The Cecil, located at 206 W. 118th Street is on the Southeast corner of St. Nicholas Avenue, and is the 2nd restaurant on the block that is owned and operated by Harlem Jazz Enterprises LLC. The restaurant features Afro – Asian – American cuisine and the restaurant’s décor matches the mixture of cuisines perfectly. Upon entering the restaurant your eyes are immediately drawn to the gigantic gold mesh art sculpture behind the bar of the backs of multiple people intertwined that looks like they are having intimate conversations amongst their selves. Comfortable seating at various heights is spread out in the bar/entry area that leads into a well-lit, spacious dining room. The artwork on the dining room walls feature two huge head and shoulder shots; one of a soul sister with a large Afro hair do and another of an Asian woman dressed as a Keisha.
One more sign that there is a blending of cultures taking place in the restaurant. My tasting team member and I went to The Cecil for a late Saturday brunch in March. The hostess showed us to our table, and the waiter came over introduced his self and handed us our menus. He asked if we would like any beverages along with our water and he went to place our order while we looked over the menu.
He had yet to be informed that we were there to review the restaurant, but I wanted to note how he was just efficiently doing his job. By the time he returned with the iced teas the Manager of Operations, Beatrice Stein, had informed him of the purpose of our visit. He asked if we wanted the Chef de Cuisine Joseph “JJ” Johnson to pick our selections. We opted to do so because I like to sample what a chef feels are his teams’ signature dishes for my readers.
We started out with the Pastry Board that contained an assortment of breads: Bacon cheddar monkey bread, sweet potato pecan coconut bread and sugar & spice plantain fritters that were served with two types of room temperature butter (plain and the other contained orange marmalade).
Next up The Cecil’s Deep Dish Caribbean Toast served with banana slices cooked in vanilla and rum. It’s their take on French toast, but it looks and taste like big stacks of bread pudding. It’s a site to behold and taste delicious; two to three people can share an order or you can go eat some and go home with left overs for two more meals.
A duo of duck eggs served with pickled relish, curry currants and jalapeno smoked bacon salad arrived next. The Cecil expanded on our palettes with this dish because at first we assumed they were chicken eggs, but the smoothness and size made us inquire with our waiter. Next up was the spicy, crispy squid with okra, and sweet chili peanut sauce. The okra was cooked like tempura and the crispy squid was cooked to perfection because it was slightly crunchy, but soft to chew; not rubbery and tough as some places tend to overcook fried calamari. The peanut sauce played a sweet melody on your spicy and sweet taste buds.
Their take on macaroni and cheese pushed the envelope because they used ziti noodles instead of elbow noodles. The addition of the rosemary and caramelized shallots added depth to the flavor without over the cheeses. The Brisket and eggs went international by being paired with fried rice, hoisin sauce and a poached duck egg on top. This dish was truly a blending of American and Asian cuisines. For the Afro – Asian pairing of cuisines we had the oxtail sampling with green apple curry sauce with a crispy taro root sitting up in the sauce. Talk about Dim Sum meets Down Home Southern cooking; yummy.
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Near the end of our meal DJ Laylo had arrived and we were grooving to the tunes he was playing. For the last course was dessert; for me it can take you a little higher or bring you down if it’s not as memorable as the meal itself. Pastry Chef Mame Sow’s offerings that we had were Cheese Cake and Sweet Potato Beignets. The cheese cake was a mini cheese cake; the crust was made of granola, the cheese cake was a blend of goat cheese and yogurt. It was topped with orange supreme slices (out of the skin) and little cubes of what appeared to be a red flavored Jell-O. It was hibiscus gelee; Jell-O doesn’t even know about that flavor. The three sweet potato beignets were warm and had a black pepper citrus glaze and a small bowl of crème anglaise was served on the side. Chef Sow even came out to speak with us briefly because I wanted to give her some props for hanging tough with the male chefs. Bravo to Chef de Cuisine Johnson, Pastry Chef Sow and the team of line cooks that make up the back of the house for a very memorable brunch.
I also want to compliment Manager of Operations Beatrice Stein on the professionalism and class that the restaurant’s front of the house staff displays; their work performance truly compliments the dishes the back of the house is creating. Our waiter was outgoing and very knowledgeable about each dish he served. In between dishes the bus boy came over and quickly cleared away any crumbs off the table, refilled our water glasses when they got low and supplied us with fresh, clean silverware that he brought over on a tray, not in his hands. Just a top notch operation the Harlem Jazz Enterprises LLC has set up in my Harlem community.
As we were exiting I was already thinking how my next visit to The Cecil would be to hang out with some old friends one night once the menu changes. That’s another thing I like about the restaurant’s style; new season and new menu offerings based on what ingredients are in harvest and in abundance. It can’t get any better than this folks.