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Feb 7, 2011
New York City's Harlem enjoys a long and storied reputation for vibrant nightlife. During the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s through the 1930s, African-American culture blossomed, and nightspots like the Cotton Club, the Savoy Ballroom and the legendary Apollo Theater made Harlem the place for jazz and blues. Harlem has been experiencing a fresh wave of attention, development, and growth over the last several years, and that has led to something of a Harlem Restaurant Renaissance. Now alongside longtime favorites like "Queen of Soul Food" Sylvia Wood's eponymous restaurant and the dining room of the historic Lenox Lounge, a fresh, eclectic crop of restaurants has appeared--restaurants that are especially worth celebrating as USA honors Black History Month.
Most recently, Character Approved chef Marcus Samuelsson has opened Red Rooster Harlem, named for the legendary Harlem speakeasy and serving comfort food celebrating the roots of American cuisine and the diverse culinary traditions of the neighborhood. Samuelsson's own Ethiopian-Swedish roots will certainly be part of the mix too.
International diversity is in evidence throughout Harlem's restaurant resurgence. Mojo's owner Mounir Jabrane grew up in Morocco and Belgium before settling in New York. Jabrane offers what he calls "New Harlem Cuisine"--a fusion of Mediterranean and Southern flavors evident in dishes like Harlem Fried Chicken Sliders, Moroccan Grilled Baby Lamb Chops, and "Sexy Grits" made with cream, truffle oil, and Portobello mushrooms.
Yatenga French Bistro & Bar shows its influences in its name and on its menu. Yatenga, a French-influenced region in West Africa, is home to the bistro's owners. French classics like coq au vin and escargots share the menu with chicken tagine and couscous royal.
Chez Lucienne (pictured above), is a mix of pure French and pure Harlem. Opened by two alums of the very French Daniel, Chez Lucienne's dinner menu features classic and contemporary French cuisine. But for lunch and brunch, you can also choose their Soul menu, offering such treats as black-eyed pea salad and cornmeal fried catfish.
Bier International, opened last summer, is Harlem's first beer garden. A diverse young crowd is treated to mostly European drafts and global pub grub--burgers, empanadas, and currywurst (a German fast food dish of hot pork sausage with a curry sauce), to name a few.
A Character Approved Harlem Restaurant Renaissance is definitely in full swing. So next time you "Take the 'A' Train" to Harlem, be sure to pack your appetite.