Restaurant Review: Vinateria Harlem.

I remember when Vinateria first opened back in 2013 on Frederick Douglas Blvd, however in the last eight years I’ve only been there maybe twice for a drink or two. That may seem quite strange, as somethings you just take for granted because you think it will always be there. So to set things right I made a reservation for dinner to finally sample the food.

Vinateria

This restaurant (now a Harlem stable) is billed as an Italian restaurant with influences from Spain, and run by a black female owner: Yvette Leeper-Bueno. Sort of confusing at first, until I was warmly greeted by the hostess, (who took my temperature) a very nice and well mannered older lady of color, who exuded intelligence, grace and class. She secured me a server and respectfully watched me from the bar in the corner.

Vinateria

It was a warm spring day in Harlem, so I did think to sit outside in one of the dining pods (very nice ones I must say) but decided to dine inside among the fascinating decor which evokes a semi-romantic mood.

Vinateria

I was impressed by their wine list (actually a book) and settled on the Maison Deux-Fleurs Chardonnay (2018) as I gave the menu the once over (after all the place is called Vinateria) and is one of the very few places in Harlem that serve a good Chardonnay with an exceptional vintage.

I decided to start with the Calamari Fritti ³which was just a little more than your garden variety type, in fact it was not only good but made me a little afraid that I would not have any room for the main course.

Calamari Fritti

For the main course I had the Pan Seared Sea Scallops, which is served with Butternut Squash Puree, and Crispy Pork Belly Brussel Sprouts.

Pan Seared Sea Scallops

The sea scallops was delightfully oily and crispy which was truly Italian in presentation and taste. The complex textures of the Pork Belly Brussel Sprouts on my pallet explained the Italian and Spain connection. I was so full that I could not finish it, so I had the server wrap it up for me to go. You best believe that it tasted just as good (if not better) the next day as I devoured it post breakfast.

I also ordered the Polenta Fries, which is made with Parmigiano and Chipotle Aloli.

Polenta Fries

I still can’t decide if the Polenta Fries is better for breakfast or desert, but I do know that it’s delicious.

Vinateria Harlem: is located at 2211 Fredrick Douglass Blvd on 119th Street

I plan to eat here more often now from early Spring to late Summer.

Restaurant Review: Bixi Harlem.

Bixi is a new restaurant which opened on Harlem’s Restaurant Row some months ago, about three doors down from it’s older sibling: Lido (a Harlem mainstay on the row) which strikes quite a pose on FDB (as a sexy little sister should), curious and exciting!

Bixi Harlem

I was waiting for a classy, sexy new spot for a bit, and now my expectations and wait has been surpassed by the creative minds, and talents behind Bixi.

When I arrived for my reservation, I was greeted by a most delightful and bubbly hostess (Joanne), who effortlessly guided me through the Covid safety protocols very quickly and escorted me into a magical world of classy, sexy, cool right in the middle of Restaurant Row. I selected a seat in front corner of the dining room (to have a full frontal view of this beautiful space), and noticed the fresh flowers which adorned the room (and the fresh daisies on the tables) along with the red velvet seats and long couches lining the walls. One gets the feeling of sitting in an up-scale theater lobby, both romantic and cozy.

Bixi
Bixi Harlem

As I perused the food and cocktail menu, the Asian fusion was very apparent (Japanese beer and wine, and sake) as well as a good selection of domestic and imported choices. I selected the Comtesse Marion Chardonnay (France 2019) a medium bodied wine with notes of apple and lemon to start, and was soon presented with the Short Rib Fried Wontons (with scallions), with XG Mustard Sauce.

Short Rib Fried Wontons

Crispy on the outside and chewy short rib on the inside, the XG Sauce a perfect companion to this tasty dish (I kept some the sauce to pair with the other dishes). An excellent starter to the culinary magic of master chef: Serena Bass. (did I mention that she also decorated the restaurant herself?).

Chicken Katsu Sandwich/Chicken Wings

Next I had the delicious Chicken Katsu Sandwich (My new favorite) which is served on a amazing tasting Bixi Hokkaido Roll (which is made in-house), and is made with mango, tamari mayonnaise, cucumber pickle, mint, cilantro and basil.

Chicken Katsu Sandwich

This sandwich is one of the most delicious dishes that I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat. This is a must to try dining at Bixi.

Chicken Wings with Lemongrass and Ponzu Sauce

I tasted the Chicken Wings, with Lemongrass and Ponzu Sauce, Garlic Aioli, and topped with Tempura Scallions! You never had chicken wings like this in Harlem! The Tempura Scallions (a masterful addition!) is a Major Domo on the menu.

Tandori Chicken

The presentation of this dish was breathtaking, however the taste of the Tandori Chicken was much more than that. This dish is made with Bixi Mango Chutney, Roasted Tomatoes, Cilantro topped on Coconut rice. This dish is a culinary pleasure to look at, and of course eat.

