Ever since the Harlem Eatup in May, I have been really excited to visit the actual Sylvia’s Soulfood Restaurant located at 328 Malcolm X Blvd, New York, NY 10027. Sylvia’s is considered a Harlem landmark serving generous helpings of Southern comfort food since 1962. When I attended the private dinner in May, I was inspired by the history of the restaurant and found it beautiful that since the original owner passed, her granddaughter has stepped in to run the restaurant and take the business to the next level. Since I had an extra day in the city without my mom, I decided to have lunch at Sylvia’s to have the full experience and share it with you. Even our President Obama has had his taste of the Sylvia’s experience.
I had read over the menu and knew that I really wanted the fried chicken. But, since it was Tuesday, they also had their daily special of Oxtails for $18.95. I was pretty undecided because I did not know how to make this work until I looked in the appetizer section. From there, I knew exactly what to do. I arrived to the restaurant a little after 12pm and was greeted by a gracious hostess that sat me at a nice table behind a large group of tourist visiting from Ireland. It took my server a little while to get to me because she was taking care of them but when she did, she was quite welcoming. I started with a Lemonade-Iced Tea which they call the Uptown Glass for $4. After she delivered the drink, she disappeared for quite some time before coming back to take my order. This was frustrating because at this point, I knew what I wanted and was getting a bit hungry. At some point, a busboy dropped off a basket of biscuits and walked away with an attitude. Every time he walked into the dining room, he looked annoyed and did not have a welcoming smile on his face.
Once she finally came back to take my order, I realized that I may have misunderstood the menu. I wanted the Sylvia’s Sassy Wings ($10.95) and thought they would just be the fried chicken wings to give me the best of both worlds. However, I learned that they came with a sauce. I requested that to be on the side and would see what the meal was like from there. However, when the plate arrived, these were not the delicious fried chicken wings I had had before. These were basically unseasoned wing parts that were grossly oversized and a large bowl a blue cheese dressing. I’m not sure if this was supposed to be Buffalo wings and if the sauce was accidently left behind, but I was not all that pleased with the order. The chicken wings were just ok and not nearly as delicious as the chicken served at the private dinner or served on large platters for the party in front of me. I nearly wanted to ask them for a piece and a picture of the platter to redeem them but I just sat there stunned.
But the meal took an even greater turn when the entrée arrived. I ordered the Tuesday Oxtail special with mac and cheese and butter corn. Let me first start by saying that the mac and cheese and corn were delicious. The mac and cheese was flavored wonderfully and the top layer nice crust from being cooked casserole style in the pan! The corn was fresh and had a bite and was not overly salty which can happen to canned corn. However, the oxtails were a huge disappointment. The presentation of the dish was not satisfying in the least. Now, it is partially my fault because I made the mistake of ordering two side dishes that did not have much color and maybe an order of green beans would have added some much needed color to the plate. However, the overall presentation of the oxtails was not appealing. It looked really thick and an unhealthy. To give you an even better description, have you ever cooked something greasy or made a soup and it has that layer of grease that rises to the top once it cools and looks thick? That is exactly that these oxtails looked like. But they were warm.
I am a lover of oxtails and used to cook them frequently before making some healthier life choices and I can tell you from experience that this is not a quick dish to prepare. It takes a lot of love and time to get oxtails to the right level of tender. You have to be patient. But before you even cook the meat, it is best to trim the fat because they are a fattier meat. Also while you cook them, usually in a stew, you might have to get rid of some of the broth and add a more water because of the high fat content. But you have to keep some of the original broth because it is highly important to the taste and cohesiveness of the flavors. With that in mind, I believe that whatever method used to prepare them (I’m guessing baked), they were not properly seasoned from the beginning. And the juices that were drawn out during the cooking process did not make their way into the gravy served. The gravy did not go with that meat. It may have been brown, it may have been beef gravy, but it was not for that dish. It was bland for a dish that takes hours to prepare and too thick. The other disappointing thing was the amount fat on the oxtails. They did not trim the fat at all and I had to spend a significant part of the meal trimming the fat before I could enjoy the oxtail.
I plan to cook oxtails tomorrow and will post step-by-step my cooking process on my Instagram page so you can see what I am talking about. This can be found on my Instagram page @finediningdiva.
The redeeming quality of the meal was the dessert…sorta. I ordered the Peach Cobbler ($6.95) and thought it would come with ice cream. It did not, that was an extra charge. I suppose that many people are lactose intolerant so adding something that people don’t want would be pointless. Now, I could have added it to the cobbler but I decided not to. It did come with a dollop of whipped cream. The peach cobbler was very tasty and the crust had this almost butter biscuit consistency that I really enjoyed. I ate most of the peaches from the dish and left most of the crust behind because I was pretty full. Ice cream would have definitely taken this dish to the next level though. I will have to add that during my next visit.
Overall, I had a mediocre meal at best. I left feeling really disappointed in the experience. I was bummed that the large party in front of me ordered so much food and left a platter of fried chicken untouched. In their defense, they had already enjoyed two platters of chicken but who leaves good chicken like that behind? I was bummed by how long it took to order and close out my bill. I ended up having to power walk to the subway and run through Penn Station to make my train for the day session of the US Open. I was bummed by the busboy’s attitude and lack of enthusiasm. And finally, I was bummed by the meal because I expected so much more than that! I will give it another try and stick to what I know is good next time and leave the oxtails behind. I spent a total of $44.48 and after tip, $50.48. I usually like to give 20% but again, I was not all that impressed with the service. The following is my Seven Mac Score for the restaurant:
Sylvia’s Harlem Restaurant
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Thank you for following my NYC Dining Series during my Labor Day weekend in the city. While it was not enough of an experience to blog about, the US Open has some fantastic food vendors that also have restaurants and locations in the city. They do a great job of having a diverse number of food options to include Curry, seafood, Korean, Fried Chicken, Salads, standard stadium fare, and deli selections. Grey Goose was the official sponsor and had this delicious cocktail that my mother and I enjoyed called the Honey Deuce which was pretty much a raspberry lemonade with vodka and raspberry liquor. The added balls of honeydew melon to look like tennis balls to be festive. It was pretty neat.
Please look out for my next post as I share my birthday weekend dining experiences in DC and one of my favorite new addictions found in both DC and Maryland. Also, you can find me on Instagram @finediningdiva and twitter @moderndaybeauty. Also, if you would like to follow my blog to receive notification when a new blog is posted, please send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
And remember: It’s a BIG world and we are going to eat our way through it!