Red Rooster

310 Lenox AveNew York, NY 10027 • (212) 792-9001 • redroosterharlem.com
 

While I applaud and appreciate Marcus Samuelson’s mission to make world-class cuisine more accessible, I wasn’t quite blown away. Especially in light of the fact that that others out there are also doing it and doing it better. Such as Danny Meyer with Shake Shack or David Chang with Momofuku Ko to name just a few. Also, having been to Aquavit back in the day, when Marcus was there, this is nothing by comparison. Granted it’s a bit like comparing apples to cured fish, but even quality to quality for what it’s supposed to be, things weren’t even in the same league. Aquavit was an experience. This was a meal.

Now for the deets. Starting with the vibe when you walk in, which is absolutely electric. Probably my single favorite thing about the place. Everything is jumping. From the people to the sounds and smells. Even the walls have a life of their own. In fact, the most docile things in the joint are the flavors.

For starters, I found the cornbread to be a big whatevs. Sure, it’s cut that they’re shaped like mandolins, but they a bland and worthless without a slathering of the honey butter and/or the tomato jam. But at that point you have to ask, what wouldn’t taste good with butter and jam on top?

The chopped salad was also pretty basic by all modern-day standards. And not even executed that well as the roasted pears were not very roasted. The spiced walnuts were not all that spiced. The ricotta salata was either not creamy enough or balanced enough in the dish to have any effect. Leaving the apples, Swiss chard and frisee to fend for itself.

The crab fritters and the meatballs were the only starters I would ever reconsider getting. The meatballs being the better of the two, made thrice as nice with a trio of veal, beef and pork. The fritters are also good, though, made with a blue crab base, which is then twisted by some “bird funk” (I’m guessing either chicken fat or fried chicken batter or both) and fermented lime aioli. It was unique but not amazing.

For my main I had to go with the Hot Honey Yardbird, having heard all about his incredible fried chicken, and while it is by all accounts delicious, it is nowhere near the best I have ever had. In fact, from Florida to New York I’ve had better at Highball & Harvest and ABC Kitchen. That said, the collard greens beneath the chicken were beneath nothing else I have ever had. Absolutely delectable and the show-stealers of that dish by a country mile.

For sides, Marcus had another duo of smash hits, but ironically neither of them were the smashed potatoes. Instead, I much preferred the brussels sprouts and the signature mac and greens. The former has almost become a given these days now that everyone but Panera is now serving killer sprouts, but latter is quite interesting because I’ve read a few polarizing dings on Yelp about the mac and I have to blatantly disagree. Okay, so not entirely. I do have to admit they are mega-loaded with calories and cream. But the value prop is still very much in check if you ask me, because arteries be damned is it good!

Come dessert I was pretty certain this was a strong three knives and I was really hoping for Marcus to pull out all the stops and show me some of that Ethiopian-Scandinavian-French Culinary Institute-Chopped jury magic, but alas I found both the chocolate mousse and the sweet potato donuts to be more filler than fabulous. I’d rather have another bit of that mac.

So, Marcus, let’s look in the basket and see what I have for you today. Three knives, lots of hype, a great vibe and a bushel of hit and miss.

Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse

157 Chrystie St. New York, NY 10002(212) 673-0330

Vodka

By and large there are two types of steakhouses in the city, the old school types like the Strip House, Old Homestead, Gallagher’s, Smith & Wollensky and Peter Luger. And the newfangled types like BLT Steak, BLT Prime and Quality Meats. And then there’s Sammy’s Roumanian, in a class unto istelf.

And by class I sort of mean the absence of class. You see, there is nothing about Sammy’s that anyone would ever mistake as “classy.” Cheesy perhaps. Schticky for certain. But definitely not classy. And the thing is, Sammy full on knows this and makes zero attempt to avoid it. Rather they embrace it full on, diving head first into an experience that feels like a three-way between The Wedding Singer, Tony & Tina’s Wedding and beef.

The festivities begin with a bottle of vodka served in a block of ice, placed directly on your table. No shit. Check out the picture above. So when it comes to your alcohol tolerance, bring your A game. Especially if you’re a smaller party.

Thereafter, you will be entertained by a Bat MItzvah-type emcee who looks like he stepped out of the 80’s, armed with a keyboard, a microphone and an arsenal of vaudeville puns that will have you cringing from ear to ear, so much that it somehow becomes smiling. Call it magic. Call it vodka. Whatever it be, it’s fun. You simply just can’t have a bad time here. I don’t know why. Because every fiber of your being would tell you otherwise. But it is the genuine nature in which it is pulled off that keeps it pure. It is the spirit and vibe of the place that keeps it light. And it is the originality and novelty of experience that makes it a fresh departure from its comparatively stuffy cohorts.

So what about the food? Well, it’s not quite up there with the best, but Sammy does have its moments. The meat, while garlicky, is still pretty good, granted you shouldn’t expect an array of beef cuts to choose from. However things like chopped liver with schmaltz, smashed potatoes with onions, stuffed cabbage and an egg cream dessert will all make up for whatever is missing with a coma-inducing chicken fat hangover. Bon appetite!

4 teeth