Reality-Based Gastronomic Opinions
Ginny’s Supper Club
310 Lenox Avenue
New York, NY 10027
Dine date: March 23, 2012
If you don’t know who Marcus Samuelsson is at this point, you might be living under a giant chef-hat-shaped rock. You can’t turn on the TV anymore without seeing him on Bravo, CNN, The Today Show, or The Food Network (he is currently a judge on Chopped). The 42-year-old superstar chef was born in Ethiopia but raised by adoptive parents in Sweden, and made his executive chef mark at NYC stalwart Aquavit very early on. His James-Beard-award-winning-badass self went on to other projects before opening Red Rooster in Harlem in late 2010, kicking things off big when he raised a cool $1.5M there for a Democratic National Committee fundraiser dinner (Barack Obama was in the house).
The Rooster has made a name for itself as a destination for local hoodites as well as downtown gastrohoppers, and on March 21, 2012, Marcus Samuelsson Group’s newest project was unveiled: Red Rooster’s downstairs basement space blasted off as Ginny’s Supper Club, a 1930’s Cotton Club-inspired ode to a bygone era of awesomeness. While more cocktail/party-focused than it’s upstairs sibling, Ginny’s does have a full menu with emphasis on sharing plates, all garnished with a side of nightly live or DJ’ed music by local talent. Here’s what awaits you in Harlem.
The entrance to Ginny’s is a stairwell towards the back of the Red Rooster space. When you walk down the steps, you are greeted at the stand by hostesses who are more updated and way cuter versions of Patrice McDowell in Coming To America (you know - Lisa’s sister, duh). You are shown into the supper club and as your eyes adjust to the obscurity, you take in the soul glo. The fairly large space is dominated by luminescent reds and oranges; seductive, a little naughty. There are lots of reclaimed objects embedded into the landscape, including ceiling arches from old window frames and exposed light bulbs from an old public school and a theater marquee. There is an old phone booth in the corner, and some of the banquettes are modeled after ’57 Chevys.
But it’s not kitschy. Brooklyn design firm Hecho Inc managed to keep an air of righteous decorum and vintage style here without overdoing it into Peewee’s Playhouse Of Soul. Rumor has it that they were brought in to pick up the project after Samuelsson insiders were left scratching their heads about how to complete the room after an initial self-fueled design effort. It feels new, but with a classic soul. Well done, team Hecho.
Insider Tip: There is locally sourced live music (soul, r&b, funk, jazz) on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, making this a true supper club. DJs spin similar styles to the weekenders with a less captivating effect, but it’s definitely more of a party scene that merits hanging out after your dinner.
The crowd at 9:30pm on a Friday is cool cool cool: a chic, fun-loving, styled-out mix of predominantly Harlem hipsters, ranging in age from early 20’s to late 40’s, combined with a dash of downtown aficionados out for a new foodie destination. It feels like the real new-school Harlem, and the vibe is inclusive and super friendly.
Insider Tip: The bar area is crowded by 10:30pm and the standing tipplers overflow far out into the dining space. Unless you want someone’s ass in your face by the time you get your entrée, request a table as far from the bar as possible. Tables 3, 4, and 5 are on the opposite side of the room, and are the money tables (you are facing the whole space and are framed by a glowing red wall). Tables 95 and 96 are only one notch closer to the bar, and transform into the front-row seats to the ‘stage’ on the nights that live music is being played.
The sixteen listed cocktails are legit. The Harlem Mule ($15) is twelve-year Yamazaki, ginger beer, basil and Peychaud’s blended into a refreshing summer elixir, somehow not unlike a mojito, only more bitter. The Rooster Colada ($14) is like liquid dessert, served in an old-style coupe. It’s well-blended and frothy, smooth with a citrus clip at the end, although perhaps too sweet for most palates. The Ellison ($12), named after the novelist, is a smooth vodka cocktail made with bitters and fresh juice of blackberry and blueberry. It’s a potent pour which smacks you like fruity moonshine, almost syrupy.
There are thirteen dishes on the food menu, for some reason diminutively referred to as “Relishes”.
