We recently dined at Harlem’s newest upscale restaurant The Cecil. It was a night to remember. And we look forward to our next visit.
The Cecil was created by New York businessman Richard Parsons and chef Alexander Smalls. It is “New York City’s first Afro-Asian-American brasserie…Inspired by the travels, exploration and study of the African Diaspora of Chef Smalls. The Cecil will offer a global adventure in tastes and flavors as diverse and dynamic as the community in which the restaurant resides. Its goal is to connect communities through food, comfort and hospitality.”
Alexander Smalls of Cafe Beulah fame is in charge of the food here and at Minton’s which is just next door and will be opening this month. Joseph Johnson, known as Chef JJ, is in the kitchen. And Jenny Lee is the pastry chef.
The Cecil is in lower central Harlem, a few blocks north from the 2/3 train, the Harlem Meer in Central Park, and adjacent to Jazz club Minton’s, formerly known as Mintons’ Playhouse, which is in the National Register of Historic Places.
Our party of four entered through the main door. The receptionists to our right greeted us warmly and whisked us passed tables along a long window bank to the right and a large bar area to the left into a beautiful, high ceilinged, spacious room – completely unexpected and a refreshing surprise.
We were fortunate enough to be seated at the chef’s table which is a wonderful booth located such that we could take in the comings and goings of staff and diners all evening long.
The service was excellent and attentive from beginning to end. This was no doubt a tribute to Beatrice, the Director of Operations, who has known one of our fellow diners for many years, and who spent time with us throughout the night.
We started our meal with several wonderful cocktails made by bartenders whose pedigree includes one of the city’s best bars 67 Orange, where making fine drinks is an art form.
We were then presented with an assortment of appetizers. The Hand-Made Bread Basket was tasty and included several dipping sauces that were smooth and rich. The Collard Green Salad and the Spinach and Black Lentil Salad were fresh, crisp and very well seasoned. The Afro / Asian / American Oxtail Dumplings were nestled in a smooth sauce with a hint of curry and were mouth-watering. The Broiled Giant Spicy Prawns were fiery with a Piri Piri Sauce resting on a flavorful Yam Flapjack. And the Spicy Crispy Ginger Squid was also good paired with Okra and accompanied by a Sweet Chili Peanut Sauce. The appetizers were plentiful and a delicious preview of the main courses to come.
Our main courses consisted of the very flavorful Rice and Vegetable Wok Bar with Sweet Brown Rice and Wok Prawns, Moist Gullah Jumbo Shrimp Burger, perfectly cooked Grilled Beef Petite Tenderloin and delicious Black Benne Seed Ahi Tuna. Conversation at our table stopped as we enjoyed every bite of our meals. Difficult as it was to share, we all tried a little of each others’ meals. The steak was especially memorable – large, lean, grilled and savory. The Ahi Tuna was PERFECT. Nice sized pieces cooked rare with Bok Choy, Coriander Yusu, Curry Crunch along with Chinese Sausages. Really unique and worth trying. Also highly recommended by Alexander Smalls himself was the Cinnamon Scented Fried Guinea Hen. We will have to try this on our next visit.
Our meal was topped off with a variety of warm and cold treats, one of which was a rice pudding creme brûlée accompanied with lycgee ice cream. Amazing.
During our stay our meal was punctuated by visits from Alex and Beatrice, as well as our wonderful server, all of whom helped us navigate the richness of the experience that is Cecil’s.
The crowd was cosmopolitan and well dressed. The Saturday night that we were there, Melissa Harris-Perry and Joy-Ann Reid were sitting in the bar / lounge area, and the following evening, Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon stopped by for dinner.
The decor consists of dark tones and leathers with mesh textures. The entrance lounge and bar area are separate from the main dining room – we really liked the layout. At night with the lighting, artwork and grand scale of everything, this really comes into full effect. The space is airy, has a wide variety of seating options, soaring ceilings, and floor to ceiling windows with just the right kind of blinds (almost appeared as a mesh like material from where we were sitting) to keep things private while not closing you in. Their artwork is very interesting, big in scale yet not busy or overcrowded. Better to have a few select pieces of art than many mediocre ones. One of our favorites is a sculpture of sorts which is the centerpiece of the bar, and which is really not to be missed. The light fixtures are very interesting as well. In particular the one below which is located in the entrance.
The food is a collage of flavors from afrika and asia, so well blended that they will have you longing for another visit.
210 West 118th Street
New York, NY 10026
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