Former Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons had a busy fall, opening two new eateries including a revamping of Harlem's historic jazz venue Minton's Playhouse. The space where Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker used to wail now provides a stage for the "old school" musicians on the jazz scene, many of whom are now returning to the stage they once occupied years before. It's also a space for well-heeled music lovers (men must wear jackets) to dine on upscale "Southern Revival Cooking with Low Country Notes," as the chef puts it.
That chef would be Alexander Smalls, the man behind critically beloved Cafe Beulah, one of the harbingers of the soul food revolution in New York City. Many of those notes are still played at Minton's, which offers dinner and a show four nights a week plus a Sunday Supper. A Smoked Berkshire Pork Chop ($38) gets a 24-hour bath followed by a trip to the smoker for a tender and highly flavorful dish; Smothered Lobster & Shrimp Casserole ($44) comes bathed in creole crawfish gravy with pimento cheese grits to remind us of our origins. Sunday Supper means dishes like Deviled Egg Toast ($14) with smoked trout, country ham and pickled shallot and Prime Rib ($38) with creamed spinach, sorghum carrots and beef jus.
Before the music and fine dining came another restaurant, in the form of an Afro-Asian-American brasserie called The Cecil. Unlike its tonier sister Minton's, which opened about a month later, there's a more relaxed approached to both the cuisine and the setting. The Cecil has kind of a mod vibe working, with funky orbed light fixtures, flowing transparent curtains and an artfully placed fern or three. It works well with the refined yet approachable menu, designed by Smalls and executed by Chef de Cuisine Joseph Johnson. The huge menu jumps from small plates like Broiled Spicy Giant Prawns ($15) to a rice and vegetable wok bar to their special dishes including an adult Macaroni and Cheese Casserole ($16/24) with rosemary, shallots and pepper ham and their signature Cinnamon Scented Friend Guinea Hen ($27), Smalls' version of fried chicken.
Minton's: 206 West 118th Street, (212) 243-2222; mintonsharlem.com. Open Wednesday -Saturday evenings, from 6 p.m. - 12 AM on Wednesday and Thursday and from 6 p.m. - 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Sunday supper will be served family style between 12 p.m. and 9 p.m. Reservations are required.
The Cecil: 210 West 118th Street, (212) 866-1262; thececilharlem.com. Open Monday - Thursday 12 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday 12 p.m. to 12 a.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.