5 & Diamond is still a bit rough
The first thing we learned at Harlem’s newest haut restaurant 5 & Diamond is that you need a reservation, even if no one is in the small, 40-seat dining room. On a recent rainy Wednesday evening at 6:30, we were shocked to find that no seating was available on the floor, and wouldn’t be all evening, despite the open tables.
We managed to squeeze four people into the tiny bar in the back, which proved a decent choice given the friendly
bartender and ability to look over the crowd of diners as they sipped their fancy cocktails and gorged on the restaurant’s American-Mediterranean delicacies. After the trek from Brooklyn to Harlem, our mouths were watering as each plate whisked away from the kitchen to their assigned tables. While we longed to sample the fare, a mix of chef David Santos’ creations and those of the original man behind the stove, Ryan Skeen, our thoughts were distracted by the gossip surrounding the ex-chef de cuisine. Skeen’s mysterious departure from the head chef position at 5 & Diamond right when it began to produce a lot of buzz, his past work at Irving Mill and his infamous email termination from Allen & Delancey had our curiosity whetted as we eagerly looked for him to whizz out of the kitchen like one of the plates. We never did see him, and instead ordered glasses of the mildly spicy Danjean Pinot Noir ($9) and some small plates to cure
The first thing to arrive was a basket of bacon-spiked rolls, which worked well with our primer dish, the farms hen egg ($10). Like the rolls, the soupy egg dish came laced with yet more bacon (both in the froth and in chunks), which didn’t actually yield much flavor, and brightly colored bits of fresh carrots and English peas. With hunks of toasted bread to sop up the dish, it compared easily to a simple country breakfast, not too rich or abrasive in taste, and easy going down. Next, we sampled the seared scallops ($13). Cooked to golden perfection, the sweetness of these three mollusks was cut back by the sharp, pickled onions and a mild apricot gazpacho that pooled along the bottom. Good, yes; amazing, not so much.
The fluke ($16) was another story. Prepared sashimi style, the raw fish came in a row of about 15 strips of pale white flesh resting on spurts of spicy chili oil. Whichever chef decided to sprinkle the top of the fish with tiny chunks of pickled rhubarb and a speckling of crisp sea beans had pure genius inspiration as each bite produced a burst of crunchy, soft and chewy textures mixed with a saline heat.
The cocktail list also provided good flavor combos not usually seen. The fresh raspberry margarita ($12) was enhanced by crushed tarragon, and a refreshing drink called Replenish ($12) purred with soothing notes of chamomile in the gin and had a satisfying ginger-lemon kick.
By the time we got to the main course, it had become fairly obvious that pickled things were the favored ingredient, so when we saw “pickled blueberries” with the Iowa Farms pork loin entrée ($25), we had to sample it. The pork, cooked medium, had a piggy pink center, which let the sweetness (and is what makes it one of my favorite meats) shine through. Covering the tender medallions were hearty chunks of crisp ramps and salty puréed white asparagus. The blueberries added a burst of color and a tartness to the dish, though they didn’t taste particularly pickled.
Our final entrée was probably the most normal of the options: the tasting of lamb ($23). It came with lamb tenderloin (rare and rich), leg (fine but not special) and belly, which doesn’t deviate much from pork belly (meaning it’s a delicious, melty square of meaty fat). The meat was cooked perfectly but otherwise it was just a lamb dish strewn with cooked Swiss chard and a minty green sauce.
Skeen, obviously a very good chef, made 5 & Diamond a destination restaurant based on his own heady reputation; the gaggle of bloggers in the corner snapping pictures of the dishes proved this theory. But, for normal folks looking for a bite to eat in their hood, the food is too expensive for casual dining and with Skeen’s departure as chef de cuisine, the restaurant is not exceptional enough for special occasions. It doesn’t fit in the neighborhood, and, once the hype dies down and Skeen isn’t seen, I wonder what will be left.
5 & Diamond
2072 Frederick Douglass Blvd. (betw. W. 112th & 113th Sts.), 646-684-4662.
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