Harlem’s New Restaurant Renaissance

Harlem’s New Restaurant Renaissance

The jerk prawns with cheese grits at Park 112 in Harlem.

Harlem has emerged as one of the city’s hottest dining scenes in recent years. Now, a new crop of restaurants is upping the game again.

The center of activity is Frederick Douglass Blvd. — Eighth Ave. north of 110th St. — known as Harlem’s Restaurant Row. Pioneers like 5 and Diamond, Zoma, and Chocolat lead the charge there. But a new wave of hot spots are building on the boom they started — from the wine-focused The Park 112 to Italian restaurant Vinateria to the hip Harlem Food Bar.

Interior of Park 112, one of the eateries in the Harlem restaurant renaissance

Interior of Park 112, one of the eateries in the Harlem restaurant renaissance

The boulevard’s transformation started a decade ago, when New York City rezoned 44 blocks in south-central Harlem. At the time, 40% of the boulevard’s 226 storefronts were vacant. The resulting condo boom fueled a rush of restaurants as entrepreneurs jumped in to serve a growing population. And the latest eateries on FDB may be the most exciting yet, with a gamut of cuisines and moods to rival any downtown neighborhood.

Pouring the El De Ruben cocktail from Vinateria in Harlem

Pouring the El De Ruben cocktail from Vinateria in Harlem

Here are five of the street’s most happening newcomers, from a hyper-hip wine bar to a sexy trattoria to a one-time gas station that’s become the hood’s coolest watering hole. The new kid on the block, The Park 112 opened last month with a sumptuous, supper-club interior and an accent on wine. But even with glittering chandeliers and tufted-leather banquettes, there’s a friendly vibe that makes this sophisticated spot cheerful.

“With an average of 25 people moving to Harlem every day, people are looking for a dining experience they get downtown but with a touch of uptown soul,” says owner Lew Tucker. Refined-yet-accessible fare from chef Kingsley John matches the surroundings, with beautifully executed plates like roasted duck hash with eggs and sweet potatoes ($16) and jerk prawns with cheesy grits ($16). But it’s vino that snares the spotlight. Gleaming self-serve wine-dispensing machines from Italy’s Enomatic let customers sample Tucker’s personal favorites by the quaff, glass or carafe.

The burger from Vinateria in Harlem

The burger from Vinateria in Harlem

Vinateria – 2211 Frederick Douglass Blvd., vinaterianyc.com

It’s hard to believe that the ultra-stylish Vinateria, which opened in April, is owner Yvette Leeper-Bueno’s first restaurant. Behind sexy looks here — think muted gray walls, subdued lighting, recycled-wood furniture — there’s real substance. Chef Gustavo Lopez spins organic and local components into earthy, honest Italian fare. He even makes his own pastas, like a soul-warming tagliatelle with rich pork ragu ($16).

Wife Gabriella Lopez — “They came as a package deal,” Leeper-Bueno jokes — has curated a killer wine list, with rarities like a Chateau Musar Jeune Blanc from Lebanon ($11/glass). Vinateria would feel right at home in Montreal or Berlin. Lucky for Harlem, it’s at 118th St. This is the corner restaurant we wish we had on our block.

Owner Yvette Leeper-Bueno (l.) and executive chef Gustavo Lopez at Vinateria

Owner Yvette Leeper-Bueno (l.) and executive chef Gustavo Lopez at Vinateria

Harlem Tavern – 2153 Frederick Douglass Blvd., harlemtavern.com

On Friday nights, recalls Harlem Tavern owner Sheri Wilson Daly, “you used to see hordes of people hailing taxis to leave Harlem for something to eat or drink.” Instead of following them, Daly and her husband decided to “bring a downtown restaurant uptown.” And on the former site of a gas station, Harlem Tavern made its debut in 2011.

Harlem Tavern

Harlem Tavern

“People weren’t doing American fare, like burgers, steaks and seafood,” says Daly, who’s lived nearby since 2007. “We wanted a place that was a step up from bar food, but not a place with $25 pastas where you have to dress up.”

Simple, smart fare like a lamb burger with mint pesto ($12) and fried chicken with mashed potatoes ($20) have kept the place packed ever since. “The crowd’s super-diverse, and that’s exactly what we wanted,” Daly says. “You’ll see a 70-year-old couple who’ve lived here their whole lives next to new residents with kids. And everyone feels comfortable.”

Source NY Daily News…to read more:  http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/eats/harlem-home-restaurant-renaissance-article-1.1561874

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