Dining With Miss Lil: The Hudson River Café Review

August 6, 2011

The Hudson River Café is a gem that a lot of people within the Harlem community have yet to discover, but it shines brightly never the less. For one, its “Nuevo Latino” cuisine is helping to diversify our choices within the Harlem community. Two, the presentation of its dishes makes it stand out as “Nuevo Latino” versus traditional Latin cuisine.

Three, they have two outdoor patios within the restaurant space like no other restaurant within Harlem’s borders. Four, the service we received was up to par with any other fine dining establishment located in the city. And lastly, their prices have been slightly reduced, making the restaurant more affordable for even senior citizens looking for a nice place to eat within the Harlem community.

Hudson River Café is located at 637 West 133 Street and 12th Avenue. On their web site (www.hudsonrivercafe.com ) Hudson River Café refers to their menu as the essence of Latin soul cuisine. Seafood dominates their menu selections, but there is something for everyone including vegetarians. Side dishes made with yucca and plantains are significant, but they also have rice and beans, mashed potatoes and sweet potato fries to show their diversity into other cuisines as well. Executive Chef Ricardo Cardona’s plating and presentation techniques take it up a notch from traditional Latin cuisine to the Nuevo Latino standard set by Chef Douglas Rodriguez at Patria back in the 1994.

We sipped on this summer’s signature drink called Lost in Punta Cana (Coconut Sangria) which was so smooth that the alcohol beverages within can sneak up on you while our food was being prepared. My tasting team sampled four appetizers: Cod Fritters (Bacalaitos), Coconut Shrimp, Spring Rolls and Garlic Shrimp with Crispy Plantains (Camarones Al Ajillo) plus a Lobster Stack Salad. Since the food is prepared fresh to order we waited a bit, but we caught up on each other’s day and plans for the weekend; this is not fast food. Everything was served at the right temperature and displayed so beautifully that you savor the look before you dig in.

Hudson River Café calls their entrees “Platos Grandes” and grand plates they are. We ordered Roast Pork, Grilled Hanger Steak & Shrimp, and Seafood Paella. You could smell the wonderful seasoning on the pork shoulder as it was being served with pigeon peas moro rice and sweet plantains. The steak and shrimp is served with garlic mash potatoes, grilled asparagus and a wild mushroom salsa. The paella was chock full of seafood, half a lobster, shrimp, mussels, calamari, clams, and baby scallops. The black “squid ink” saffron rice was a nice variation on the traditional yellow saffron rice served in paella. After devouring the appetizers and wanting to sample the dessert menu we took home most of our entrees in take- out containers.

For dessert we had Flan with Raspberry Sorbet, Bread Pudding with Dulce De Leche Sauce, and Tres Leches. What a perfect end to our meal. The pairing of the flavors from the flan, and caramel sauce with the raspberry sorbet was nice. The bread pudding was warm and moist and went well with the dulce de leche sauce. The tres leches was so good that I plan on making it at home in the near future. When we left the restaurant I was feeling so bad in a good way that I walked the mile and a half to my home.

Hudson River Café sources a great deal of the food they serve from local producers. Nationwide this is the current trend of most restaurants with chefs that want to support their local farm economy, reduce their overall food costs (price and transportation costs), and most importantly bring the farm to your table. By doing so in these tough, economic times they have actually found a way to reduce the price they charge without sacrificing quality or quantity.

Now let’s talk prices. Appetizers are priced in between $6 to $12, while the salads range from $7 to $14. Sliders cost $5 and ceviches average cost are $10 to $16. You can order appetizer platters for two people for $29 or for four people for $39. The entrees are priced from a low of $14 to a high of $24; extra side dishes cost $5. All dessert items cost $7 and coffee and tea is priced from $3 to $3.75 for cappuccino. Sangria drinks go for $8 to $10 and signature cocktails from $10 to $14. For dinner parties of 6 or more a 20% gratuity is added to your bill.

They have a house DJ that plays a variety of music on Wednesdays Friday and Saturday evenings. The outdoor patios are used year round; during cold weather a heated tent is put up. Valet parking is free. Future upgrades include enclosing the outdoor patios in glass, which should look wonderful and feel remarkable.

On Saturday & Sunday’s they have a jazz brunch from 11 am to 4 pm with a prix fixe menu of $21 and that includes unlimited cocktails for your first hour and a half (from a group of 4 cocktails). The brunch menu has like 15 different menu choices. Gratuity of 18% is added to all tables during brunch. For parties of 10 people or more the price of the brunch jumps to $32 per person with 20% gratuity.

When I’m in the mood for great eats and wonderful atmosphere I plan on adding Hudson River Café to my short list of places to eat close to home. There are so many more dinner menu items I want to try, and I’m definitely taking my sister Sabrina there for brunch when she comes up next month to visit. Try it out and see for yourself; I’m sure you will agree.

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