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Monday
Jul262010

My Saturday in Harlem: brunch at Chez Lucienne ~ field trip to the "Crack is Wack Playground"

*This restaurant has since closed.*

  • Cuisine: French
  • Atmosphere: spacious, bright, warm, bistro
  • Attire: smart-casual
  • Ideal for: date night, small groups, prixe-fixe menus available, kid-friendly, brunch
  • Price: moderate; all a-la-carte items under $25
  • Phone: 212-289-5555
  • Location: 308 Lenox Avenue (between 125th & 126th Streets)
  • Website: click *here*
  • Directionswww.hopstop.com/?city=newyork
  • *All photos from this meal can be viewed on Flickr

    Ever since learning - very recently, I might add - that Harlem's "Crack is Wack Playground" came long before Whitney Houston's famous proclamation, I've been aching to view this historical piece of urban landscape for myself.  But if I knew that if I was going to make that trek, I wanted to be damn sure that a meal would also be involved.  Et voila!  Chez Lucienne, a French bistro that had been on my "need to try it" list, was located two blocks south and six avenues east of the famous "playground."

    Before Shirley and I met at the restaurant - conveniently located 15-feet from the subway exit - I managed to get lost.  Instead of making a right on Lenox, I headed west on 125th Street.  Not wanting to appear a shade greener than I imagine I already looked, I finally had no other option but to ask a passerby, "Is Lenox Avenue this way?"  After the kind gentleman led me in the right direction, I couldn't help but notice how friendly and hospitable everyone seemed to be.  For the first time in my six-years of living in the Big Apple, I felt a genuine sense of warmth and community.

    Amongst Lenox Avenue's fast-food joints and small department stores/chains, Chez Lucienne stands out like a rare jewel.  Upon entry, there is an ample amount of space used for street-side dining which, had it not been 100-degrees, I would have loved to have brunched al-fresco.  The interior of the restaurant is reminiscent of Tribeca's The Odeon: banquette and bistro-chair/table seating, unfinished hardwood floors, subway-tiled walls, and ceilings that seem to reach to soaring heights.

    Chez Lucienne: interior spaceTo begin our meal, Shirley and I ordered a cheese platter, which arrived simultaneously with the gratis bread & butter.  Served atop a chilled, unpolished black-granite slab was a handful of unsalted walnuts, some lightly-dressed greens, and wedges of the following fromages: camembert, brie, chevre, and (gasp!) commercially/deli-sliced cheddar.

    Chez Lucienne: moist country bread and butterChez Lucienne: cheese platterJust as the server removed our spit-cleaned cheese board, our entrees arrived.  I ordered the "Oeufs Benedicte Chez Lucienne," which loosely translates to "Eggs Benedict."  Instead of serving the poached eggs atop a toasted English muffin, this version went against tradition with the substitution of bread for a homemade, 1" thick hash-brown cake.  Slices of fried deli ham, sauteed button mushrooms, and half of a grilled tomato served as a makeshift moat to the potato and egg "castle."  A warm, lemon-y Hollandaise sauce crowned the perfectly-poached eggs, though I found that the dish could have used one or two more dollops.

    Chez Lucienne: Oeufs Benedicte Chez Lucienne (Eggs Benedict)Conclusion: while I wouldn't consider Chez Lucienne to be a brunch destination-restaurant, Shirley and I thoroughly enjoyed our meal, especially the lovely service we received.  From the jazzy French tunes heard overhead to our Lyonnaise server's deliriously intoxicating accent, I felt transported back to my beloved Paris. 

    ~

    Harlem: live from 128th Street

    Leaking fire hydrant on 128th Street: seconds after I snapped this photo, some random dude approached the hydrant and took a huge swig of water.Rows of steps leading up to brownstones on 128th St.~

    And without further ado, please enjoy my photographs from Harlem's "Crack is Wack Playground."  Before or after you finish (viewing the pictures), make sure to read the touching true-story behind the art.  Click *here*

    I love the sign to the right, "Park closes at 9pm."Mural painted on a handball court: note all of the skeletons and dead bodies. What else do you see?Similar mural painted on opposite side of handball court. Note the highway to the right of the mural.

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