For one of many metropolis’s finest Central Park sunsets, drop by Teranga on the Africa Heart for a leisurely $20 meal.
Trapezoidal home windows afford patrons a panoramic view of the park at twilight. Buses and taxis zoom southward on Fifth Avenue, as forged iron lamps glow behind them. Inside, communal tables are draped in pink, blue, and yellow cloths, whereas artist Ezra Wube’s cease movement animations of African dishes challenge onto the partitions. Woven baskets sit with their tops barely askew. Fela Kuti, the Nigerian instrumentalist, pipes via the sound system. And diners nibble on chef Pierre Thiam’s fufu, big spheres cast from plantains and crimson palm oil, watching because the sky turns pink.
Some kind away on MacBooks with their legs stretched out as if they’re in a university dorm; every windowsill is outfitted with cushions for lounging. If a typical fast-casual spot remembers a classy cafeteria, Teranga, positioned simply south of West 110th Road, looks like a wealthy buddy’s lounge, albeit an exceedingly hospitable one which’s open to the general public.
However these on the lookout for a spot within the neighborhood to swing by for a faster lunch may think about JJ Johnson’s FieldTrip, positioned simply half a mile away on Malcolm X Boulevard. Johnson doesn’t root his cooking in a selected geographical area; relatively, he makes use of rice as a lens via which to reinterpret myriad world culinary traditions. His gumbo channels the American South whereas tipping its hat to China and Southeast Asia, all whereas jolting diners with as a lot seafaring taste as a elaborate lobster discount.
And his vegan rice-milk delicate serve stands to change into a cool New York summer season staple.
It appears, at occasions, that burgeoning salad-and-grain chains are profitable the town’s bowl wars, with app-connected lunch spots opening the place impartial eating places used to function, and with $15 arugula bowl establishments popping up throughout from the closest SoulCycle or Equinox.
However the success of Teranga, which opened final winter, and FieldTrip, which debuted final summer season, speaks to a special and extra promising pressure of the counter-service motion — a rising class of institutions the place independent-minded cooks are determining a means to offer formidable and generally inventive or underrepresented wares at particularly reasonable costs. One thinks of Amanda Cohen’s smashingly glorious vegan burgers at Lekka, the nimble northeastern Thai fare of Chicks Isan, or the western Chinese language staples of Xi’an Well-known Meals. And, most promisingly, they’re searching for to do it at scale.
The Harlem-based Teranga and FieldTrip are already primed to sprinkle throughout the town. Teranga specifically, which Thiam co-founded with entrepreneur Noah Levine, has two extra places deliberate within the coming months, one within the DeKalb Market Brooklyn and the opposite in a not-yet-disclosed area.
The myriad cuisines of Africa, in fact, already pepper the metropolitan culinary panorama; the town is house to around 60 West African eating places, a variety of them positioned on the “Petit Senegal” neighborhood round 116th Road. What makes Teranga stand out from the pack, aside from its soft environs, are the expansive transnational influences — starting from West Africa to Morocco to the Japanese Horn.
However maybe probably the most placing factor about Teranga is that it merely exists the place it does, close to 110th Road on the backside of an condominium constructing the place items promote for $2 million to $15 million. A selected bane of contemporary metropolis life is that shiny mixed-use developments have a tendency to draw bland, costly eating places run by corporate-leaning cooks with scores of different bland, costly eating places. But right here’s Teranga, an reasonably priced African restaurant whose internationally famend culinary determine hasn’t run a New York kitchen in practically a decade; Thiam shuttered his acclaimed Le Grand Dakar in Clinton Hill in 2011.
The eating room acts as a canteen for the Africa Heart, a small exhibition area that will expand right into a full-fledged, 70,000-square-foot museum later subsequent 12 months. As at any fast-casual spot, diners line up, order, take issues again to a desk, and eat. A meal consists of a foremost ($12 hen, $14 fish, or a $10 vegetable) plus three sides. Big Le Creuset pots maintain piles of efo riro, an umami-rich Nigerian stew cast from kale, locust bean, okra, and crimson palm. Ask for it as a facet with Moroccan salmon, cooked to a silky medium uncommon. The fish bursts with luscious maritime oils however finds steadiness because of a crown of musky cumin and tart citrus.
Rooster yassa does the well-known Senegalese dish justice. Cooks slather the thigh meat with onions left within the pan lengthy sufficient to show copper; lime juice imparts an excellent sourness to the fatty, candy flavors. Take into account pairing it with peanut sauce-slathered fufu, the starchy West African staple constituted of pounding cassava, taro, yams, rice, or, as is the case at Teranga, plantains and palm oil. Fufu can typically end up fluffy and stretchy elsewhere — all the higher for tearing and dunking into accompanying sauces — however right here, it’s splendidly dense. The fruit provides the grapefruit-sized ball a pronounced sweetness, making it a fantastic counterpoint to the tart hen.
However actually, any meal right here requires joloff, the mainstay of Ghana, Sierra Leone, Senegal, and elsewhere. Historically, the dish takes the type of tomato- and chile-cooked rice. However Thiam prefers to make use of the ultra-fluffy fonio grain, a millet that assumes the dimensions of tobiko and the feel of excellent couscous. Tomatoes add a touch of savoriness, whereas a spoonful of habanero salsa (in condiment glasses on each desk) causes the abdomen to glow for hours. Diners may additionally add a little bit of shito, a paste of crawfish, chiles, stockfish, and shrimp that the kitchen reduces to the colour of ink. It really works funky, meaty wonders the way in which XO sauce may.
