Renaissance Interior
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Food Before Love was cordially invited to the Grand Opening party of Renaissance Harlem. As a VIP guest, we helped the restaurant, which opened its doors last year, toast to their official grand opening celebration.

The classy and suave styled restaurant is located in the heart of Harlem and absolutely stands out. The building was previously home to rapper Doug E. Fresh’s restaurant, Doug E.’s Chicken & Waffles. Once Chef Cisse and his co-founder and cousin Chef Cheikh Ali acquired the building, they made it their own. The interior is beautifully designed, lined with brick walls and topped with an uniquely designed ceiling. The intimate yet spacious setting provides a cozy modern eating experience.

Renaissance Interior
Photo by Renaissance Harlem.

Chef Cisse and Chef Cheikh are also the owners of Ponty Bistro, which is just a few doors down. Although born of the same minds the restaurants are polar opposites when it comes to cuisine. Chef Cisse says none of the African French cuisine of Ponty Bistro can be found in the New American menu of Renaissance Harlem. He says it was important to stay in the neighborhood because Harlem is home for him and his cousin. The Senegal born chef has called Harlem home for many years and felt it could use a place like Renaissance Harlem, which infuses the cultures and foods that make Harlem what it is.

The Food

We had the pleasure of sampling a few hors d’oeuvres and cocktails that were reflective of the local culture. To wash down the fish empanadas, Thai chicken wings, and stuffed mushrooms, the chefs served cocktails.

The cocktails were made with liquor from Tambour Original and Kaiso. Two liquor brands Renaissance highlighted during their grand opening. Tambour Original is an African Palm Liquor whose history dates back hundreds of years when West Africans were denied liquor during the European colonization. Kaiso is a potent blend of coconut water, premium vodka and tequila that brings in New York’s Caribbean culture. Renaissance is one of handful of places in NYC where both brands can be found.

Cocktail made with Kaiso.

I’m excited to head back to Renaissance Harlem to taste more of their Harlem-inspired menu. My taste buds got great vibes from this place and I think yours will too!

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Cauliflower Tacos Cienfuegos NYC

Eat, drink and be merry…and that’s exactly what we did at Cienfuegos! I hosted my first Cocktails Before Love NYC meet up this week and oh what an awesome time we had.

Three fellow foodies and I, joined by our very own Food Before Love founder Casandra, met at Cienfuegos, located in Manhattan’s East Village. This hidden gem of a restaurant serves up specialty rum cocktails and its famous punch bowls which are paired with Latin inspired small plates.

Ciengfuegos NYC
Courtesy of Cienfuegos

First off, the ambiance and decor was on point. Upon entering you ascend a long flight of stairs and once at the top, you feel like you’ve  been transported into someone’s chic Cuban apartment. Cool blues, ivory and pastel colors, plush furnishings and distressed, wrought iron gates create an intimate, but well spaced atmosphere. On our particular visit we were treated to live music playing urban Latin jazz. After chatting for a bit about ourselves and well, you know, our love of food, we learned that we all had a few favorites in common. We all lust after mac and cheese and we all live for seafood! After that we got right down to it; what should we order??

Guacamole Cienfuegos NYC

Cienfuegos recently revamped their menu to vegan, however we were all excited to try some of the delicious sounding options. Our server, Josh, helped us select some flavorful dishes that we all shared – guacamole with fried plantain chips, cauliflower tacos, black beans and coconut rice and yucca fries with a sweet corn purée sauce – and everything was tasty and the ingredients fresh. Half of us were on the fence about the corn dipping sauce that accompanied the yucca fries though – it tasted familiar, but hmmm we couldn’t quite figure it out. Josh informed us that it was made with corn and almond milk. I actually thought the fries were great on their own, no sauce needed! Overall, we enjoyed our light bites and it kind of slipped my mind that we were eating vegan – except maybe when it came to the cauliflower tacos. Yes, they were good – with spiced, chunks of cauliflower covered in sweet mango salsa, but the carnivore in me couldn’t help but miss a nice dose of marinated ground beef!

Cauliflower Tacos Cienfuegos NYC

On to the cocktails! We gladly took advantage of happy hour, which features a choice between two specialty cocktails for $7 and two half priced sharable rum punch bowls which vary daily. We each started with a round of Cuba Libres and daiquiris on the rocks. We all agreed that these were smooth going down, while still very potent…perfect!

Cocktails Before Love Meet up

For our punch bowl, the MVP of the evening, we  went with the Intro to Awesome – and the name of this drink couldn’t have been more befitting! We were scooping out the bottom of the bowl to make sure we got every drop. Yes, it was that good! The bowls are available in three different sizes, accommodating small parties of two or larger groups like ours. In addition, there is an extensive menu of individual cocktails to satisfy a variety of palates. Containing extra dry rum and Aperol mixed with cucumber, lime, soda and salt, the Intro to Awesome was very well-balanced between sweet and bitter and was so refreshing to enjoy amongst good company on a lovely NYC summer evening!

I can’t wait to return to Cienfuegos and indulge in more of the food and drink choices. Trust me;  if you haven’t checked it out yet, please gather up your crew and go!

Cheers!

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