by Peruvian and Colombian renditions.) The notti greens, green beans pan-seared in a vaguely Asian manner with chiles and peanuts and a small bowl of wildly acidic pickles provided some counterbalance. The mac and cheese, of course, did not.

apollo red lobster quad

Red Lobster. It’s perfectly acceptable to linger over a Warm Chocolate Chip Lava Cookie and a margarita with a tequila sidecar at the Apollo-adjacent Red Lobster, afterward, or probably any time. It’s a big place. The best part is you’ll still get a basket of Cheddar Bay Biscuits with the menus before they realize you’re not ordering a full meal. Don’t feel bad about it.

Red Rooster (Christmas Edition)

It took Christmas to finally make a trip to Red Rooster, the finally agreed upon choice among my group of three (Chinese or not is always a tough decision), to partake in the advertised buffet. Because holidays=excess.

The spread was by far more Scandinavian than Soul, though, so it didn't exactly count as a typical dining experience at the restaurant. That is not a complaint–the only thing I truly missed was the opportunity to try the yard bird, a.k.a. fried chicken.

Red rooster bread table

Well, there was cornbread in the selection of starches. It was the flaky scone-biscuit rounds with clotted cream that got my attention, though (twice).

Red rooster rainbow produce

The best part were the starters, anchored by a dazzling array of colorful radishes, cauliflower, and carrots. I love rainbow food to the point where I started a Pinterest board, Taste the Rainbow, before learning that was a cliche. I filled up on two trips-worth of gravlax, and herring prepared a million ways (ok, three: pickled, in sour cream, and in a thick green herbal sauce that wasn't pesto).

Red rooster christmas buffet plate one

Round one.

Red rooster christmas buffet plate two

I didn't even get a chance to try the Swedish pork with lingonberries, though I did my best to get a small scoop of just about everything else: mashed sweet potatoes, collard greens, red cabbage, chile-spiked salmon, a small slice of roast beef, skinny green and white beans, Jansson's Temptation, a potato casserole with some sort of pickled fish, and easily the weirdest thing, a Swedish meatball and cocktail frank bake that would be at home in the Midwest. Note the one meatball and one weiner, front and center, that came as a pair.

Red rooster christmas desserts

Desserts included pumpkin pie, fudge, macaroons (not macarons) and a molasses cookies that probably have a Swedish name that I don't know. I forgot to order Glögg, though I kind of maxed out on mulled wine after more than few cups of Glühwein in Berlin a few weeks ago.

The basement set-up, complete with a live band and a roaming woman crooning, There's a Stranger in My House (at least I think that's what the song was) elicited comparisons to a Catskills resort (not that I would know firsthand–Dirty Dancing is my only frame of reference). And we were this close to going to Kutshers for Christmas.

Red Rooster * 310 Malcom X Blvd., New York, NY

Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken

Charles Gabriel’s fried chicken is one of those fundamentals that every food knowledgeable New Yorker is supposed to be familiar with. For burgers the benchmark has become Shake Shack, though I was late to that game too with my first visit being in September (I’ve still never been to the Madison Square Park location). DiFara is a big duh pizza-wise, but I haven’t been in years because I’m impatient. And by years I’m merely talking early 21st century; no one would believe me if I claimed my fondness began as a Jewish boy growing up in 1960s Midwood.

So now that Charles’ Southern Style Chicken has been reopened as Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken and the city has become frenzied over wings and thighs, I really needed to go straight to the source.

A wiser soul would’ve gone during the weekend buffet and made sure to get a fresh batch straight from the skillet. I went on a random weeknight and figured that if the chicken had already been sitting awhile under heat lamps that another 45 minutes to the fancy $18 fried chicken enclave of Carroll Gardens wouldn’t cause much further damage. (I still can’t explain how a 14.3-mile ride from 155th St. to Brooklyn only takes five minutes longer than my daily 4.4-mile commute to Whitehall, the southernmost R/W station in Manhattan. I would take a cheaper, further, express train neighborhood any day and have been trying to convince the person I live with of this for years.)

Charles’ country pan fried chicken take out

What I’m taking a long time to say is that I know my fried chicken wasn’t at its peak. And it was still moist, crispy edged and covetable at room temperature. The skin was sturdy not heavy with a light, flaky powdered quality. I devoured a drumstick walking around (I never eat standing up) getting out plates for the collard greens (made smoky from turkey rather than ham hocks), soupy black eyed peas and leftover Thanksgiving sweet potatoes driven up from Northern Virginia.

Sitting down with a breast and my sides, I was glad that we’d ordered what I initially thought was too much chicken for two. I still have a wing I’m holding onto for today.

Charles’ country pan fried chicken red velvet cake remainder

My only recommendation is to not eat 95% of a slab of red velvet cake in one go. Normally, I share such things. As someone whose sugar intake is limited by necessity not choice, I go overboard when faced with my favorite form of glucose: a hefty, wincingly sweet slice of super-American layer cake frosted and filled to the nines. I didn’t even remember to take a photo. This is all that’s left.

Before going to bed I quickly clicked on the New York Times dining section and there Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken was getting the under $25 treatment. I made up to Harlem just in the nick of time. ( I also cracked open the new Saveur this morning only to be faced with a feature on mezcal, a subject I researched in Oaxaca last week, written by the Fort Defiance gentleman. Not that I was looking to publish in Saveur and not that they would let me, but I feel a quiet, nervous attachment to the subject in the same way I get anxious when I read others’ blog posts about chain restaurants, which thankfully isn’t a daily occurrence.)

Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken * 2841 Frederick Douglass Blvd., New York, NY

Amy Ruth’s

1/2  I had no idea I’d be eating at Amy Ruth’s on Saturday. I’d been sent to review Uptown Renaissance across the street, but it was shuttered and blanketed by a large For Rent banner. Urgh, it figures that when I’d venture out of my usual dining radius, I’d end up on a wild chicken and waffle chase.  And I still wanted fried chicken, so crossing 116th Street was the obvious solution. And I was kind of happier because I like pork in my collard greens and Uptown Renaissance was halal.

Do restaurants really need velvet ropes? Maybe it’s all the rage above 42nd St. and I need to get out more. Luckily, it was still early and crowd control wasn’t necessary at 5pm. There were plenty of empty seats, and I’m still mystified regarding what’s so great about the upstairs dining room. I didn’t see it, but it must be amazing since it seemed like every other group that was seated in the main room made a fuss until they were relocated.


I love sweet/meat combos so honey-dipped fried chicken, The Terry Rivers (pardon my ignorance, but even after a cursory Google, I’m not sure who that is, though this Terry Rivers brightened my day) was kind of irresistible. I’m totally a diabetic waiting to happen and if anything is likely to increase my insulin resistance, it’s fried chicken swimming in honey.

Honey coated the bottom of the plate, perfect for dipping nubbins of crackly battered skin. The unexpectedly grotesque development was how ill matched honey and potatoes are. The treacly wetness soaked into my not-that-crispy-to-begin-with fries and rendered them sticky and creepy. Maybe if I closed my eyes and pretended they were sweet potato fries it would’ve be ok.


Hmm, it's a gold on gold entree. I didn’t want to copycat James’s chicken and waffle, The Al Sharpton (who needs no Googling). We both got sugar shocked, though I noticed very little maple syrup applied to his food. Instead, James also added Tabasco,  a combo that reminded me a bit too much of the lemonade diet, which I'm still kind of angry for getting sucked into. The waffles are Belgian, by the way. Wha? I'm starting to think that I'm just confused and these big-squared concoctions are standard waffles.

And yes, I got my porky greens.

Amy Ruth’s * W. 116th St., New York, NY

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que


I tend to scoff at New Yorkers who deem anyplace in the boroughs or far
reaches of Manhattan impossible to get to. There are very few subway
inaccessible spots on the big island, there's no excuse except not actually
wanting to make the effort. Ill cop to being ignorant of most of everything
above midtown, mainly because everyone I know lives south or east, not
north, but I'm not opposed to trying unfamiliar corners. When it came to
finding Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, my Brooklyn-centric stripes began to show.

In theory it seemed like either the 137th or 125th
street stations would be fine since theyre both equidistant number-wise from
131st. The 1/9 went screwy and bypassed 125th for
137th. Fine, no biggie. But instead of walking the six simple
blocks down Broadway, I opted away from the crowd and went for the next
block west, Riverside Dr. This shouldve been a tip off because I knew the
restaurant was underneath Riverside Dr. and how could it sit underneath a
street and also be along it?

Despite the snow flurries, as usual I was still sweaty from impatiently
huffing around. I made it past 134th before realizing that I was
up in the air on an overpass that extended as far as my line of vision.
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que was clearly somewhere beneath my feet. And I'd already
trudged what felt like a long way. I couldnt cut back to Broadway without
completely backtracking to where I'd originally came from. So frustrating,
and I had no one to blame except myself. At least I was working off my large
lunch from Bryant Park Grill (weird restaurant choice, but it wasn't mine to

Once inside, cozy with an IPA microbrew I was able to settle down and
take in the peculiar surroundings and now pretty falling snow. There would
be no guessing you were in New York City if you hadnt traipsed through East
Harlem (and had a large party of heavily accented, muscle bound, New
Jersey-esque type guys with cell phones attached to their ears, sitting
right next to you. I did appreciate that they considered Cuban sandwiches to
be perfectly normal appetizers to order. Never mind why Cubanos are on the
menu at all, though I faintly recall the same weirdness at Blue Smoke) to
get there. For one, the space is quite large, and woody, rustic like a
roadhouse. I don't know their whole history, except that theyre from
Syracuse, have something to do with bikers and have a loyal following.
Clearly theyre shooting for an outlaw vibe, which I've never really
understood about barbecue, how its somehow developed this extreme or tough
persona, perhaps because grilling, smoke and fire are mens domains, who
knows. The staff were also unusual for NYC—friendly, guiless,
bubbly—perhaps they are upstate tagalongs.

We started with spicy, earthy boiled shrimp, which felt very New
Orleans. I had the big-ass pork plate, despite minor reservations with
saying the name (not out of piousness but because I have issues with silly
food titles—moons over my hammy, anyone? I noticed a guy near us just
ordered “the pork plate” which prompted his server to force him
into saying big-ass).

Despite a short southern jaunt last summer, I'm hardly a barbecue
aficionado, but I would give high marks to the limited items I did taste at
Dinosaur. My pulled pork came with a slightly sweet sauce, which was fine
though others might prefer a different style topping (there are three sauce
choices on the table). I like that the meat was tender, yet also with a few
crispy bits on the fringe. I only ate one pork rib, but it was also
flavorful and not overly fatty. Barbecue isnt about the sides, but my beans
and salt potatoes were surprisingly good. I'm not usually a fan of bbq
beans, but these were loaded with smoky meat, and the potatoes were in a
slick of oozing butter. It's hard to beat butter and salt for simplicity and

There wasn't room for dessert, though I've heard good things. I hate to
say it, but I'd be inclined to use a car next time. Even so, Ill still
harbor ill will towards the subway-impaired, I cant help it.

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que *
646 W. 131st St., New York, NY