Wednesday, February 15, 2012

☞ EAT: A Sunday Afternoon at Cedric

An incident at the French bistro called Cedric at 185th St. Nicholas Avenue and 119th Street has gained a lot of media coverage since it reflects the conflicts of Harlem in a period of gentrification. This blogger actually had brunch on the Super Bowl Sunday following the night that would cause some controversy and here is the Bespoke review of Cedric:

After having quite a late start in the morning for Super Bowl Sunday, we decided to head out to Cedric to check the brunch menu.  The scene upon arrival was a pleasant representation of new Harlem which my guest who resides in the Bronx thought was fascinating.  There was a gathering of older gentlemen from the neighborhood at one of the corner tables and the crowd also consisted of many groups of young folk who were from diverse backgrounds which also included a few same-sex pairings.  Our small party of two was one of the only ones that were fully minority from different backgrounds and the open ambiance was perfect for a Sunday uptown.

The previous restaurant called Mojo had a very glamorous evening look to it but Cedric was more approachable during the day with its open windows, zinc bar and large framed artwork on the exposed brick walls. It was Super Bowl Sunday so the diverse and attractive staff had team jerseys on to reflect the festive mood. Fresh flower bouquets on the tables which featured small, short stem roses were a nice touch but the detail was lost since they were quite wilted, drooping and dry by this end of the week.  My brunch date also has a fashionable eye and quickly pointed this out so I was hopeful that the food would hold up to the pricing on the menu.

Cedric is a bistro and the French offerings are probably quite amazing but brunch was the mood of the afternoon after having a late night out.  French toast with a side of bacon, coffee and juice was the order and my hopes were high since we were both quite famished.  Our plates took some time to be served up and the experience turned out to be similar to the aforementioned roses.  At a certain price point, one sort of expects large slabs of toast with a bit of char on the egg coating and thick, whole slices of bacon cooked to perfection.  Our brunch plates were neatly arranged but the meager diagonally cut slices of toast looked to be of the basic white bread variety and the bacon was mostly thin and crumbled.  It all tasted fine but the visual presentation once more was lacking.

Our biggest issue with Cedric is that the food (at least for our particular brunch dish ordered) could be a little more outstanding but an incident the night before has some calling the proprietor racists and others just pointing out plain old nepotism for those with more money. Read more about this particular diner-proprietor clash in the New York Times: LINK

45 comments:

  1. Dinkens is a jerk. Plain and simple. I'll patronize Cedric more frequently than I already do, because the more powerless she is made to be, the sooner she'll be gone.

    The proprietors certainly aren't racists. That's insane. Funny that someone who opens a "nice" restaurant in a previously ignored and predominantly African-American neighborhood are somehow racists. Wouldn't Harlem on its face be a tough place even to visit if you were racist? Wouldn't that be like an anti-Semite opening a restaurant in Tel Aviv?

    So tiresome.

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    1. Dickens. Dinkens was Mayor.

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  2. I don't know what happened here, but I've heard lots of stories floating around the various parent circles and email chains in Harlem. I tend to agree with Christopher, I am not going to make these accusations unless I was there. Cedric lives on my block and is always pleasant to everybody.

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  3. Dido Christopher! I am getting tired as well. Calling for a boycott?!! Please! There are bigger fishes to fry in Harlem (crime, drugs, etc). Let's pick our battles carefully folks!

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  4. I think any restaurant proprietor would ask you to give up your table if you'd been there for 3-4 hours with rotating guests, no matter your race or economic background.

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  5. Oh please. They had closed out their tab/check right before the new party arrived - it's not uncommon for a restaurant to ask a table who seems to be lingering, after they've paid the check, to move to a new spot so they can seat a four-top for dinner. Making bogus claims of racism when all you've had is a verbal dispute with the owner devalues real incidences of discrimination. Also, the politician Ms. Pierre-Louis should be ashamed - coming back to the restaurant specifically to threaten to close it down, in a community where we need new investment and amenities, is both abusive and idiotic.

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  6. A group of inebriated women have a meaningless seating dispute with a restauranteur and then try to scream racism and get the community to boycott (read: shutdown) the establishment. The local councilwoman does no investigation but writes a letter condemning the restauranteur and another woman gets a negative story planted in the Amsterdam News. If I were the restauant owners I would look into suing these women for defamation of character

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  7. These comments are so on the money! I can tell you that this will be a boon for the strip as there needs to be more family style spots and also it will keep Harlem dollars uptown. More lighting on a desolate strip! Who could NOT want this???

