Friday, January 3, 2014

Toronto Feature - REVIEW: Harlem Restaurant

Harlem Restaurant

My trip to Canada concluded with dinner at  Harlem Restaurant in downtown Toronto. I tell you, this was the best food I tasted during my trip. I dinned at the 67 Richmond St. E location of the restaurant. As soon as I walked through the door I feel in love with this eatery.  +Harlem Restaurant serves Southern Caribbean cuisine.  Now, being a gal of the south and Jamaica W.I., I had to authenticate this concoction of flavor.

 

 

 

I entered the establishment as was mesmerized by the charming hanging red curtain and phonograph that lead to the main dining area. I parted the curtains and was instantly drawn in by the welcoming embrace of the eclectic environment. The  warm red covered walls, the intimate space, the beautiful assortment of color infused original paintings, created a soulful inviting atmosphere. I loved the artsy feel of the interior. The owner did an excellent job capturing the art inspired Harlem Renaissance aspect of Harlem, NY.




Harlem Restaurant





I had the delightful impromptu opportunity to sit down and chat with owner and chef Carl Cassell.

Carl Cassell
Owner/Chef  Carl Cassell


Shuga: What is the inspiration behind Harlem Restaurant?
Cassell: Harlem is the evolution of another restaurant I owned named Irie. Harlem is more inclusive of the entire diaspora. At Harlem we can provide an inclusive menu of Southern and Caribbean style of cooking. The people from the south cook food similar to the way we [Caribbean people] do. Like collard greens which would be our [Jamaicans] version of callaloo.

Shuga: How long has Harlem been in existence?
Cassell: We have been opened for 7 years. 

Shuga: Why did you choose Harlem as the name of restaurant?
Cassell: Harlem is instantly recognizable. I wanted to evoke a response in people that they'll never forget it. Positive or negative, I wanted it to leave "you" with an impression. That's what I wanted to do, "kick the door open."

Shuga: What is the inspiration behind the decor?
Cassell:  The decor is inspired by the 1920's. The original name was Harlem 1920. As you come through the door you will see the phonograph. It's kind of a 1920's art deco feel. The deep red....gives it a bold feel.

Shuga: I understand you have weekly live entertainment.
Cassell:  Yes. That was kind of our mantra. That's what created Harlem in a sense. When I had Irie, which has been converted into a Harlem as well, it kind of became the place to meet people. I've been in the city [Toronto] for a while and half of my friends are artists, actors, musicians and Irie became  like an impromptu music venue. So when this place [Harlem] opened the idea was to create an artistic space which we provide with a stage upstairs.

Harlem Restaurant has two floors, both of which feature dining rooms with candlelit tables. The top floor has a stage where weekly entertainment is presented.

Top floor stage

After my Q&A, it was time to taste the delicious food. The menu was mounted on a vinyl record which a found to be quite clever. It really tied into the rustic chic theme. There were so many lip-smacking choices.  I had a difficult time choosing. Thankfully Carl Cassell provided some excellent suggestions, and oh was it extraordinary roller coaster ride for my taste buds.

Menu
I went with a group of friends so I was able to sample a few dishes. I started with a Miles Davis cocktail which was a mix of  Jamaican Overproof Rum, Peach Schnapps, mango, passion fruit juice and lemon. Cassell said that was a signature drink for Harlem.  It tasted smooth and was mixed just right. Next I sampled the Harlem Kool-Aide. This drink was made with Triple Sec, Melon Liquor and cranberry juice. It tasted tangy and sweet with just the right amount of alcohol. It was simply superb.

Harlem Restaurant
Miles Davis

Harlem Restaurant
Harlem Kool -Aide


We started by sharing a plate of Catfish Lafayette , which was breaded deep fried morsels of catfish served with a sweet chilli mayonnaise sauce for dipping. The breading was seasoned well and the catfish was light and flaky. The dipping sauce added an extra kick. However, I also found the catfish quite scrumptious on its own.  

Harlem Restaurant
Catfish Lafayette



Harlem Restaurant
Mac- n - Cheese
The baked Mac-n-Cheese sprinkled with Parmesan cheese was hearty, creamy and satisfying .  


Blackened Salmon 
Blackened Salmon is a creole inspired dish-- salmon topped with a seafood ├ętoufee sauce, served with mixed greens and coconut rice and peas. The interesting part of this dish was the mixed greens which was collard greens infused with carrots and celery. I have never had collard greens prepared in such a manner. I found it quite pleasing.


BBQ Jerk Chicken
The BBQ Jerk sauce really made the dish. The sauce was sweet with a hint of spice. I loved it so much I asked for a small container to carry home.

Coconut rice and peas
Rice is a very important componet to the Caribbean dish. This rice was fluffy and light with a pleasant hint of coconut flavor. It came very close to the sweetness of my mother's cooking.

Harlem Restaurant
Chicken and Waffles

The signature dish of Harlem is Chicken and Waffles. First, the presentation of the dish was the best I have ever seen. I have been to many restaurants that serve this dish and Harlem's presentation is the most attractive. I love that the chicken came with three dipping sauces - sweet and sour, maple syrup, and scotch-bonet-corriander-lime gravy. The chicken was exquisitely prepared --juicy, tender meat, covered in a thick, crispy batter. One bite and I feel under it's sinfully delicious spell. The waffles were fluffy with a tasty buttermilk flavor.



Mango Chiffon Cheese cake

My meal concluded with a signature slice of  Mango chiffon cheese cake. The delectable dessert was velvety light and heavenly extraordinary.

The dinner was accompanied by a comedy show presented by one of Toronto's top comedians +Quinn Martin. He was very entertaining and a great complement to a satisfying evening.

Quinn C Martin
Quinn C Martin - Comedian

Overall, my experience at Harlem Restaurant  was filled with appetizing foods, gracious portion sizes, friendly service and excellent entertainment. The restaurant provided a great taste of the traditional South with new twists of flavors. I truly had a marvelous time and look forward to returning in the future. So, next time your in Toronto, stop on by Harlem Restaurant  for a roller coaster ride your taste-buds will never forget.  Harlem Restaurant -East





Harlem on Urbanspoon

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