The second restaurant in Harlem I wanted to review for this summer’s NYC Restaurant Week is Ristorante Settepani. Executive Chef / Master Baker Nino Settepani and his Ethiopian born wife, Leah Abraham first established a café bakery at the Lenox Avenue site ten years ago after running a successful bakery in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn and a restaurant in downtown Manhattan. Their Harlem café was more than a bakery; it became a meeting place within the community. The café was one of the first food establishments in Central Harlem to offer outdoor patio space for its customers’ dining pleasure. Within the last year the couple made a business decision to redo the space into a restaurant that serves Mediterranean cuisine, thereby continuing to add diversity to “the flavor of Harlem.”
The interior of the restaurant has been renovated in muted tones of tan and brown. The restaurant atmosphere is very comfortable; air conditioning is coolest near the kitchen. The outside patio seating is under large umbrellas and an extended awning from the building. The restaurant is completely accessible for people with disabilities so those with wheelchairs and walkers should definitely put it on their list of restaurants to go to when they want to dine out. Jazz music played in the background to get you in the mood for food, reminding me of the birthday party I attended there last fall in which a jazz quartet performed.
On the Sunday evening that we dined there I expected Italian cuisine, but what we received was much more than I expected. We sampled three magnificent dishes: a salad of thin-sliced of fennel and red onions, oranges, and black olives in an olive oil and vinegar dressing (Conca d’oro), brioche bread filled with lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels and rice (Brioche di crostacei Baroniale), and spaghetti with shell fish, calamari and fresh tomatoes cooked in parchment paper (Spaghetti di mare in cartoccio).
As the pictures show all of the dishes were phenomenal in presentation and likewise in taste. My dinner companion and I did very little speaking to one another as we savored our meal, except to say how much we were enjoying each dish. I started with the salad; the thin, crisp slices of fennel and red onions combined with the orange slices, black olives and dressing aroused all of our sweet and salty taste buds. It was light and refreshing, and quite a delight for us. The seafood inside the brioche bread was delicately flavored with curry, and every bite made you want to take another one. The spaghetti, shell fish, calamari and tomatoes was perfectly seasoned and cooked thoroughly inside the parchment paper, and uncovering it was a site to behold.
Most of the fifteen or so employees at Ristorante Settepani are Harlemites. As economic conditions improve Leah looks forward to offering job opportunities to Harlem youths. The couple believes so much in their mission that they’re in the process of opening a second location near the restaurant where Leah looks to teach youths about the food service industry. They envision their two facilities to be hubs for the community, and not “destination” restaurants. During these past 10 years they have raised two children (Bilen and Seyoum) who have grown into teenagers that are familiar and quite at ease in the community around their business (see photo above).
Chef Nino and Leah warmly invite all Harlemites to come and try their food and they will see that you’re provided quality, healthy food at affordable prices. I love cooking great meals, and I dine out as often as my budget allows. Sad to say that most of the time that I dine out, I have left out of Harlem because my choices were few. I’m looking for restaurants that embrace the “farm to table approach” in their menus. I’m very pleased to report that our limited choices in Harlem have greatly increased because of places like Ristorante Settepani. Stop by, say “happy anniversary”, try them out for yourselves and write me a note and let me know of your dining experience.
Ristorante Settepani, 196 Lenox Avenue on the Southeast corner of 120th Street. (www.settepani.com), 917.492.4806
Photos taken by Rudy Collins.