Tandori Chicken

I found myself so enraptured in the (“Tapas-Like”) Asian dishes, that I just kept ordering more. So I ordered the 5 Spice Baby Back Ribs, topped with Bixi Plum and Orange BBQ Sauce and Cilantro. As I sat in the beautiful dining room, Jimi Hendrix crooned from the sound system as it flowed from the Blues. Or as Kwami explained it: Soul, Blues, and Rock and Roll (my kinda place!) is the whole playlist.

5 Spice Baby Back Ribs

While I waited for the ribs to come to the table, the iconic chef to the stars: Serena Bass (she began by catering a party for Andy Warhol!) who made all of my wonderful dishes, surprised me by coming to my table to join me. She came baring gifts. She introduced me to the Cocktail creation: Lucky Jim. This spicy cocktail is the creation of co-owner/bartender/Master mixologist: Kwami. When I asked her about her inspiration for the decor, she told there was none! “I just bought different pieces of furniture, lamps, wallpaper and put them together as I went along.” She is not only a master chef, but a masterful decorator!

Kwami: Co-Owner/Bartender/Cocktail Creator

Such a fantastic dining experience, romantic date spot, exceptional food, superbly crafted cocktails, full bodied music…..I have to give this place 4 1/2 stars overall in every category. I was too full, and one drink away from being smashed to review the cocktails properly. I will return to just review the crafted drinks at another time.

Before I left, Kwami gave me a night cap of Japanese Whiskey, bold and strong in taste. Just like Bixi’s presence on FDB!

Bixi is located at: 2164 Frederick Douglass Blvd (bet 116th & 117th Streets) New York, NY in Harlem. Call for reservation (917) 409-0570

Restaurant Review: Osteria 57 Greenwich Village.

Outside dining during Covid times is difficult even for the most adept restaurateurs in frigid temperatures. Pandemic restrictions as it stands now allows for outside dining only, so many restaurants have built dining modules on sidewalks to accommodate (and stay in business) customers.

Osteria 57 in the village is one such a place that not only has outside dining modules, but managed to make it look attractive (inside and out) for diners braving the cold for the pleasure of eating out.

Osteria 57 is an Italian restaurant with a focus on Vegan, Vegetarian and Seafood dishes. I heard that this place is not only a romantic place to have dinner, but the food is expertly executed to be paired with their wines. I decided to find out for myself.

Osteria 57

I showed up in Greenwich Village around 6pm and strolled over to West 10th Street to do a review (but didn’t have a reservation) and was turned away as they did not have any tables available. So I returned the next day (with a reservation) and was given a table in a charming wooden cell module with velvet curtains. My server suggested several appetizers specials, and I went with the scallops (he just made it sound so delicious) and while they were out of Chardonnay, my waiter made an excellent suggestion of the Soave (Acinum 2016 Veneto), which was full bodied with an exceptional after taste.

Scallops

The scallops was exceptionally noteworthy, in presentation and taste (I was tempted to order another) and that alone is worth the trip in itself. I slowly enjoyed this appetizer, savoring each bite made from a chef with true vision. For the Entree I ordered the Steelhead Salmon (Pan seared with pickled radish and lemon butter sauce), and my waiter gave marked approval of my choice.

Steelhead Salmon

The Steelhead Salmon was in fact quite good, but not as good as the scallops. I also ordered a side of seasoned baked potatoes, to round out the meal. I would give the service 3 stars, the decor (makeshift) 3 1/2 stars, the wine and food 4 stars. You could do a lot worse by taking your partner to this restaurant on Valentines Day for dinner. The food, ambience, and wine all combine to make for a perfect evening.

Osteria 57 is located at: 57 West 10th Street off of 6th Avenue in Greenwich Village.

Restaurant Review: Indian Summer Harlem

Open for about a year Indian Summer Restaurant has been open on Lenox Ave, the only other “Indian” restaurant in Harlem that I know of besides Chaiwali. The restaurant bills itself as “Traditional Indian Cuisine”, so I figured that I would have to visit it as the Solar return from their opening approached.

Indian Summer Harlem

Taking over the space formally occupied by BLVD restaurant (BLVD Bistro now moved to the former location of “Street Bird”) looks roughly the same inside, save for the Indian inspired decor.

Indian Summer

When I arrived there was only one couple outside in the covered patio, and one woman inside (the review was done two days before indoor dining was shut down again) besides myself.

Outside Patio

After undergoing the Covid-19 questionnaire and temperature check, I was seated at my table and scanned the menu to to see what dish would be worthy of my review (I didn’t have a clue), so I inquired my waiter on what was their best dish and that I would be reviewing the food.

