Latest Chef to Harlem Takes Top Honors

A baby black piano is the "piece de resistance" at Chéri. Photo: Will Vault Photography

A baby black piano is the “piece de resistance” at Chéri’s.
Photo: Will Vault Photography

By Dontré Conerly

Among its many attractions, food (great food!) draws busloads to Harlem; the restaurant culture here is prolific. And with the insurgence of top-tier chefs who boast of celebrity status and presidential ties, it’s hard to fry your way to the top; even firmly established haunts have fallen midlevel in restaurant rankings.

With each new restaurant opening comes a new cuisine or a re-imagining of historical favorites, and the classic menus at our “old spot” seem staid. But the residents of Harlem know good food and how a place makes them feel, so they don’t dole out their approval or their presence lightly. In Chéri, Harlemites have found a place that serves up good food in an atmosphere that makes dining out a joy, and its placement as TripAdvisor’s #1 Restaurant in Harlem sends the message that a good restaurant is more than just its food.

Chéri opened on the corner of 122nd Street and Lenox Avenue, fourteen months ago, and brought with it a charm that is familiar and refreshing to Harlem residents. To like Chéri is really an admission of adoration for its owner, Chef Alain Eoche–the two are inextricable. Eoche is written all over the bistro: his staff of pleasant polyglots is convivial and accommodating, bolstering his philosophy that diners be treated as friends and given a warm welcome; he doles out hugs and pleasantries in earnest, entertaining diners in a lavish décor that is an appreciated departure from the classic yellow walls of French bistros, so-tinged as to harken to a time when smoking in French restaurants was de rigueur.

Chef Alain Eoche, of Chéri

Chef Alain Eoche, of Chéri. Photo: Will Vault Photography

Eoche’s diners are guests in his home and it’s imperative he serve them good food, in comfort. Beset around a baby grand piano and a decadent nook, complete with oversized leather chairs and a faux fireplace, Chéri truly does extend from Eoche’s apartment. In fact, if one makes the short journey from his spacious one bedroom, upstairs, to the restaurant floor, his sudden smiling appearance from the kitchen doorway almost feels as if he’s popped out of closet—this is appreciated more when you see he’s holding a platter of canapés.

Cherie's decor extends to Eoche's home, one flight above.

Chéri’s decor extends to Eoche’s home, one flight above.

The fact is, it’s hard not to like Alain. The gregarious Frenchman loves entertaining and it extends to his food. Crafted in love, Chéri is like one of Eoche’s hugs: warm, lingering, and just feels good. His love for his guests is a reciprocal act to the Harlem community, which he says flung open its arms and hugged him right back when he arrived.

Related:  Community Rally In Support Of Ydanis, Jumaane, Immigration And Human Rights

“Harlem welcomed me like a member of the family!” He exclaims. “I’m a passionate person who likes to give love,” and his love for his guest permeates every aspect of the restaurant.

Custom printed plates allow one to "dine with celebrities"

Custom printed plates allow one to “dine with celebrities.”

Hyperbolic appreciation of both the restaurant and the owner permeates the reviews left on Trip Advisor, where happy patrons exclaim “[Alain] was fabulous!” or “Must go!” Each review describes a favorite attribute, be it the classic French food (escargot, foie gras), the lively place settings (where pop culture icons are printed on beautiful China plates), or the outdoor patio with its retractable roof; but they all give mention to the man who brought his love to Harlem and served it up in a way that reminds us all what dining out used to be (should be).

Chéri French Bistro, 231 Malcolm X Blvd, (aka Lenox Avenue) New York, NY 10027, (212) 662-4374, www.cheriharlem.com/

About Dontré Conerly

Dontré Conerly is a freelance multi-media journalist with over a decade of experience. A veritable man-about-town, he reports goings-on for many publications, including World Bride Magazine and HarlemWorld Magazine, most recently. Conerly served as the Arts & Culture Editor of HarlemWorld Magazine and, for a time, its Editor-in-Chief. As the News & Culture Editor for BLEU Magazine, Dontré authored an online column, titled, Entre Nous, where he offered commentary and critique of social and political zeitgeist. His writings have also appeared in Metro and amNY, two of New York City’s most widely-read daily newspapers. Taking his talents to television, Dontré appeared as one of the hosts of BKLIVE! the flagship news broadcast on Brooklyn Independent Media. Conerly received his Masters from the prestigious Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University, and a Bachelor of Communications from New York University. A native of New Orleans, LA, he currently resides in historic Harlem, NY.