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Daniel Boulud "believes in" French cuisine, and even more specifically, a particular French style. There is a coherence in his restaurants, despite the wide range of price and ambiance. Even Jean-George Vongerichten's vast empire has more culinary coherence than the grab bag of restaurants Samuelsson has opened.

 

I thought we'd already reviewed his career. What grab bag of restaurants?

 

Sixteen unbroken years cooking the same style in the same kitchen, then a change of direction. A mis-step at Merkato, and now a second attempt at Red Rooster. I also think it's borderline insensitive to imply that Samuelsson, given his life story, is just being fickle and random when he seeks to explore part of his own heritage he essentially had to ignore - as a chef - for all that time.

 

I mean, you can't wag a couple of burger bars to prove your point. Daniel Boulud serves burgers.

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So the point of this article was to promote the Red Rooster or is Marcus taking a writing class at some community college

I hope the fact that I liked the Red Rooster hasn't gotten lost in the discussion. The statement that his non-Aquavit restaurants have ricocheted all over the place, without a discernable theme and without great culinary success, seems to me incontestable.

 

I mean, you can't wag a couple of burger bars to prove your point. Daniel Boulud serves burgers.

Ai Fiori serves a burger (the La Freida "white label"). That doesn't obscure the thematic resemblance of Ai Fiori to Michael White's other efforts.

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I absolutely contest that, and the suggestion that the Vongerichten universe is more coherent is absurd.

 

Repeating the list:

 

Riingo

C House

Merkato

Red Rooster.

 

That's it. That's the list, assuming you acknowledge that AQ Kafe has some affinity with Aquavit.

 

C House is a hotel restaurant with a few recognizably Aquavit-ish dishes on the menu - so strike that one. You are down to three. He was involved with opening Riingo seven years ago. I don't know the history of his involvement, but I don't think he has any connection to the place any more - it's just a hotel restaurant.

 

I think anyone with a cursory knowledge of Samuelsson's background might sympathetically view Merkato and Red Rooster - which I like too - as two attempts to do the same thing, the first way to ambitious and badly located.

 

So, "ricocheted all over the place, without a discernible theme and without great culinary success" comes down to (1) a Japanese fusion place to which he lent his name seven years ago is actually still open, but with a different menu; (2) a pan-African restaurant failed.

 

Wow, cut the guy some slack.

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Ai Fiori serves a burger (the La Freida "white label"). That doesn't obscure the thematic resemblance of Ai Fiori to Michael White's other efforts.

 

Ai Fiori is not a burger bar. If this is all based on the guy having a couple of burger bars with his name on them...

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Here's a curiosity: how Riingo was viewed when it opened:

 

The menu is Japanese, of a sort. Mr. Samuelsson is 33. He was born in Ethiopia and grew up in Sweden and has lived and cooked in New York for more than a decade. Riingo is a result of that history and Mr. Samuelsson's wit; it is postmodern global food, devoted not exclusively to fish, but to the clean flavors of Tokyo and Gothenburg, as experienced in Manhattan. ...

 

That chef, by the way, is not Mr. Samuelsson. Executing the food at Riingo is Johan Svensson, who worked under Mr. Samuelsson at Aquavit, and then at Bond Street, and at Nobu in London. The scents of all three restaurants mingle in the air here. The result is fresh, and not unwelcome.

 

So...who wrote that?

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Very good review, and certainly I agree about the restaurant:

 

I don't know Samuelsson, and it's presumptuous to read personal motives into a commercial venture, but I can't help wondering if Red Rooster is a second attempt to achieve what he failed to achieve with Merkato.

I have to think that Samuelsson wouldn't have been done opening restaurants, regardless of what had happened with Merkato. Indeed, had it succeeded, the temptation to open more Manhattan restaurants (along with Merkato clones across the globe) would likely have been irresistible. Who's to say what form the later Manhattan restaurants would have taken?

 

But surely the crucial point is that Samuelsson didn't own Merkato. He was not even present for the opening: he said later that he had an unavoidable out-of-town obligation, which is a big clue that he and the owners weren't on the same wavelength, or anything remotely close to it.

 

If there's a lesson learned, it's that Samuelsson is running the Red Rooster himself. He opened it when he was good and ready, and only after the cuisine had numerous try-outs on the party circuit. The menu isn't long (as Wilfrid also noted), which makes you feel like it has been edited down to what the kitchen can truly do well. And there are fewer throw-away dishes (e.g., the tuna tartare that Bruni joked about on Merkato's menu).

 

I don't see the Red Rooster as a second try at what Merkato was trying to do, but he certainly has avoided making the same mistakes.

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Thanks to The Princess, I had dinner last night at Red Rooster. Comp disclosure: everything for me, because I left my wallet at home. :blush: But The Princess does not accept any comps, so she paid the whole tab. So now in return, I have to describe everything we ate.

 

Cocktails: The Savoy for The Princess, The Apollo for me. Not much of a drinker, The Princess wanted something lightish on the alcohol, and I worried that many drinks sounded too sweet; these two most definitely were neither too strong nor too sticky. In fact, Savoy was puckery-tart from the lemon, and all the better for it. I couldn’t discern much sage in the Apollo -- just as well, it’s not one of my favorite herbs. But the ginger packed quite a wallop, both the sprinkle of ground ginger floating on top of the egg white foam and the bits of grated or minced fresh ginger that settled into the cone of the glass and reinvigorated the drink as it went down. No wonder the bar was packed the whole time we were there (7:30 to 10:30). I also had a glass of Prohibition, a mildly hoppy ale, with the meal. Pleasant.