Plastic Wrapped Dishes

I marveled at the precautions that they took to keep their patrons safe, such as plate, silverware and napkin plastic wrapped. Once I felt safe I began to relax, and fell into that cozy dinner (restaurant review) mode.

Outside Patio

To start I had the Vegetable Samosas (Cauliflower, potatoes and eggplant fried in a batter made from chick pea flour and spices) which had a sort of festive presentation to it.

Vegetable Samosas
Vegetable Samosas

The appetizer was quite enjoyable indeed (not just looked pretty) and is an item on the menu that I will most certainly have again. The side sauces really put this dish over the top….and began to get me in a festive mood.

The Side Sauces

For the main course I ordered the: Chicken Jalfrezi (chicken in a spicy tomato sauce with stir fired peppers and onions). it sounded “traditional” but it definitely looked traditional….and delicious.

Chicken Jalfrezi

I ordered a side of pita bread (on instinct) in order to balance out my meal. I remember asking for low spicy, but it was more like medium spicy, however that didn’t compromise the integrity of the dish itself.

I would rate the food 3 1/2 stars (which means that I would eat here again soon). The service 3 stars, decor 3 stars, outside patio 4 stars. As I said, the food alone lulled me into a festive mood. The experience was more than I expected.

Outside Patio
Festive Mood

Indian Summer is located at 239 Lenox Ave New York, NY 10027 (646) 952-0300 on West 122nd Street. Until further notice delivery & pick up and outside dining only. Order on their Website: https://www.toasttab.com/indian-summer-239-lenox-ave/v3

You can be certain that I will be back to try more of their “Traditional Indian Cuisine”

Restaurant Review: Savann Mediterranean Restaurant.

On 122nd Street and Frederick Douglas Blvd is the Savaan Restaurant (across the street from the police precinct) which I always knew was there but never visited it for some reason. I never really dined on Turkish food except for the occasional sweets that co-workers shared on special events, but I wasn’t prepared for the full dining experience right here in Harlem.

Savann first opened on the Upper East Side in 1997, and years later moved to Harlem, and has been operating for almost 20 years between the two locations. I really liked the dim lights which contrasted nicely with the semi-rustic interior deco, which sets the mood for a romantic and mysterious dinner vibe.

I sat at a table by the front window that gave me a view of the classic bar, and dining tables.

The ambience of the restaurant gave me a safe and cozy feeling, that I found to be very inviting.

I ordered a Chardonnay (Raebum Russian River Valley) while I navigated the menu to choose what I would have for dinner. I ordered the soup of the day to start, which was American fish clam chowder.

Soup of the Day

The chowder was extremely good, so good that if that’s all I had it would be enough to give a stellar review. I marveled at the rich flavor and fresh tasting chowder with large portions of fish and tangy taste of bay leaf.

For the main course I ordered the MANTI Lamb dumplings in yogurt sauce, with melted butter and sumac.

MANTI

This dish was so delicious that I found myself eating it very slowly (as to prolong the meal for as long as possible) the sauce was just spicy enough as to not distract from the lamb dumplings.

The Manti was fulfilling on many levels and would highly recommend this dish to everyone.

Chef Galp Ozbek was observing me from the behind the bar as I was reviewing (and enjoying) the main dish. It was apparent from my body language and facial expressions how much I was enjoying this meal.

Savaan Mediterranean Restaurant is located at 2280 Frederick Douglas Blvd in Harlem. Website: https://www.restaurantji.com/ny/new-york/savann-/

A perfect spot for a quiet romantic dinner. Mysterious and intriguing with excellent food and wine. I rate this place four stars off the top!

Restaurant Review: Boca Prime East Harlem/El Barrio.

I have not until now actually dined in a restaurant in El Barrio (first time for everything right?) mainly because, there really wasn’t a reason to,(other than one of the many “cuchifritos”) except from taco food trucks in the summer.

While I was riding around in East Harlem on 116th Street I rode pass Boca Prime and thought to myself “I never sat down in a real restaurant in El Barrio” (mainly due to the lack thereof ) save for the mob owned Italian restaurants back in the day.

I returned a week later on a Friday Indian Summer Night to have dinner, (against my better judgement) thinking….at least I can now say that I ate in that neighborhood. Riding my e-bike from Lenox Ave to East 116th Street, and I quickly arrived at Boca Prime, which bills itself as a steak house. This place has the most ungracious and unprofessional staff. After waiting at the threshold to be seated for about 15 mins (not one of the staff members inside or outside looked busy at all) with none of the staff attending to me, I walked inside and sat myself down at a table. I pulled out my laptop to take notes of this sham of a restaurant on 116th Street.

When the order taker “Laura” finally offered me a menu (which was for an unreasonable amount of time) I ordered the garlic shrimp appetizer, the grilled pork chops and a glass of below decent grade Sauvignon Blanc. Waiting for my dinner to arrive, I nursed my horrible glass of white wine and picked at the sorry tasting watered down garlic lemon sauce shrimp, which was not appetizing at all.

