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.

Boca

43 Main StWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-0720 • bocawestport.com
 

Tucked away right off of the main drag in an alley adjacent to West Elm, is a bit of a sleeper with big aspirations. A two-story Italian ( I know they call themselves Mediterranean, but it’s mostly Italian), that is probably trendier than it needs to be, with staff that’s trying almost as hard as the décor. But what a view form upstairs! Overlooking the Saugatuck River. You could do worse my friend. Same goes for the food, because Boca is better than most of the Italian options in Westport, which admittedly isn’t saying a whole lot. It seems to be the one cuisine in town that isn’t nailed yet. Tarry Lodge is decent, but that’s really it (granted I hear good things about Filamente Trattoria, so TBD on that one). But if the owners of The Whelk, Kawa Ni & Jesup Hall ever decide to get in the game, count me in as an investor!

Until that happens though, Boca will have to suffice. And suffice is does with killer dishes like the lobster with soft polenta. I also found their mussels with fava beans to be damn skippy.

In the middle I’d peg the fig, goat cheese & honey bruschetta as well as the kale salad with walnuts, green apples and gorgonzola. Both are good, but come off a little too basic and/or simply lacking that wow factor, missing the boat on either texture, contrast or balance.

As for misses, steer clear of the crispy artichokes. They are overly breaded and underly sauced, netting out as unsettling balls of fried batter. We didn’t even finish a third of the dish. Fortunately my glass of red wine will help make up for the cholesterol bomb.

So, with more hits than misses, and the void that it fills in the Italian Westport scene, I’d say it’s a worthy stop. Especially if you’re in the middle of a Main Street shopping spree and you get the grumbles.

The Ultimate Cauliflower

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Tamarind – New York, NY

It’s actually not on the menu, but if you ask them to make it, make it they shall. Along with your day. And I mean that in the Dirty Harry-est way possible. Apparently it’s more of a street food favorite in India, fried up in a ketchup-based sauce of all things. So damn yummy you’ll wish you were reincarnated as a cow so you could come back here and enjoy four portions of it as a time with all of your stomachs.

Ilili – New York, NY

If you’ve read my Ultimate Brussels Sprouts post, than this will seem a tad redundant. It’s the identical dish, just seasonally modified when sprouts are out of season. It’s every bit as crazy delicious though. Made the exact same way, sauteed in a dream-inducing mixture of fig jam, mint yogurt, chopped walnuts, sherry vinegar and grapes. It’s the best thing to happen to the albino broccoli since cheese.

The Ultimate Brussels Sprouts

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Ilili – New York, NY

This dish is so good, everybody and their grandmother is now copying it from coast to coast. Case in point Cleo in Hollywood, CA. But nobody does it better than these guys. In fact, they do it so well, I think Brussels sprout farmers around the world should have to share a portion of their proceeds because I guarantee the sales of sprouts are at an all time high.

The genius of the dish is that it’s grounded by such a healthy, strong tasting green vegetable that it allows for such extremes in the other direction. Those extremes coming in the form of frying ’em up with a little fig jam, mint yogurt, toasted walnuts, sherry vinegar and grapes. So it’s actually hell and gone from healthy, but hey, it’s a green vegetable so RDA box checked!

All’onda – New York, NY

I honestly never thought the day would come when I added a second entry to this post. I mean Ilili’s sprouts were just so far and away above anything else that it seemed like it was going to take almost as long as it did for someone to tie Roger Maris’ 61 home runs. Well, it took about six years. And All’onda’s sprouts are all that and a bucket of pancetta. Candied pancetta to be precise. And bottarga, a salty byproduct made from shaved mullet roe. I had to look it up. Learn something new everyday. Like wow are these friggin’ these dangerous. Speaking of buckets, I could easily eat one filled with these puppies.

Schnippers

23 E 23rd St. New York, NY 10010(212) 233-1025 schnippers.com
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While it’s no Shake Shack, the food isn’t half bad and the line is MUCH shorter. Plus, let’s be honest, Shake Shake isn’t what it once was and I’m not just saying that because it’s currently a construction site.

But enough about the Shack, let’s talk about Schnippers, because apart from the name, which sounds like a slang term for a woman’s sexy bits, it’s actually surprisingly good, depending on what you get.

Oh, and the décor does look a lot like a giant fast food warehouse, akin to the ones you find along interstate rest stops. But apart from that…

Among the stars are the salads, believe it or not. The fig & bleu in particular is pretty damn good. Caramelized figs, apples, walnuts, bleu cheese, croutons and vinegarette. Better than most places that specialize in Just Salad.

Another shout out goes to the onion rings. Nice and crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. The way the lord intended. And yes, if the lord can care about football, then the way I see it, he can care about onion rings too.

The sweet potato fries are also pretty on point. Especially with the maple dipping sauce, which I found to be a better compliment that many of its peers.

The sloppy joe is a nice, cheap novelty as well, taking me back to my teenage years, which is probably the last time I had one. But muscle memory (the tongue is a muscle after all) didn’t forget, picking up right were my last rendezvous of sloppiness left off.

On the lesser side of impressive would be the turkey burger, which I found to be just okay. As were the regular fries, which lived up to their regular name.

So my advice, look past the décor and the name people. She’s got it going on. Not like Stacy’s mom or anything, but if you’re craving a burger joint and you don’t feel like waiting in a 2-hour line, than you could do a lot worse.

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