[All photos by Conor Rose]
Harlem has always been a constantly changing hub of culture and cuisine, and Clay is one of the latest additions to the neighborhood. Tucked away just off the bustling intersection where you can catch the A/C at 125th Street, and housed in what was formerly a jazz club, the space is decorated simply, showcasing clean lines, geometric shapes, a muted color palette, and the most appropriate decor of all: an impressive cookbook collection, with short stacks with the names of the most prominent chefs dotted along the walls.
Everything is sourced from small, local suppliers, with nothing mass-produced or out of season, and that’s all completely clear during the course of a meal there, even if you aren’t told this beforehand. The ingredients and flavors are so fresh and clean you can tell the preparation is not overdone – Executive Chef Gustavo Lopez’s technique is what shines through.
The staff is welcoming and eager to share their knowledge on the dishes – we’re warmly greeted by bar director Andrea and her staff. We start off with a treat of mushroom chips, then share the roasted beets. Other than a delicate bed of greens resting on top, the dish was very simply prepared, showcasing the natural glory of the beets. They don’t need fussy preparation – they shine on their own. The actual dishes are handmade, from Brooklyn-based Noble Plateware, and have me scrambling through my wedding registry the next day looking for a copycat version from Bed Bath and Beyond to add to my list (note: I was unsuccessful).
The drink menu featured a small collection of gorgeous cocktails with complex flavors. We paired the beet starter with even more beet to wash it down in the bright Good Morning Heartache (gin, beet, pink peppercorn, genepy, lime, hibiscus rose bitters) and also tried the surprisingly spicy Quiet Fire (tequila, blood orange amaro, dry vermouth, lemon, honey, saffron, chile spiced rim). We couldn’t resist ordering one more, the No Flowers, a no frills iced-tea-lemonade-ish drink (rye, pear, molasses, black tea, lime, cardamom).
The menu is thoughtfully composed of seasonal dishes, and on that first real cold autumn night of the year, we were looking for comfort food. Naturally, we veered towards a tender, meat-falling-of-the-bone-with-
The word decadent was probably invented for our dessert, a silky, creamy chocolate budino dressed with meringue chips and spiced candied pecans. The chocolate may be one of the only non-local ingredients from the menu – instead, it comes from Colombia, a nod to the heritage of the chef. An artichoke amaro finished everything off, one of Andrea’s favorites, and warms us up enough before we head back out into the cold night.
Clay is clearly a restaurant that puts great care into both its dishes and customers. For a cozy date night, night out with friends, or even if you’re grabbing a bite solo, Clay is beyond worth a shot – and make sure you say hi to Andrea from us!
You can visit Clay at 553 Manhattan Avenue in Harlem. For more photos, click here. This meal was provided by Clay, a restaurant we love, and all opinions are our own.