After what seemed like an eternity, my grilled pork chop arrived, and I just got a weird feeling sweeping over me.

While the dish didn’t look so bad visually, when I cut a piece of the chop with my steak knife (which was more than a bit difficult) and put it in my mouth, I immediately regretted my decision to do so.

The chop was dry inside (was frozen for too long) and tasted like weak cardboard smothered in passion fruit sauce (the sauce was the only good thing about this meal), and the vegetables was bland. The Yucca mash potatoes tasted like it was quickly defrosted, and the texture appeared dull.

I pondered when was the last time I had a such a horrible meal in a restaurant (if you want to call it that) and couldn’t recall any as bad as this. I could not in any sort of good faith recommend that anyone eat there. The service is beyond substandard, in fact they behave like their doing you a favor. The food is substandard along with the wine, and the only reason it’s still operating is due to the young locals drinking and Hookah smoking trying to out pose each other.

I simply could not eat, and drink this garbage and did not finish the meal. Being the gentleman that I am, I asked them to pack up the remaining food (which was practically all of it) and asked for my check. I received a bill with one amount on it, no tax info at all, and the guy told me the “tip” was included in the amount, but no info on how much! 10-15-20%? A wave of distrust washed over me, and I got out of that grace forsaken place.

I Rate Boca Prime Zero Stars on all fronts. I gave the food to the first homeless person I could find, as to not feel like throwing it in the garbage.

Restaurant Review: Clay Harlem.

Sometime around the end of August, I was riding one of my E-Bikes and found myself passing by (quickly riding by) Manhattan Ave & 123rd Street in Harlem. Struck by the post modern rustic building structure (Think New Amsterdam late 1800’s/SoHo 1984), I hit the breaks and skidded to a stop and beheld an oasis out of time (and low key out of place) tucked neatly away in Harlem!

As I walked up to inspect the menu posted in the glass enclosure on the wall, I could not help but be reminded of one of my favorite restaurants near Murray Hill….Craft! (yes….that’s it!). While I was unfamiliar with the offerings on the menu, I was also intrigued by the combination of the  ingredients on quite a few of the dishes.

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Gabriela Davogustto (one of the co-owners) approached me, and I commented on the my thoughts (and the menu) and simply had to do a review of this (low-key elegant) lovely restaurant. She graciously invited me back to do so with some hidden excitement, and off  I went on my e-bike to Lenox Ave. I returned a couple of day’s later and Andrea Needell Matteliano, the other co-owner (and bar director) and I had the pleasure to meet (and when she had a moment) as well as answer my questions regarding the establishment.

I chose the table on the cut (the corner of building itself) which made for a great aesthetic (and excellent position to people watch) angle which increased the sense of being in another place in time and space folded into these limited confines.

While they didn’t have my customary chardonnay, Andrea introduced me to a delicious white wine Guimaro/Ribeira Sacra 2018 (not chardonnay) that I really liked!

Not quite sure what to have, I enlisted the help of my waiter who pointed me in the right direction with the appetizer: Roasted Beets (“what their known for”) which at first I was a bit intimidated (I admit) being made with pickled jalapeno, shallot, orange, yogurt, and pistachio granola. Well it time to try something new! And he had me at yogurt.

When this dish was placed before me by the server (who seemed to appear out of nowhere) it seemed to be a mix of nuts, and beets with orange slices (a solid V-8). But when I put the first forkful into my mouth a cascade of flavor exploded on my palette, and I become a fan for life!

For the entrée, I had the Black Sea Bass: (since it was Friday, I was feeling classic) served with roasted root vegetables, celeriac puree, and charred radicchio. 

20200830_125055This dish was quite enjoyable and just by looking at it (and tasting it) you could tell that it was made with great care. This complex yet simple dish was elegance on a plate, you just could taste the “farm to table” freshness, and I was very pleased with the unique culinary craftsmanship of both my dishes which made for a very classy dinner indeed!

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Clay is located at 553 Manhattan Avenue in Harlem, in that elegant angle of space and time folded on the corner of West 123rd Street! A quite romantic place to go for dinner with a date as well as alone, you might end up falling in love with the fact that you dined there!

Restaurant Review: Bar LunAtico. Bed Stuy Brooklyn.

While I was traveling in Bedford Stuyvesant Brooklyn to meet with someone to interview for a story. I got a bit lost on the address.  Since it was windy and a bit cold, I ducked into a cozy bar/restaurant to warm up and get my bearings. (and have a glass of Chardonnay of course) I noticed how packed this place was (it was a Monday Night!), and the live music, was from what little I heard quite good. They didn’t have Chardonnay, but the white wine they did have was very good as well! Making contact with the person that I was due to meet was my signal for the check. But before I left I give my business card to my server, and told him that I would return the following night to do a restaurant review.

