By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster Harlem restaurant is still a few weeks from opening, but the 125th Street bistro offered up a taste of what's to come Monday night.
Samuelsson served a sampling of his menu to a few hundred members of the African-American travel website Black Atlas. Party-goers were treated to appetizers of pickled beets served on cucumber slices and prosciutto wrapped around a filling of dates and cream cheese as they made their way around the downstairs party room.
"I've lived in Harlem for six years and I've always wanted to do a restaurant in Harlem," Samuelsson told DNAInfo.
R&B singer Chrisette Michele also made an appearance as Samuelsson served up a four course meal for his guests.
"I'm bookended by two great restaurants, Sylvia's and Chez Lucienne, and hopefully Red Rooster can represent a contemporary version of new Harlem that brings the former, the present and the future together," Samuelsson added.
New restaurants have been springing up in Harlem, especially in the Frederick Douglass Boulevard area, and watchers say Samuelsson's celebrity could help his new venture shine.
Samuelsson, the former winner of Bravo's Top Chef Master's, has authored a couple of cookbooks and whipped up President Barack Obama's first state dinner.
There was speculation for months about where Red Rooster Harlem would open before Samuelsson chose Lenox Avenue between 125th and 126th streets.
"To have this a block away from Sylvia's is saying we are going to carry that torch," said Khary Cuffe of Heritage Link Brands which provided the South African wines for last night's events.
"What Marcus is doing in Harlem is tremendous. This is a huge commitment. He has a vision which is coming into Harlem and extending the culinary experience," said Arthur Torno, a vice president for American Airlines in New York which launched Black Atlas.
San Diego travel blogger Greg Gross of I'm Black & I Travel said the restaurant will be a location that draws travelers to Harlem.
"Harlem already has a lot of history in its own right. Now you've got a world class chef opening his own restaurant? This will be a high-powered attraction," said Gross.
Jessica Andrews of Jones Magazine said Harlem is fast gaining a reputation for great restaurants compared to the more lounge vibe in Brooklyn.
"I love how Harlem is more sophisticated and has an elite crowd of professionals. Marcus Samuelsson coming here is special," said Andrews.
Samuelsson said his restaurant will be affordable and for everyone. Running down some items on the menu, he said you can come for a cup of coffee and cornbread in the morning, oxtails for lunch and fried chicken and collards for dinner.
"This is absolutely a restaurant for the community of Harlem. Harlem for has a long time been a bedroom community. Why should we do that?" he said. "We can be just like Brooklyn and invite people to come to Harlem, taste Harlem and experience Harlem."