By now everyone knows about the ever-evolving transformation taking place Uptown, in Harlem. Once upon a time considered an urban neighborhood that no one wanted to live or be caught in after dark is a thing of the past. Gentrification is taking place so tough, that I have even heard people as of late, refer to Harlem as SoHa (South Harlem) or Northern Manhattan (crazy side-eye to anyone that calls Harlem either those!).

I moved to NYC in 2006 but have lived in Harlem for the last 5 years and it seems like every other week some new housing development, store, restaurant or lounge is popping up. In regards to restaurants, I’m not talking the typical corner greasy spoon, but, noted top chefs such as Marcus Samuelsson are opening swanky establishments.

A couple of weeks ago, I lucked up and stumbled on another one of these opulent finds, The Cecil Harlem. I happened to be driving, seen it, and went home and googled it. Apparently, The Cecil and it’s neighboring sister restaurant, Minton’s (a jazz supper club) is a joint venture between Richard Parsons, who once served as the chairman of Citigroup and head of Time-Warner, and Chef, Alexander Smalls.

So, last weekend, a friend of mine, T that used to live in Harlem but relocated to Asia last year, was in town visiting. He also happens to be Nigerian. I was telling him I had heard about this new spot over by his old apartment that specialized in West African/Asian fusion.

Although, I had never been there, I had looked at the menu and seen that they offered, Suya (a Nigerian street food, sort of like a shish kabob). T said that he had been craving Nigerian food and we should try it.  I explained to him, that while they did serve West African food, Suya in particular, I didn’t believe it was anything like the traditional dish. Let my Sister Rukiya tell it, Suya, is the spiciest, toughest, most delicious meat on a stick that she has ever tasted. Again, I knew it wouldn’t be quite the same as this is a more elegant establishment.

When we arrived, I immediately picked up on the vibe, definitely, grown, sexy and hip with beautiful, tastefully done decor. The place was buzzing. They were pretty packed and while we were not able to sit in the main dinning room, they had available seating in their lounge that also offered a full menu. Now, when I go to places to eat I generally supply my business card up front. I don’t want the staff or patrons to feel some kind of way because of my constant picture taking, this way they know upfront, who I am and why I’m taking pics.

This time, I didn’t. I notice that when I do this up front, the staff is overly attentive and it almost seems disingenuous. And, I want to see how the service/food is as if I am a regular Joe. Plus I forgot my camera at home and was stuck using my iPhone to snap photos.

Once we were seated, 2 members of the wait staff instantly came over. They were very pleasant and extremely knowledgeable. Because it was our first time, they took time and explained items on the menu as well as made some suggestions. One of the things that instantly caught my eye is their dedication to sustainability; you know that’s big for me…

We decided to go with a couple of each, appetizers and entrees. We ordered the:

Cecil SuyaWest African Beef Suya w/Rum soaked Apricot Compote, grilled Plantains & Groundnuts

 

Cecil shrimp 2Broiled Giant Spicy Prawns w/Yam flapjacks, Piri Piri Sauce…SO GOOD!

 

Cecil freiozdaFeizoada w/Spicy Black Beans, Oxtails, Merguez Lamb Sausage

Cecil RotiGrilled  Vegetable Roti Platter w/Butternut Squash, Grilled Eggplant, Spicy Jollof Rice, Scallion Pinenuts and Okra

And how brilliant is African/Asian fusion? Although they use some of the same ingredients, the flavor profiles are totally different. The food here, while the dishes we ordered were very reminiscent of the originals, was kicked up to another level with an unexpected twist…Absolutely brilliant

However, the real gem for me was the atmosphere and the service. If you have spent any time in NYC, you know that New Yorkers march to the beat of the their own drum and make their own rules. Being from California, I’m used to the customer always being right and businesses acting in such a manner no matter what. But in New York, not so much, it can be hit or miss, you never know what you are going to get. But, everyone, from the moment we walked in the door was extremely warm and accommodating. The manger, Morton, even came by a few times to ensure everything was to our liking and since we decided to skip dessert (we were way too full), he offered to get us some drinks, a whiskey julep and a sorrel, ginger mint mocktail…

While the price point may be a little more then some want to spend on a regular basis, the portions are a good size and you truly get an upscale experience. It’s a great spot if you want to impress that special someone, celebrate a memorable occasion, have a “date night” or just treat yourself.

If you happen to stop by, tell them I sent you! Because it’s such a hot spot, I suggest making reservations.

The Cecil
206 W. 118th Street
Harlem, NY 10026
(212) 866-1262
www.thececilharlem.com

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