20200130_111111As promised, I returned the following evening to check out this charming albeit small local music venue, and my server from the previous evening recognized me as I took a seat at the bar (the place was packed again, Tuesday Night), which I had to work for. I was told by Zeek (my server from the night before) that he was glad that I returned and gave one of the owners my card, as well as inform her that I was going to do a restaurant review that evening. She looked at my card, then looked at me and said: “He does look like an Elegant Classy Gentleman”.

As I tried to make myself comfortable in the tight space at the bar in my seat, I took a closer look at the trappings and décor of this “STRANGE” and delightfully cozy venue, (that seemed to be packed every night of the week) and tried to figure out the features that seemed to touch and embrace every era, in a way that was not sloppy or haphazardly arranged, but sort of blended together seamlessly engaging the senses.

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20200130_110758

I was a bit impressed with the décor set up, (ok, very impressed) as it was not only unique and inviting but reminded me of what a post-modern hipster spot from the 60’s would look like today……and it is! The atmosphere is relaxed and chill with such a positive vibe! All the patrons was warm and friendly, and I found myself chatting away with local regulars, as well as regulars who travel from other boroughs to be here 2-3 nights a week, just to hear the live bands that perform here every night.

20200129_204945 Zeek at one point asked if I liked Jazz, and I responded that I Love Jazz. At that point he told me that I was in for a real treat, as Wayne Tucker & the Bad Mothas was performing tonight.

20200130_111216So forewarned I ordered a glass (Not Chardonnay) of that brilliant wine I had the night before: Garganega Gini, a 2018 Soave Classico (love the name too!) Veneto, Ita, with notes of hawthorn flowers, apricots, and citrus. And this stellar wine is Organic! And Hummus served with toasted Sweet bread to start.

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20200130_111339The hummus was topped with olive oil and spices, and the toasted sweet bread was an added touch that made it most interesting, and just enough to hold me till my main dinner arrived.

Next I ordered the Roasted Chicken, which was served with baked Cabbage and spiced Yogurt!

20200130_111453(Roasted Chicken with baked cabbage and spiced yogurt)

20200130_111539Now let me explain. This dish yet simple, was the most deliciously complex that I’ve had in quite some time. The textures of the roast chicken and baked cabbage, somehow wonderfully contrasted with the spiced yogurt to give such a unique take on this simple dish that I was desperately trying to contain my pleasure (they were watching me you know) on how much I enjoyed it.

20200130_112229(Liquid Love)

Before the band performs, one of the owners rings a bell from behind the bar to demand that you cease your conversations, so he/she can (which ever owner presides that night) announce the band and beg your attention. (this place is charming!). Another great thing about this place, is there isn’t a cover but between sets, one of the owners (whoever’s presiding) will pass along what appeared to be a musical instrument case of some sort, to collect a “suggested donation” of $10.00. Totally optional!

20200130_112614The band started playing their first Jazz set, and I sat back to listen as I was lulled into a calm and chill mood (especially after such good food), and decided to try one of their signature cocktails: “The Liquid Love” as the band played.

The Liquid love: Siete Misterios Mezcal, reposado tequila, chili, honey and lime. This cocktail delivered on it’s promise, as I did in fact fall in love with this drink.

20200130_112638The patrons are an international crowd of people who love real good live jazz music. White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, European, American. All are represented and welcome here at LunAtico! And everyone is jiving to the Awesome Jazz sets. If there was a corner of heaven on earth, this place would be it! This place is truly a hidden gem in Brooklyn.

20200129_205000This charming Jazz venue in Bed Stuy has been around Five Years strong, and I should have been so lucky to just come upon this place by happenstance! The three owners of this music venue are: Rosita Kess, Richard Julian, and Arthur Kell. I had the pleasure of meeting Rosita (an enchanting Italian) after my review, and remarked on how she was working, bussing and serving tables just as hard as the staff (if not harder), and she shared with me how they (the three owners) used to be musicians as well, so have a plethora of good bands that they are friends with. And also how she designed the venue’s décor.