Teranga doesn’t promote alcohol, solely espresso and $5 juices, together with a ginger-lime drink spicy sufficient to jumpstart a tractor-trailer, and an opaque mix of baobab (a gourd-like African citrus) and coconut puree. That latter drink, often called bouye, is tart, candy, and aromatic. It’s the solely beverage right here that appears to actually quell the warmth of the chiles with any efficacy.
After lunch, some patrons open up their laptops and kind away. Some of us don’t even eat; they merely come for espresso and pastries and to speak with a buddy. That’s the superb factor about Teranga and the Africa Heart. Within the typical New York universe, this area can be an expensive steakhouse or an outsized foyer for the condos above. Or if this have been a Starbucks Reserve Roastery, one may anticipate $50 thermoses on sale whereas safety guards eerily march round. And whereas one wonders whether or not the town actually wanted one other Robert A.M. Stern-designed constructing with multimillion-dollar flats, there’s one thing to be mentioned for making the bottom flooring of that constructing a spot to calm down and eat and exist and revel in the most effective views in New York. It actually is a 3rd place.
Chef JJ Johnson told Grub Street he pitched the idea of FieldTrip as a “world Chipotle.” He additionally told Eater that he has Sweetgreen-level ambitions for the chain. For now, there’s only one location, and it makes a stupendously good gumbo.
Pink broth singes the tongue, then perfumes the palate with brine. It smacks of excellent shellfish inventory. Fresno chile warmth provides a punch of bearable ache. Gumball-sized scallops and shrimp seem; they’re delicate and candy. Then one other tidal rush subsumes all the things, courtesy of tiny dried shrimp — extra frequent in Southeast Asian cooking than American-style gumbos. There’s additionally a slice or two of lap cheong, taking the place of basic andouille. The sugary wallop of the Chinese language hen sausage cleanses the palate of any oceanic funk.
Lastly, one’s spoon finds little pearls of crimson rice hanging out close to the underside of the cup. They’re agency and exude starchiness. The gumbo, resplendent with the flavors of the ocean, would stand by itself with out them, however the earthiness and creaminess add the kind of depth one may hope for from a shaving of bottarga or caviar. Johnson tells me his broth, relatively than adhering to the model of a darkish roux Louisiana stew, has extra in frequent with the lighter gumbos of Gullah Geechee delicacies.
The bigger fact, in fact, is that this multicultural creation is totally his personal. It prices $eight.
One hopes Johnson has lastly discovered a everlasting house right here on Malcolm X Boulevard. The Cecil, which he helmed for practically four-years, closed in 2016. He left sister spot Minton’s in 2017 and joined the Life Resort in 2018 to run the Henry, the place he centered on the meals of the worldwide African diaspora. His reign lasted all of a 12 months regardless of a bustling eating room and positive write-ups.
At FieldTrip, Johnson continues his freewheeling internationalism, dabbling in multitudinous traditions to indicate off a panoramic number of rice — all served in that transportable feeding trough for staff often called the bowl. This isn’t a “let’s hang around all day” area like Teranga; the brick partitions, stand-up tables, and bare-bones seating space equate to an area the place one needs to get in and get out.
However a lot of the meals is so good that it deserves just a few bites earlier than inserting a plastic lid on high. Take the brisket bowl ($11). Johnson tops puffy Texas brown rice, nearly as fats as farro, with chubby squares of soy-braised beef and hoisin-slicked collards. The meat is remarkably advanced and delicate, whereas the greens add a nutty saltiness. The rice does what it does finest, sopping up something scrumptious that drips downward. It’s a Southwestern-Chinese language-American reply to a Japanese donburi rice bowl and a really tasty creation, the kind of factor David Chang needs he might have thought up for Ando.
Crisp fried fluke ($12) sits atop a pile of herbed rice that tastes dry and undercooked at first. Then one provides tartar sauce and the grains come to life. The tangy dairy brightens the natural chives and slicks the grains, permitting them to slip throughout the tongue with ease. And for coconut curry over sticky rice ($12), Johnson tosses in just a few massive shrimp, every packing the silky texture and taste of the ocean one hopes for at a elaborate shellfish bar.
Even when the central protein is a failure, as is the case with dry nuggets of fried hen breast slathered in cloying barbecue sauce ($10), rice saves the day. The kitchen tosses Carolina Gold lengthy grains right into a wok with soy and salty nuggets of squash. When blended with delicate collards, the preparation takes on the spherical, umami-laden taste of excellent take-out fried rice. Pair this with an order of fritters: golden fried wontons ($7) filled with sufficient heady crab and cream cheese to make a basic rangoon preparation style bland by comparability.
Nighttime diners will wash this down with a can of rosé or beer, however through the day, iced inexperienced tea will cleanse the palate. The one candy is delicate serve ($four.50), the dessert of selection for fast-casual and impressive eating places alike. This one is vegan, a mix of rice milk, raspberry, and hibiscus that’s extra cool and light-weight than full-on creamy — although the coolness by no means devolves into iciness. It’s the correct antidote to that stomach-warming cup of gumbo.
FieldTrip, relatively than taking up the ethos of one more focus-group salad or hen bowl from Chopt or Dig, looks like the kind of ideas-driven venue one expects from a high-level up to date chef, whereas the pan-African Teranga reveals how welcoming a fast-casual venue might be. Might they each broaden all through the town.