The three mushroom dumplings ($12) are garlicky, soft, and melt in your mouth. They are moist, served in a creamy and citrusy foam. The harmony and balance is there, but is the frothiness of the foam a bit too overpowering?
The jerk veal steamed bun ($11) is a duo of little sinewy sliders of veal tongue (don’t be scared, it tastes like a high-end burger), served up with pickle and charred scallion. The bun itself delivers the right amount of sweetness to the veal, so don’t be shy with these delicious bad boys, order two plates right off the bat.
The artichoke croquette ($10) disappoints with a bland delivery. The croquette isn’t crispy enough, and while the poached egg topping is a nice touch, the green parsley watercress soup it all sits in is a bit grainy and weird. The whole concoction isn’t served warm enough which just adds to the Dr. Seuss vibe.
The bobo chicken and waffle ($22) is a down home dish composed of fried chicken (leg and thigh dark meat; not too greasy) served on a copious and crisp waffle. The accompanying chicken liver ‘butter’ seems to hold some cognac and sea salt which makes it a great spread over the chicken, and the bourbon maple syrup adds some smoky sweetness to the mix. The flavors all mesh well, but the dish is again served too cold, when it should be piping hot. Also, a nice touch would be a tableside pouring-on of the syrup and ‘butter’ by the server.
The dry aged NY strip steak ($35) is disastrously served lukewarm, even cold. It definitely doesn’t melt in your mouth (chewy, even tough). While the beef itself is of high grade, it lacks marination and seasoning and comes off as ordinary. The preparation here needs a serious revision.
The lamb shank ($31) is excellent and succulent. The curry seasoning is right on and just potent enough, without taking you into Indian territory. The cilantro and salsify are nice safe touches, but the fried onions atop the shank are soggy and flaccid. The dish could, once again, be served much warmer.
The five spiced duck ($23) is cut into sirloin-like strips of meat. They are laden with too much gristly and mostly inedible fat, and the cherry hoisin comes off too sweet. And it’s cold – again.
Ginny’s Supper Club is overall a solid place to take a date for a fun and music-infused evening that makes you feel like you are off the beaten path. The whole experience is well presented by what are obviously a team of hospitality pros, in every department. The place turns into a party later on, which is worth staying for if that’s your style. The live music program is shaping up and may perhaps eventually turn Ginny’s into a destination for jazz and soulful music genres as well. The Harlem location will make it an interesting sidebar for downtowners and Queens/Brooklyn denizens, and it’s worth the jaunt uptown.
Break It Down...
Over half the dishes sampled were not warm enough, or even cold. The quality was good, but there are obviously kinks to work out in the kitchen line. This will likely be remedied in the near term, but we have no choice but to rate the experience as it was experienced.
Affable and helpful. Can be slow at times.
Classy fun. Later seatings can have loud music, especially on weekends, precluding dinner conversation, so choose your reservation time relative to desired noise level.
Fair prices for the most part; some exceptions in the mains (lamb, NY strip).
Accommodation On Walk-In
We showed up an hour later than our OpenTable reservation time, at peak time; seated immediately.
Bathroom: Sanctuary Or Minefield?
Not rushed; calm; not large enough to do the powder-your-nose routine.
Ability To Have Sex In The Bathroom
Monotone gray stalls; not sexy; partitions don’t go all the way down to the ground; not enough cover.
Seat Height Equilibrium
Banquette seating is part of every table’s config; it’s 1.5” lower than the opposite chair.
Affect Of Staff
Smiling; knowledgeable; genuinely concerned about guests having an excellent experience.
Humor Of Staff
Funny and charming.
Wine Recommendation Honesty
When asked between a $54 Rioja tempranillo (good pairing) and a $145 chardonnay (bad pairing), the server recommended with chardonnay with no backstory or explanation; if he didn’t know, he should have called the sommelier; felt misleading and dishonest.
Quality Of Music
Jazz, soul, Steely Dan, funk, Steve Miller Band, funk again; all beat-matched.
Acoustics are very good; can get too loud for dining after 10pm.
Laaaadies! Purse Hanging Options At The Table
Square seat backs work; ass-side on the banquette can too (every table has a banquette).
Written by Eric Reithler-Barros