20200130_112718(Mike Strange, co-owner Rosita Kess)

20200129_225401(Zeek, Mike Strange)

20200130_112841(Mike Strange, Liz)

20200203_234143(Mike Strange, co-owner Arthur Kell)

Being carried away by the superior live jazz music, wonderful company, delicious and healthy food, great drinks and wine. I found myself literally closing the place. I give this spot an overall 4 1/5 star rating, and the music a 5 as they have incredible talent performing EVERY NIGHT OF THE WEEK. I have been back to LunAtico about three times since my review, and everything I saw, and experienced since the first time was still in place. I recommend this place for a romantic date (especially if you like live Jazz Music), or a destination place for the evening with friends, or even alone. It’s virtually impossible to not have a good time here. A perfect place for a Valentine’s Day evening with your date, if you can get a table or seat at the bar, so get there early

LunAtico is located at 486 Halsey Street in Bedford Stuyvesent Brooklyn NY, on the corner of Lewis Ave. Here’s a link to their website: https://www.loc8nearme.com/new-york/brooklyn/lun-tico/3738531/

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You’ll find me squeezed in at the bar, or table with a glass of their amazing wines or cocktails vibing to their “gypsy jazz” and “neo-folk” live bands! (you will spot me immediately as the only over dressed classy gentleman).

Restaurant Review: Sugar Monk: The Dream of the Alchemist and the Artist.

A little less than a month ago I received a curious message from a woman by the name of Sam Mattingly, who happened to be the publicist for a new and very elegant speakeasy that just opened up in Harlem a few months ago named SUGAR MONK. In that message she explained that she read one of my restaurant reviews in the Elegant Classy Gentleman Magazine, and would love for me to meet the owners of this new establishment and write a review. I responded back saying that I would  love to arrange a meeting within a week or so. A couple of days later, I got a phone call from Sam to lock in a date and time for us all to meet, and so my mysterious journey, and initiation into the world of Sugar Monk began!

20191019_170922Now after being given the address on 122nd Street and Fredrick Douglas Boulevard, I recalled that I passed by this place within the last four months on several occasions, but had no idea what it was. At first glance one might take it as a Masonic or Esoteric meeting place or lodge, due to the semi-nondescript appearance. Now I say “semi”, because the circle within the square within the logo, is known by me to be associated with Alchemical and Masonic symbolism; which lead me to believe the aforementioned.

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Little did I know that that my passing thoughts on this was closer to the truth, as I strolled by oh so casually many times in the past three or four months, for there was nothing to prepare me for what was to come.  As I arrived at Sugar Monk at the appointed time 6pm sharp, and noticed that  you just can’t walk into the venue, you must ring the bell and wait for someone to open the door from the inside (very speakeasy like) for entry. I pressed the bell and shortly one of the owners, Ektoras Binikos opened the door and greeted me with a big welcoming smile (they were expecting me) bidding me to enter. I walked in and introduced myself to Ektoras, who told me that Sam and his partner Simon Jutras have not yet arrived, and escorted me to a very comfortable seat at a table next to the bar while we wait for them to arrive.

20191106_191016I was stunned by the intricate beauty of the interior décor, as it was so masterfully crafted to convey an artistic aesthetic of comfort. I was almost speechless as I looked around this surreal world, and being transported to another world from the outside which I came. Smooth Jazz music was playing in the background which added to the mystique and ambience of this lovely venue.

20191020_201944Simon & Sam soon arrived and each greeted me very warmly. So after they sat down, I was flanked by Ektoras and Simon with Sam sitting directly in front of me which I noticed formed a circle or a square (the former alchemical reference) at our table.

20191020_202509After thanking all three for the invitation , I began my interview (I had so many more questions now) with these two artistic gentleman about their respective backgrounds, what they created here, and what they hoped to achieve. “We like to explain to each of our customers exactly what we do, and more importantly everybody must be made to feel welcome here, treated with respect along with being given great attention at all times” Ektoras said.  Simon told me: “We have a very good staff, all the servers and bartenders here are really good at explaining the menu.

20191020_202519And that’s not an easy thing to do, because we have 32 cocktails and their very intricate, if someone orders something you have to make sure that they like the spirits behind it, and it can take a long time if the place is busy, but everyone takes the time to do it because it’s important, it’s part of the experience.” The very masterly done menu has about 8 chapters, with a description of the cocktails ingredients, and each “chapter” of the menu opens with a beautiful piece of Hermetic art work with the title of the chapter.

As I continued my interview with the Alchemist and Artist owners, I was treated to some of their tapas fare from the menu: The Hummus Plate: House-made hummus with toasted whole grain pita bread.

20191107_183531(House-made hummus with whole grain pita bread)

And next, I was offered the Pate Plate: Organic Chicken Livers Pate which was served with a delicious Pomegranate jelly and wild mushrooms, pickled kirbies, and grilled baguette.

20191107_183752(Organic Chicken Livers Pate)

I was also served: The Artisanal Cheeses Plate: served with Seasonal marmalade and toasted maple walnuts, and grilled baguette.

20191107_183643(Artisanal Cheeses Plate)

The delivery and the presentation of the food menu items was a combination of upscale showmanship and elegance, I was impressed simply by that alone, but when I actually tasted the food, the freshness and quality was up to par and the texture of the taste was delightfully sophisticated on my palette; a perfect contrast with the cocktails I was to sample next.