 

We went overboard ordering apps. But then, as in so many places, the apps, sides, and snacks sounded more interesting than the mains. Some we had first, some we had in place of a main:

 

Cornbread: Looks like a couple of slices of pound cake, except with a slick of melted butter on the surface. So yes, the butter on the side is unnecessary. The Princess found it too sweet; I would have, too, if I had been expecting Southern cornbread. But from the look I figured it was more Northern, so the sweetness didn’t bother me. I do regret not tasting the tomato jam, though.

 

Side note on bread service: Liked the darkish bread, loved the bean spread with it even though I could not ID what was in it. But I hated that they removed the bread and tried to remove the bread plates between apps and mains. I still don’t understand why places do this; can anyone enlighten me?

 

Lox and Lax: not one or the other, but both, and both mild, silky, and good. A nice tangle of lightly dressed fennel, too. Very pretty presentation, with a line of crème fraîche and some sort of roe across the slices of gravlax. And the teff chips (small snack-cracker size and shape, as if shaved from injera and then baked to be crunchy) were pleasantly tart and very crisp, making for both flavor and texture contrasts -- something I always look for in a dish.

 

Red Caesar: why had no one done this before (that I’m aware of)? Using red romaine made it much nicer looking and more visually interesting, as well as more delicate; bottarga in place of anchovies made it less aggressive but still flavorful. And whatever the crumbs were that gave it crunch (since red romaine is not as firm as green), they were very welcome. We both loved this.

 

Dirty Rice & Shrimp: I only tasted the rice/curry leaf, and was very happy with it. Not a pretty dish, but one I want to try in its entirety. And it was almost enough to stand on its own as a main.

 

Crab cakes: The taste I had was very crabby, although it seemed that they work the mixture to the point where the lumps of crab are completely shredded. Still, good flavor, very clean frying. Another one that could be a main, and a bargain at that.

 

Yams & Sweet Potato Puree: Wow. This may sound like an excessive reaction and TMI, but I wanted to slather this stuff all over me, it’s that silky, and then have Paul lick it off. :blush: The Princess considered the same for her SO. But this was girls’ night out and they weren’t there, so we just ate it instead. Very happily.

 

Black Vinegar Cauliflower: Other than the cauliflower and the vinegar, I couldn’t taste the other stuff that’s listed. Or rather, I couldn’t pick out their separate flavors (other than pine nuts, which might not be listed on the online menu). But the whole was delicious. Could have been hotter, though. And it was the only truly ugly dish -- some of the florets were oddly bright green (??) while others had picked up the dark vinegar more.

 

Fried Yard Bird: the only actual main we ordered, and just for me since The Princess doesn’t eat poultry. Or rather, it could have been for me and maybe two other people, since the portion was a decent-size leg and a HUGE thigh, easily over a pound. Not enough of the (unbilled) collards with it to share, but enough to make me want a full portion of them. (In fact, I could see having all veg sides for a meal.) The chicken was well-fried (and probably finished in the oven, which I always like for more even cooking) to a great dark, very crunchy coating. Crunchy enough to stand up to the slather of gravy on top, a pleasant enough but not very distinguished cream gravy. The “hot sauce” was a smear of very spicy mayo, great for dipping the leg into. (The whole giant thigh came home with me, as did some of the cauliflower; The Princess took everything else except the salad and salmon, which were the only things we came close to finishing. Portions here are generous indeed.) And the “shake” -- a shaker canister left on the table -- really livened things up, tasting like equal parts Old Bay and cayenne, very zippy. Which brings me to the only thing I did not like: the chicken was severely underseasoned, for my palate. As in, no salt whatsoever. A shame, really -- even just a little (more?) salt in the prep would have made it great. It’s good chicken (not fatty, and tasty cold this morning, still even crunchy) but S&P would make it so much better. Sigh.

 

Since The Princess always has to have dessert, we had dessert. Her first choice, a Malted Frosty -- a tough decision between that and the flan -- was out, so she ended up with a chocolate-and-peanut confection that looked like a candy bar and came with caramel ice cream and a peanut butter whipped cream. I can vouch for the excellent ice cream only; I’m a peanut purist and didn’t taste the other elements. But she must have liked it, since she pretty much finished it. My Spiced Pudding was a barely sweet but nicely cinnamony individual cake with slivers of dried apricot and dried currants, served with small scoops of blackcurrant sorbet and apricot ice cream, the kind of dessert I really like. The coffee was very good, too, dark and rich.

 

Other thoughts: kind of loud, but not painfully so. I was seated right next to a column, not the greatest but there’s enough room so it wasn’t cramped. Loved the restrooms, esp. the floor tiles. And Marcus was there; came out and said hello.

 

Definitely a destination restaurant for us, but such an easy, quick trip! In fact, in nicer weather we could probably take the east side train and walk over, also fast. And Paul would not be aghast at the prices (well, maybe the cocktail prices, but he’d like them so he might forgive the $$). It’s going on the list of places to drag him to.

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I don't see the Red Rooster as a second try at what Merkato was trying to do, but he certainly has avoided making the same mistakes.

 

Not in terms of ownership, business plan, or anything other than that Samuelsson is an Ethiopian man who had been cooking Swedish food for more than sixteen years, and I think it's reasonable to assume - not least from what he has said - that he feels there are some parts of his heritage he had not expressed in his cooking. His protege Ms Bergquist, who cooked at Merkato, will apparently be cooking at Red Rooster too if she can prise his hands off the wheel.

 

Thanks for the report, Suzanne. I get the impression that the entrees generally are shareable. Frustrating to recall that the food at Merkato was really good too, although so few people found that out.

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I had hoped to come up here last night after a Lincoln Center performance, but was surprised to find out they're only open till 10. I'd have expected later from such a committed neighborhood spot.

 

I have to say that the more I think about Red Rooster, the more excited I am by it. (Maybe it's better if I NEVER eat there.)

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