It’s not every day that I plop myself down on a bar stool for 8 hours. Regardless of how well poured the drinks or how hospitable the staff, I’m a New Yorker and I have places to be. I can barely fit in a yoga class that I’ve been dying to try, much less spend what is the equivalent to an entire day at the office at one location, in one seat, on a Friday afternoon-turned-evening-turned-night. But so it was on the sunny Spring day, when Harlem was a-bloom that I stopped in for an early glass of wine and a chat with the owners of Cedric.
Arriving when some patrons were finishing late lunches, the glass walls of the bistro were turned open, allowing the best of Stevie Wonder to waft onto the sidewalk, encouraging salutations and waves between those inside and out. Chief waver was Cedric himself (as pictured below), who warmly gestured to, and chatted with, multiple friends and regulars passing by his establishment. While a Frenchman hailing from the Belgian boarder may not strike most as a stereotypical Harlem local, Cedric Lecendre and his business partner, Fabrizio Khanlari have enmeshed themselves into the neighborhood and established a respite for guests to languish, be they enjoying a fine French red, a multi-course meal, or just one cup of coffee. All are welcomed, making even the visitors feel like locals.
Which is not easy to do. Not in a city whose restaurants are known as ‘destinations’ to visiting tourists and resident foodies alike. Harlem’s celeb chef darling, Red Rooster, could be considered competition, but it is really just Cedric’s foil. According to Fabrizio—Fabi—there is nothing at Cedric that will compel downtowners to venture to the 125th Street subway stop, but I disagree. The ephemeral combination of attractive regulars, charming owners and hosts, a relaxed dining room, and (oh yeah) good food, is something this New Yorker travels for. It’s my ideal, as far as destination eating goes.
And in that lies Cedric’s best attribute; that not by celebrity chef cred, but my sheer familial atmosphere, are visitors compelled to return. While Fabi has traveled the world over, opening restaurants from Hong Kong to Denver, Cedric has been a New Yorker since he moved to Queens at age 10, and takes his restauranteur-ing cues from experience with his family’s Upper East Side French restaurant. While Fabrizio and I could have bantered excitedly about global culinary hot spots and favorites for hours, Cedric was most moved to reminisce on his grandmother’s cooking.
Less than a year old, this magical atmosphere is, of course, not by coincidence: Cedric and Fabrizio’s respective backgrounds figure heavily into what elevates this to a bistro like few others (stateside, that is). The menu and attitude encourage long meals as well as quick drop-ins, in homage to the European cafes we all so adore. French is called between Cedric and the staff. The music changes to Rihanna. The wines—mostly French—are wonderful, as is the food.
185 St Nicholas Avenue @119th
New York, NY 10026
Oh, by the way: Speaking of food, a glance at the menu made me feel like my recent trip to Paris and London had not yet ended: stocked with French favorites Pâté de Campagne, Foie Gras, and Escargot de Bourgogne; with a nod to Britain–Fabrizio’s long time home– in the Fish & Chips. Menu favorites Tuna Tartare, Thai – Ginger Lemon Grass Mussels, Grilled Sirloin Steak with a Green Peppercorn Sauce and Pan Seared Duck Breast with a Cherry Sauce and Gratin Dauphinois are not to be missed.
Let’s be honest: Weekend brunches at the bistro threaten to morph into dinners as well. Under the spell of Cedric’s there is no reason not to.
Accessorize: …the look is easy, breezy and fashionable.