20191104_160538Now when it was time to sample the cocktails, I informed Ektoras that I would leave it to to him to decide, since all 30+ drinks were created by him. He complied but then something unusual happened! Ektoras looked me in the eye’s and asked me “well how to you feel right now?” His question took me totally off-guard, as well as disarmed me! I thought for a few second and told him, than he asked me what sort of spirit I was in the mood for (as well as the ones I don’t care for). After that he ordered me the “I Surrender Dear”: Sazerac rye, The King’s Ginger, lemon, Meyer lemon, smoked chili bitters, aquafaba.  A very sophisticated, and pleasant cocktail which also caught me by surprise. I was amazed at the subtle changes as the temperature of the cocktail got a bit warmer. A truly amazing drink.

20191020_194805(I Surrender Dear)

The second cocktail (“The Absolute Kelly “) was a very unusual drink as well. This cocktail was Pitch Black, and a bit visually apprehensive.  However once you get past the almost off putting look of the cocktail and take a sip, you are rewarded with a very well put together drink that taste’s amazing!

20191107_183616(The Absolute Kelly)

This cocktail is made with Absolut Vodka, Becherovka, Chios Mastiha, shiso, yuzu, black sesame, gum arabic, bergamot bitters. The garnish added to this drink is not something you get your hands on quite easily, it being imported to keep with the integrity of the cocktail. I was told by Ektoras that they have the services of a “forager” which picks certain herbs for him to use in the creation of some of his cocktails.

20191020_185650At one point during the interview, Ektoras said to me: “Since you are the elegant classy gentleman, allow me to tell you about our “elegant ice”. We have an Ice Master which make’s beautiful and elegant “ice spheres”.

20191107_183559(Elegant “Rose” Ice)

“It is a sphere in which there is a rose frozen inside of it, so when you serve the clear sphere it shows the red rose within.” Simon added.

Now as I explored the backgrounds of these two, things began to make perfect sense of this intoxicating almost surreal world that is Sugar Monk. Each of the owners is a master artist and alchemist in their own right!

The Alchemist and the Artist:

Ektoras Binikos: Has honed his craft at establishments, such as Aureole, Oceana, Michael’s New York and Michelin star restaurant, Gabriel Kreuther.  Ektoras was the creative force and managing partner of the renowned 2nd floor on Clinton downtown. Ektoras is recognized among his peers as a master mixologist who believes mixology is “art in a glass”.  Ektoras is also a visual artist.

Simon Jutras: Is a photographer and an interior designer of furniture.

“The fusion of art, mixology and alchemy is the connective thread that runs through every aspect of this intimate venue. Everything at Sugar Monk is meant to indulge the senses and delight the palate.”

After a bit of taking all of this in, I got up to avail myself of the restroom. I strolled to the back where the bathroom was, and was “Enchanted” by the sliding door of the restroom. They say that if it’s to good to true, it actually is. So I tried to find something about this place that I couldn’t praise. However my attempts were futile.

20191104_173428I found the bathroom to be just as chic and inviting as the main seating place, so much I found myself lingering just a tad bit to long.

20191020_202138The patrons are from all walks of life, but each brings with them, their own elegance and love of the art’s.

20191020_202339The 3rd and final cocktail I had before my departure was the most intriguing drink of all!

The mysterious Marie Laveau. This curious drink is made with Elderflower & Bitters: Basil Hayden bourbon infused with fliscouni, Averna amaro, elderflower, black & green cardamom, orange bitters. This one drink I could not define or cross reference with any sort of cocktail I ever had (No common frame of reference) which put me in a very pensive thought. This drink too changes as time passes. further perplexing me with it’s complex composition created by the Alchemist!

20191107_183703(The Marie Laveau)

My conversations with these two “Masters of the Craft” and Sam was not only intellectually stimulating, and profoundly enjoyable, but also fun and erudite, filled with a wit and humor that I have not enjoyed in quite some time.

20191107_183811(Ektoras, Mike Strange, Simon)

Sugar Monk is so exceptional that I cannot even rank it using the five star rating system, for this place far exceeds in all categories, so therefore I cannot rate it, because the service, food, drinks (the one’s I had) and décor, as well as style and sophistication is off the charts! I can only recommend Sugar Monk (very strongly) to anyone and everyone.

Sugar Monk is Located at: 2292 Frederick Douglass Blvd, NYC, NY, 10027  

Hours:       Sunday – Monday 6:00 pm – 1:00 am

Tuesday – Saturday 6:00 pm – 2:00 am  

The kitchen is open between 6:00 pm – 12:00 midnight, serving small savory dishes and chocolates.

Do yourself a favor and visit this enchanted speakeasy, and try a couple of their Alchemical Elixer’s, I mean Cocktails.

