Friday, July 16, 2010

More than just Chicken & Waffles at Harlem East Side

A month or so ago, I organized a group outing with friends at Harlem Underground. I've wanted to try this place for brunch before, but right when I wanted to go try it, I heard some mixed reviews. So it gradually, like many other restaurants, got pushed further and further down my "To Eat / To Try" list. However, a friend suggested to go to Harlem Underground anyway for dinner, so I figured why not? I'm game. I volunteered to organize it too.

Notice that I keep on saying Harlem Underground when this post's heading clearly says Harlem East Side. This is where I completely and utterly FAIL. I always thought the two names were synonymous of one another, like interchangeable names. But man was I wrong. 

Since I thought there was only one "Harlem" in Toronto, when I made the reservations, I Googled "Harlem Restaurant", which gave me the phone number for the Richmond street location immediately ( I didn't even bother going into their website). And a few days before the actually dinner, I wanted to confirm my reservation, so I again Googled for the number, but instead of typing in "Harlem Restaurant" this time, I decided to type in "Harlem Underground" (which I know now is on Queen Street), and dialed their number. HAHA can you imagined how frustrated I was when they said they didn't have my reservation? Anyway afterwards, with everything confirmed (or so I thought), I sent out a mass email to my friends telling them the place, date, and time, and wrote in Harlem Underground's address. 

Long story short, on the day of the dinner, my boyfriend and I went to Harlem East Side since I somehow decided to search "Harlem Restaurant" on Google for the addy before leaving the house, while the rest of the gang went to Harlem Underground I was so embarrassed and felt so bad when I realized the huge mistake I've made (realized it only when we started phoning each other, both sides saying that they were "there", which is of course completely possible because I made reservations at BOTH restaurants). Anyway, our friends were nice enough to leave Harlem Underground and come to Harlem East Side to join us (they had to pay for parking again). FAIL....lesson learned for sure!

OK time for me to talk about Harlem East Side. They got us a table upstairs. This is the bar across from our table.

There was a jazz singer performing that night. She was phenomenal - extremely talented with a beautiful voice. The pianist was great too. I was so glad we got to listen to some jazz music that night, it made dinner so much more special, intimate, and cozy - jazz music always has the ability to mesmerize and put people at ease. 

Loved the ambience. Loved the atmosphere. 

My friends who were previously at Harlem Underground said the atmosphere there was very different; no jazz music and more grungy - they said they prefer Harlem East Side.

Aside from a year ago in Atlanta, which is where I had my first experience eating chicken & waffles, I never had it again since. I remember I debated quite a long time about what to get... "should I get chicken & waffles again? or something else?"

For drinks, I actually got something non-alcoholic! Surprise surprise! =D I got this sweetened iced tea, which tasted more like lychee. Not a complaint though! It was yummy~

For appetizers, we got the Catfish Lafayette - Seasoned deep fried morsels in a hot sauce (you can choose either chicken or catfish). 

Also the Seafood Fondue - Shrimp, crab meat and white fish in a rich mushroom cream sauce served with Harlem crisps. This was delicious! Unlike any other dip I've ever had.

After our appetizers, we waited quite a long time for our mains. I don't remember exactly how long we waited for, maybe half an hour to 45 mins? Anyway, none of us complained or anything, but our waiter came over and apologized for the delay, and offered us a free round of drinks. I thought that was some exceptional customer service since he didn't have to do that.

Here are our mains:

Chicken and Waffles - With a Chipolte-corriander-lime maple syrup served with gravy and a spicy honey garlic plum sauce. 

Guinness Marinated Chicken Thighs - Simmered with caramelized onions & root vegetables. Served with collard greens and mac-n- cheese

Pork Hocks - "When was the last time you had a great piece?" <-- that's the exact description on the menu. This was my main (I didn't choose chicken and waffles because my boyfriend was already getting it so I could always steal a bite if I wanted to). I've got to say, this was really really delicious. The portion was huge (two pieces) - I had to give some away because there was no way I could finish it all by myself, and I can eat A LOT. The meat was fall-off-the bone tender, and seasoned so well. I ♥♥♥ this! The mac-n-cheese was also tasty and cooked just right...very cheesy!

Look at this fatty goodness! *drool*

Guinness Marinated Chicken Thighs - Simmered with caramelized onions & root vegetables. Served with collard greens and mac-n- cheese.

Braised Short Ribs - Seared & simmered in a rich thyme-molasses-scotch bonnet pepper & vegetable stew. Served with collard greens and mac-n-cheese.

Sides that we ordered:

Red Beans and Rice

Corn Bread

More Mac-n-Cheese

Everyone really enjoyed the food, and I mean EVERYONE. All the guys ordered chicken  & waffles and they all loved the chicken (very crispy yet not oily at all). They also fell in love with the waffle and maple syrup combination (they started dipping everything in maple syrup actually).  My two other friends both liked their Guinness chicken and braised short ribs. And I've already proclaimed my love for the pork hock.

There were two complaints though, both about the sides. The corn bread came cold, and the mac-n-cheese was inconsistent: my friend's mac-n-cheese that came on the same plate as her main was not cheesy nor thick, while mine was, and the mac-n-cheese ordered as a separate side in itself (the last picture) was the best. Besides these two points, everything was spectacular that night =D

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