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Harlem Guide to Buzzy Boulevard with $12 Boudin Balls

Patrons and dogs outside at Lido in Harlem. The neighborhood Italian restaurant features the cuisine of James Beard Award-winning chef Serena Bass. Photographer: Philip Lewis/Bloomberg
Patrons and dogs outside at Lido in Harlem. The neighborhood Italian restaurant features the cuisine of James Beard Award-winning chef Serena Bass. Photographer: Philip Lewis/Bloomberg

Sept. 18 (Bloomberg) -- We’ve been eating out on Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem (with everyone else it seems).

The great man himself -- escaped slave, orator and quote-master -- stands in Frederick Douglass Circle at 110th street, from where the boulevard continues north to 125th Street lined with seductive bars, lounges, restaurants and coffee shops.

Later this month, former Time Warner Inc. chief executive officer Richard Parsons will open The Cecil, an Afro-Asian-American brasserie, on W. 118th Street, followed by Minton’s, a supper club with jazz in the old Minton’s Playhouse space.

In the meantime, here’s where we’ve been:

Lido

Serena Bass, the British-born chef, has been quietly running the kitchen at Lido since late last year.

It’s quickly become a local favorite, especially on weekends when lip-reading talents would come in handy. Have a Negroni ($12) and watch a game at the bar, while chewing airy salt cod fritters ($8) or flaky Tuscan pizza tarts ($11).

We settled at an outdoor table -- much quieter -- for the brick-roasted half-chicken ($17), a crispy bird with a big side of mashed potatoes. We also liked the perfectly seared scallops over De Puy lentils ($23) and lightly poached halibut ($26).

This is all to be consumed with chilly prosecco, at a reasonable $10 per glass.

Lido is at 2168 Frederick Douglass Boulevard, corner of 116th Street. Information: +1-646-490-8575; http://lidoharlem.com.

Harlem Tavern

Inside at Harlem Tavern, 12 huge TV screens cater to sports fans in a room so loud we wanted to squeeze some of the spicy, tasty boudin balls ($12) into our ears.

But the beer garden is just the place for a Hoegaarden on a warm early fall evening. (A see-through tent covers most of it later in the year).

Fried green tomatoes on flatbread ($11) seemed more baked than fried. But short rib sliders ($11) were soft and tender. The shepherd’s pie ($18) packed a heady lamb stew under its crust. Fried chicken ($20) came with a week’s supply of mashed potatoes.

Harlem Tavern is at 2153 Frederick Douglass Boulevard. Information: +1-212-866-4500; http://www.harlemtavern.com.

Vinateria

An unusually interesting list of wines by the glass (loved that Bamberger Plaisir!) and some plump grilled octopus made us happy on a late summer night, sitting outside. Noting the Mercedes E class at the curb, a colleague remembered the area from 30 years ago when neither car nor owner would probably survive the night in one piece.

Vinateria has a quirky, elegant style and a varied menu that includes house-cured sardines with pine nuts and croutons and black spaghetti with more octopus and bread crumbs. Great bar, but could the volume be turned down about 100 decibels?

Vinateria is at 2211 Frederick Douglass Boulevard at 119th Street. Information: +1-212-662-8462.

Zoma

At Zoma, where the fare is Abyssinian and the sound level civil, we watched two Ethiopian men drinking Maker’s Mark bourbon on the rocks and knocking back shots of Fireball cinnamon whiskey.

We wusses opted for honey wine which had just enough sweetness to tame the sourness of injera, the spongy bread used to scoop up Ethiopia’s meaty stews.

Doro Wett ($19.59), the classic blend of onions, ginger, berbere and pulled chicken, had the right amount of warming spice.

Yebeg Alitcha ($19.59), slow-cooked lamb, proved too bony and fatty for utensil-free cuisine. Bozena shiro, part of a larger combination platter ($28.59) stole the show, mixing clean beef with ground chickpeas for a soft, soupy bliss.

Zoma is at 2084 Frederick Douglass Boulevard just below 113th Street. Information: +1-212-662-0620; http://www.zomanyc.com

Jado Sushi

The overwhelmed bartender at Jado took forever to make a Plymouth gin martini. Fried calamari, pork ribs and crispy chicken all boasted the same cloying finish.

But this small venue also provides unusually ambitious fare for a neighborhood sushi spot.

Where else can Harlem residents enjoy a Nobu-style order of miso black cod ($22)? The razor-sharp balance of Jado’s yellowtail sashimi ($11) with lemongrass ponzu and jalapeno was also exceptional. Pair it all with a fruity Coedo Shiro wheat lager ($9).

Jado Sushi is at 2118 Frederick Douglass Boulevard between 114th and 115th Streets. Information: +1-212-866-2118; http://www.jadosushi.com.

Melba’s American Comfort Food

A young crowd chills at Melba’s mahogany bar, while families and couples pack the candlelit dining area. The atmosphere is relaxed, though the music is loud for comfortable conversation.

Crispy spring rolls ($6.95) stuffed with black-eyed peas and collard greens pleased us all. Catfish strips ($8.95), quick-fried in a barely-there crust, were moist and flaky. Pecan-crusted tilapia ($16.95) was delicious paired with sweet yams.

As for the “prize-winning” fried chicken on an “egg nog” waffle ($14.95) -- the bird had a nice crust but the flesh was dry and the waffle wilted. Beef short ribs ($18.95), promised to fall off the bone, weren’t headed anywhere without a knife.

Not a crumb remained of the red velvet cake ($5).

Melba’s is at 300 W. 114th St. Information: +1-212-864-7777; http://melbasrestaurant.com.

Maharaja Palace

Maharaja Palace has a BYO booze policy that should keep dinner for three under $100.

Not much ambiance here, just a bare-bones environment and good food. Tandoori chicken ($12.95) was fragrant, hot and dyed red. Also recommended: Lamb vindaloo ($14.95), palek paneer ($10.95), a mix of spinach and cheese and -- to cool you down -- a mango lassi yogurt smoothie ($3.95). Service can be slow, but you’ll take it at these prices.

Maharaja Palace is at 2113 Frederick Douglass Boulevard close to 114th Street. Information: +1-212-222-8934; http://www.maharajapalacenyc.net.

(Manuela Hoelterhoff is executive editor of Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse. The opinions expressed are their own.)

Muse highlights include Rich Jaroslovsky on tech and Manuela Hoelterhoff on books.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ryan Sutton in New York at rsutton1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at mbeech@bloomberg.net

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