I wanted to stay a bit longer but duty called, and I had to leave this mystical world of Art and Alchemy back to the drum mundane world of the outside.  And as I made my way to my next destination, all I could think about was the mysterious and elusive Marie Laveau, as the complicated after taste of bitters and elderberry lingered on my palette.

 

Restaurant Review: Brunch at Rendezvous Harlem.

It was a late Saturday afternoon in Harlem and I’m walking down on FDB (Fredrick Douglas Boulevard) towards Central Park. I’m quite late (about several weeks Late) to brunch but I’m in no hurry as it is only a little bit after 3pm, and I still have about three quarters of an hour before brunch ends at RENDEZVOUS HARLEM. Now I first stopped in for a drink about two months ago (Chardonnay of course) while walking by with a friend who spotted two of her former co-workers sitting on the patio at this modern French bistro, and we decided to join them for a spell.

41895202_466591317083323_283934562747154432_nI was very taken by the chic interior design inside, and the Chardonnay was better than most places in Harlem these days, so I gave my card to the manager Joseph and told him that I would return in a week or two and do a review on the food.  Joseph told me that he would love for me to return and review the brunch, after giving me the bad news that they just ran out of Chardonnay. Well after the Fashion Week madness, and other reviews, as well as scheduling conflicts I find myself returning to keep my word.

20190817_185305I walk in and head toward a table on the far left of the restaurant, and Joseph walks over to greet me while giving me that “I’ve seen you somewhere before” look. So I say to him “you do remember me, don’t you?” and handed him my card. Immediately he recognized me and said “Welcome back Monsieur Strange! It’s been awhile?” Indeed it has I told him, things have just been a little crazy I explained, but being a man of my word I am now here for the review. Joseph bids me to sit at a place of my choice, so I sit at a table where I can see everything (at the far left) and he brings me over a glass of Champagne and a brunch menu.

20191026_152738I scan the brunch menu and decided to start with the HOME SPREADS: olive tapenade, eggplant caviar, and sundried tomato pesto which is served with bread.

20191026_153010And for the main, I chose the “BENEDEICLICIOUS” their take on the eggs benedict, which is two poached eggs over brioche on ham with hollandaise sauce, and served with home fries.

20191026_154021The eggs benedict was quite delicious, (I must admit) which is sort of a brunch stable for me when I brunch, but instead of the traditional “English Muffin” the poached eggs and tasty ham slices was placed on top of a very thick piece of garlic brioche bread, which played upon my palette with tangy delight. In fact the brioche bread was so thick, I had a bit of difficulty stuffing it into my mouth, and made a little bit of a mess on my sports jacket, but I didn’t mind at all as I already did that with the home spreads. Out of the three home spreads, I enjoyed the olive tapenade and the eggplant caviar the most, however do not think that the olive tapenade was not good as well, for it definitely was.

20191027_112705As I was enjoying this fabulous meal and cozy atmosphere, I noticed that the wax paper in my bread basket was a facsimile of a French newspaper, so I removed it from the metal basket to take a closer look at it. It was such a wonderful prop that for several minutes I actually thought that I was sitting in a modern quaint bistro in Paris.

20191027_113224My French is not what it was when I was 14 (I could actually hold a conversation then) but I did my best, and it was a very welcoming addition to my dining experience, and added a little “Je ne sais quoi” as I continued to have my palette stimulated by this dish that I had so many times before, but felt like the first time.

20191027_113038I also took a few moments to observe the other patrons seated in the bistro, and they seemed to be having the same relaxing experience that I was having, you could just tell that they were quite satisfied being here.

20191027_113330

After I finished my phenomenal meal, I ordered a glass of Chardonnay to kick back at my table and enjoy the view of the interior (and from the lovely window) of this very relaxing albeit small, but comfy restaurant, and that’s when Joseph presented me with a treat in the form of a Crème Brulee!

20191027_113429A fitting ending to my brunch experience at Rendezvous. Every part of my meal was made to perfection (along with great care and love) as I could not find one single flaw, (Yes I looked, I’m a restaurant critic!) in the food, service, bathroom, or beverages so I have no choice but to give this French bistro very high marks along with my upmost recommendation. Joseph (the general manager) was very on spot with a glass of seltzer water and a napkin to clean off my jacket, as I mentioned before about the mess I made of myself. The charm and professionalism of Joseph, and in fact the whole staff is something to aspire to, even the busser was quite a gentleman.

The food here was so good that I asked if I could look at the dinner menu, and was very pleased with what I perused. Returning here to review the dinner menu is an absolute must! This place has such a romantic vibe during the day, I can only imagine what that would be like at night for dinner!

20191027_113647(Mike Strange, Joseph Bouteraa)

Now I could go on and on about how much I liked and enjoyed this place, the food, and the excellent performance of the staff…….. So in closing I will just say Bonsoir!

20191027_113254Rendezvous is located at 2072 Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem.