Restaurant Review: If You’re Black, Get Back at RED ROOSTER
Marcus Samuelsson‘s newest restaurant Red Rooster has been all the rage in Harlem and Manhattan for the last 9 months now… Critics, tourists, Harlemnites and celebrities have all been talking and raving about it… But I’m here to tell you DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE.
Perhaps it’s the glamorous decor, the celebrity chef (Samuelsson has made a name for himself with television appearances and his popular midtown restaurant Aquavit), or just the lack of competition, but somehow, someway people have been disillusioned into thinking that Red Rooster is a fabulous restaurant, when in reality, it’s not.
I’ve visited Red Rooster more than a few times since it opened earlier this year , I live VERY close by, and every time I go, something disappoints me greatly. I’ve noticed that the menu is seasonal which is good, because when they first opened last season they served a very skimpy shrimp & grits dish that was completely inadequate and an insult to this southern and soulful staple. The burger is still available, and it’s ok, but it’s hardly anything special. I stopped by the other day and ordered Helga’s Meatballs which was served with mashed potatoes, pickles and cabbage. The flavor and ingredients are interesting and Samuelsson’s Ethiopian influence is undeniable. If you’re not into the flavors and spices of Africa, then this restaurant is not for you.
If you’re there for the star gazing (Eddie Murphy, Halle Berry and President Obama have all stopped by), you’re probably in luck. Samuelsson is often seen walking around inside and out… I’ve met him a number of times at social events, but if I’m lucky enough to have him stop by my table, it’s always as if it’s our first meeting… I guess I’m not important enough for him to remember me.
Lucky for me, however, his staff does know who I am and they always grant me a seat – the pleasure of being well known, I guess. However, one of the other things that always grabs my attention is that Red Rooster is almost always packed. So packed it’s almost impossible to move, let alone grab a seat at prime hours. And although it appears that the restaurant appeals to a mixed crowd, the melting pot of customers is not what it seems… Instead, unique marketing.
Unfortunately, Black Red Rooster customers are lured to the bar, while the dining room is full of White diners. See, Black people will go to Red Rooster because they live nearby, they respect Samuelsson and the urban sophisticate is here to stay. Unfortunately, if you’re Black and not well-known (I know this because we put them to the test), the restaurant tells you they are maxed on reservations and asks you to sit at the bar if the dining room quota of Blacks is maxed.
I used to be a Maitre d at Ruby Foo’s and Tavern on the Green just to name a couple, so I know how restaurant seating goes… It’s very important to management to seat the restaurant in a way that it looks full from the outside and appealing to desired clientele… With Samuelsson’s elite profile and midtown clientele, it’s important for him not to lose his following that has made him famous. Put simply, Red Rooster cannot rely on the Black community in order to maintain it’s lofty buzz. Therefore, the seating arrangement at Red Rooster caters to Whites and Asians. They get priority service and prime and comfortable seating while African Americans are cramped at the bar … Contemporary racism at it’s best. If you’re observant, this is more than apparent if you happen to check out this restaurant. And it’s insulting.
Anyway, the chicken caesar was well seasoned and the poached egg made for a nice treat, but all in all the food here is just ok… And yes, it’s an ingenious menu, but it’s limited and moderately priced. The service is decent and the ambiance is well needed in Harlem… But I dont know who Samuelsson and his partners are fooling… Red Rooster is supposed to be a celebration of the original restaurant that bared the same name with customers like James Baldwin, but the new Red Rooster surely lacks tradition and definitely makes no attempt to attract or cater to the clientele that define the neighborhood.
I probably won’t be allowed back in after writing this, but it’s fine, I know I wont be missing out on anything anyway.