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  8. This has been an absolutely disgraceful episode and I sincerely hope Cedric actually come out of this benefiting somehow. On a lighter note, I used to give them a bit of stick for not having high-chairs, but that is an entirely different argument altogether :) The way this whole thing has played out, however, is scandalous. Rosemonde Pierre-Louis has been borderline slanderous with her comments and threats to shut these guys down. I for one would like to see her dismissed.

    http://www.dnainfo.com/20120214/harlem/cedric-bistro-owner-says-he-was-threatened-by-pol-race-flap

    If I were these guys, I would be speaking with my attorney, however, that is probably not in their nature.

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  9. There was an article in the NY times over a year ago that speaks of similar tensions.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/20/nyregion/20harlem.html?scp=1&sq=harlem&st=cse

    The old guard expect ring kissing and the new restaurants treat them with the same respect as any other customer, which I suspect makes the old guard feel slighted.

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  10. This tempest in a teacup has brought Cedric’s to mine and likely many others attention, and despite the aggravation the poor owners had to suffer, they may benefit as I noticed Cedric’s gets glowing reviews for food and service. Cedric’s will get my business and I will send friends there in the future. Maybe there is no such thing as bad publicity if you have good product, I wish them much success.

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  11. Now if they can't make a decent croque monsieur then they deserve a boycott. Other than that, live long and prosper.

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  12. There is an article in the NY Times about all of this. This story is really developing.

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  13. This is a non issue.

    A group of whiny patrons got mad because they were asked to move after they paid thier tab.

    Only in this case, the whiners knew somebody with a bit of clout.

    So when they didn't get special treatment they didn't understand what was happening.

    Fairness: what a concept.

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  14. Sounds like it is more about ego and sense of entitlement than race.

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  15. i am amazed that all of the comments seem to absolve the owner of his possible part in mishandling the situation. granted, the women may have overreacted, but the comments seem so one-sided...calling the women "whinners" and "innebriated"? why is no one giving them the benefit of the doubt? not that i totally agree w/the women, but i wasnt there, and from what i see neither were the folks commenting.

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  16. The owner has already apologized - in writing no less - and has admitted he was wrong to yell/raise his voice. So his customer service skills need some work - and as a small business owner if he pisses off his customers then he'll suffer for it. BUT, to me, that's significantly less of an issue than a) making bogus claims of racism and having Inez Dickens, our elected Representative, send a knee-jerk letter (with NO research or investigation) threatening a boycott and b) having the deputy borough president abuse her power and threaten "to shut the place down". As to whether they were drunk - 7 hours at a table, 5+ bottles of wine, champagne etc is a lot for even me and I have a hollow leg. Ego and alcohol are a combustible mix. I wonder if the ladies concerned felt a little embarrassed next morning, or if they still felt that they were 100% blemish-free?

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  17. Usually, when confronted with racist treatment, the response is not to stay at the establishment for three hours after the fact, paying the supposed racist for several bottles of wine without complaint, only to remark about one's treatment after three hours of drinking.

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  18. harlemhomme,

    Drinking 5+ bottles of wine and champagne for 7 hours and complaining of racism absolutely belittles real victims of discrimination. Horrible, horrible things have been done in the name of racism; moving a group of well-connected drunks (there, I said it) to a different table to accommodate a reservation (no matter the reserving party's color) isn't akin to denying Rosa Parks a seat in the front of the bus.

    My God.

    This whole incident makes me want to move far away from this "enlightened and open-minded" big city.

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  19. @:harlemhomme:

    Even if I assume that the ladies' version is what happened, it is still clear that:

    The ladies were not refused service. They were not given an undesireable table while they were served. It was not until AFTER they finished dining and paid thier tab that they were asked to move.

    Now I've haven't been to Cedric's yet, but I've been to Mojo which was the last restaurant there. So I do know that the place is real small. So the request to move isn't unreasonable given the place's dimensions.

    Now I don't know is who caught an attitute about the situation first, but I doubt a reasonable person would consider whatever went down there as racism.

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  20. Another article about this situation:

    http://gothamist.com/2012/02/15/harlem_bistro_accused_of_racism_yup.php

    I might have to check out Cedric sometime. Good reviews online. I'm glad these obnoxious-sounding women brought it to my attention.

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  21. Christopher, spot on. This entire episode leaves such a sour taste in the mouth and is like an episode out of the Twilight Zone.

    I am sick and tired of hearing how new people moving into the neighborhood immediately equates to Caucasians. There are any number of other groups moving into the neighborhood. Second, why oh why must the so called 'old guard' be treated above and beyond everybody else? From what I have seen, the current elected officials have done sod all to clean up the streets and get the neighborhood in order, but are all too keen to criticize anybody else coming in who god forbid, actually want to be proactive about things. From what I have read the vast majority of locals are behind Cedric with this and all it has done is highlighted how backwards and entitled a select group of Harlemites continue to be.

