12/14/2011, 5:24 p.m.
'Tis the time of the year for gift giving again. For most, the size and cost do not matter. Rather, it is the thought, the sentiment and the effort that make the heart smile and the spirit rise. Well, Harlem is thinking of you this season with a couple of "gifts" to make you rejoice.
First up comes something sweet...and savory...from Nectar Wine Bar in the form of their new chef, J.J. Johnson. He was one of the winners of the Bravo reality series "Rocco's Dinner Party" and is now bestowing tender victuals on the Nectar menu.
At a tasting, Johnson showcased roasted Brussels sprouts with peanuts and fruit and house-made ravioli with pear and celeriac slaw. My favorites were the duck taco with cucumber and Greek yogurt, and the beef carpaccio with roasted shishito peppers. Welcome to the 'hood, chef!
Next is a visual gift from artist Philip Maysles wrapped nicely by Red Rooster Harlem and its chef, Marcus Samuelsson. Philip's latest work is called "The Comfort of Enlightenment." It is a reflection of an iconic Norman Rockwell painting "The Problem We All Live With" and its main character, Ruby Bridges. He asks the question of how far have we come from those racially charged times. The series of five paintings adorns the walls of the main dining room of the Harlem restaurant for a limited time.
Samuelsson had a lovely luncheon to celebrate this artist and his work. A collection of artist, writers, curators and friends sat down to the chef's table near the kitchen and dined on a fabulous three-course meal. I was taken by the seasonal spiced pumpkin soup and its tempered heat that gave you just enough fire to cut the sweetness of the roasted pumpkin.
I also loved the salted caramel chocolate cupcake-a moist chocolate cupcake filled with caramel, topped with smooth buttercream frosting and garnished with small chocolate malt balls and crushed salted pretzels nestled in a pool of dark chocolate sauce. Like Maysles' work, that cupcake was a work of art. I would have framed it if it wasn't so good.
Lastly, Harlem has put a culinary bow on a gift to all of its home chefs and cooks who eat only the best quality meats. Harlem Shambles (2131 Frederick Douglass Blvd., between 115th and 116th streets, (646) 476-4650, www.harlemshambles.com) celebrated its opening recently by inviting area chefs to create dishes using their grass-fed meats and poultry.
The shop looks like a modern take on an old-school butcher. The staff uniforms are no exception either, with their short-brimmed chapeaus sitting slightly askew. While some might find the display filled with a butchered hog reassembled with labels for each cut and organ vulgar, I find it very informative and responsible to tell meat eaters to respect the animal and be resourceful.
Harlem Shambles butchers their own meat, so if it is a hanger steak or oxtail you are coveting, get there early and make some friends. There is, after all, only one per animal. Look forward to their house-prepared sausage and ready-to-eat dishes.
Thank you, Harlem, for the thought, the sentiment and the effort! We look forward to treasuring your offerings and giving our patronage back to you.
Enjoy, get eating and thanks for reading!
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Kysha Harris is owner of SCHOP! which is available for weekly service or for home entertaining. Questions? Comments? Requests? Feedback? Email kysha@iSCHOP.com.