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  22. I happen to know one of the women involved in this incident and can tell you that "high strung" would be a mild description for her; however, she is not old Harlem at all, in fact she is as new to Harlem as most others are. I know that everyone is quick to say that the women were wrong and in truth they might have been but the staff could have done a better job as well.

    As an instance, they let these women open another tab at the same table when a new member to the group arrived after they had already paid. It was at that point, prior to opening the new tab, that they could have said to these ladies, "If new guest arrive we will have to move you". This would have been better received I am sure. With that said I think that labeling this racist only came up because of the new arrivals were white, which is just stupid in my opinion.

    I think that a valuable lesson on improving service is here to be learnt and I am sure in future Cedric's will be a better place for it.

    I also totally agree with the sentiment expressed here that our elected officials really need to get their priorities straight, the streets are filthy, gangs are all over and they are worried about intimidating a business owner. Shame on them.

    With that said I see that the same elected officials are screaming about stop and frisk which has taken numerous fire arms off the street and probably saved countless lives. I say more stop and frisk but that is another thread and conversation.

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  23. Just because these young women purchased a significant amount of wine does not mean they were inebriated. Please, unless you were there and saw them in an inebriated state, stop calling them that. Then, the owner raising his voice is definitely a no-no, no matter the venue/arena. Clearly Ms. Espy interpreted this as a racist episode when actually it was disrespect. One does wonder if the race of the women were white would he have been so inclined to raise his voice. Lets remember where we are; a Black community that is rapidly and acutely gentrifying and making those African Americans who have been here for the duration very uncomfortable. This is a community of people who have felt that no one who is in charge cares about them and this is true. It wasn't until those with money started buying up property uptown that the authorities took notice and acted. While one has to be careful about how they approach anyone in a conflict situation, a white inidividual has to be particularly careful about how he/she approaches a Black person given our history in this country. While Ms. Pierre-Louis denies saying she would shut the restaurant down, I think we should be careful about that, she says she didn't say it and I believe her. Given her position I am sure she is careful in choosing her statements. So again, unless you were there and it seems none of the above 22 commentators were, then stop acting like you were

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    1. yes, yes--i agree. well said!

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    2. This whole issue has left a bad taste in my mouth and some of my neighbors (previous customers) with whom I've spoken about this. I wish Cedric well, but I'm not interested...at least not just yet.

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    3. Disagree - sounds like you're biased! The group targeted several media outlets (blogs, NYT, Amsterdam News, DNAinfo, Yelp, Facebook) to defame Cedric. The worst part of this incident is the negative attention this has brought to our community. Harlem is already considered a risky place for new businesses - this incident doesn't help.

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  24. Guest, so Inez Dickens, an elected official who was not present at the time, calling for a boycott of the restaurant is OK then? THAT is an absolute disgrace and in my book she ought to step down.

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  25. And Dickens has been in office since 2006--maybe you could enlighten us on a few of her accomplishments for this community since she took office? I'd love to hear some that specifically have helped those residents who have been here "for the duration" and are now "very uncomfortable" as you say (what is that duration, anyhow?). I only know that she never responds to emails or phone calls (that's firsthand experience, by the way), and that she attempted to initiate a boycott of an area business. Stellar!

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  26. I'd like to see two more apologies (as the Cedric folk have done both a written apology and widely reached out in social media), and then maybe we could consider the matter closed. First apology from Rosemonde Pierre-Louis for making a threat - something any restaurant would be nervous about from a relatively powerful local politician. Obviously most of us weren't there but my gut tells me no small-biz owner makes an idle accusation against the Deputy Borough President without some cause; as there's literally no upside in stoking that fire. Second apology from Inez Dickens for again making a unjustified threat of boycott based on a political ally's (Ms. Pierre-Louis) unsubstantiated racism claim. Simply saying "we all made a mistake, tempers were running hot and things were said/written that we all wish we could take back" may bring the matter to a close. Of course that'd require a couple of politicians, who seem to believe in patronage and ring-kissing, to accept a modicum of responsibility for an episode that's left a sour taste in many mouths. Probably too much to hope for.

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  27. You are all missing the POINT! Take Inez Dickens out of the equation. She is NOT instrumental to this!

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  28. I see Cedric from my apartment windows and frequented it for the first time several weeks ago, and constantly walk past it to/from work/etc.. The crowds are always very mixed, young and old, black and white, gay and straight - and the staff/owners are the most accomodating people ever. Seems like this story is just a bunch of drunk older women with nothing better to do. I will continue to frequent Cedric even more because of this.

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  29. @Guest -- Inez Dickens: she is instrumental to this. She inserted herself with the email she sent to Cedric. Have you seen it?? She uses terms like "turning back the clock" in an attempt to conjure up images of the Civil Rights Movement -- really?? She is an elected official for ALL of Harlem and to adopt a position against a business in this community without having spoken to anyone at the restaurant......she has put herself right in the midst of this my friend. She is an extension of the threat from the ladies involved to close Cedric.

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  30. Ms. Espy is a tranplant. I am a Harlem native, born and raised. If these ladies were so offended by the way they were being treated, why did they decide to stay longer and spend more money?!!!! Furthermore, Inez Dickens is a joke! She needs work on these young hoodlums running around the neighborhood causing havoc! She just hangs on to the coattails of Rangel. They are both part of the pathetic old guard and their days are numbered!

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  32. Why didn't he just rope off the tables for his well heeled friends that had a reservation already?

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  33. They were not actually well heeled...they were just folks who had a reservation at 730pm and had requested that table. I think the issue arose because he asked the "well heeled, entitled" to move tables to accommodate the 730 res.

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  34. As an African American woman who has dined at Cedric's on more than one occasion, it is my feeling that Cedric is not racist, yet he did show EXTREMELY poor judgement and bad service skills in the way he responded to these ladies. It seems the commenters on this thread know very little about the history of Harlem and how or why these women might be offended by Cedric's behaviour towards them. That is fine, they can be as wrong and as ignorant as they like, but Cedric as a business owner has to know the demographic he will be serving. I know of other black women diners who were asked to move as well. It is a small restaurant and it seems there is often the need to move people. I understand that. I think the way he spoke and responded is what upset people and I have that from others. As for the politicians, I do not know those women, but I will say this...what business owner opens in a community he is not a part of without knowing or schmoozing the local pols?????? Where in the world is that different? These commenters must be crazy. Could I open a restaurant tomorrow on Staten Island if the community believed I was being rude to a local Italian pol? Even the perception of such could mean death. Cedric should know how to smooth these things over....as he said, It's just business.

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  35. It is rather sad to see this spelled out: politicians elected in NYC expect to be schmoozed by local businesses...

    One further comment - if we were to talk about business, it really boils down to who needs whom more. As in: does Harlem (i.e. politicians, community, et al) need more establishments like Cedric's or the other way around? And, if Cedric closes, how many months or years would the space sit empty as opposed to providing tax revenue and jobs?

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  36. If it was JUST a 7:30 reservation that prompted him to move these women, he should have told these ladies that. And it wouldn't have been an issue. When you bring up the fact that this special group of people actually just recently bought condos in the neighborhood and are "regular patrons" or friends of his, that's an issue. That's favoritism and if you're going to claim that you don't treat people differently based on race, or how much money the spend, then you shouldn't treat your customers differently or better because they recently bought condos in the area. Period. His story's not adding up to me. And if you do run your business like that (which very many restauranteurs do), you should be prepared for backlash. Having a 7:30 reservation for a specific table is one thing. Being a "regular" or a recent condo owner in the neighborhood is another. It signifies money and class, and regardless of race that shouldn't be the deciding factor in how you treat your restaurant guests.

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  37. I had a very lovely dinner at Cedric this past weekend. Both my Mom and I were treated very well. It was my Mom's first time dining at Cedric's and she was very pleased with the food, ambiance and overall vibe of the restaurant. My I add that we are both people of color, long time harlem residents and renters. Go figure!

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  38. Many establishments in NYC do not offer patrons the option of being re-seated at another location after 3+ hours on a busy night, as Cedric's did. Patrons are simply presented with the bill and asked to pay at around the 90 minute mark. If you are a regular and are spending a lot of money, you might get 2 hours. Restaurants make money by turning over tables and honoring reservations. So if I want to linger for hours with friends, I am careful to select a restaurant that is less popular or a night that is not busy, or plan to move the party from the restaurant to a local bar after our meals are finished. A restaurant that is both enjoyable for patrons and profitable for owners requires graciousness and courtesy from both parties.

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    1. well said and to the point. Also wondering was there a language/culture gap which led to this miscommunication? And how about that that amount of alcohol and how it impairs judgement?

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  39. "A restaurant that is both enjoyable for patrons and profitable for owners requires graciousness and courtesy from both parties." That just about summed it up quite perfectly.

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