Restaurant Review: Marcus Samuelsson Explores the Sea, Mermaids in Tow

At Hav & Mar, the chef presents a seafood-focused menu and sculptures of Black mermaids by the artist Derrick Adams.

Hav & Mar opened last year in Chelsea.Credit…Lanna Apisukh for The New York Times

Supported by

Send any friend a story

As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month. Anyone can read what you share.

By Pete Wells

Hav & Mar is something you don’t see in Manhattan every day: a new Marcus Samuelsson restaurant, and a good one at that.

He has operations in New Jersey, Florida, Georgia and three countries outside the United States. At home in New York, though, Mr. Samuelsson’s footprint was limited to Red Rooster in Harlem and a fried-chicken stand in Section 112 of Yankee Stadium. Of course, some restaurateurs work all their lives without building anything as significant as Red Rooster, still one of Harlem’s most magnetic attractions, despite uneven food, more than 12 years after it opened.

But given Mr. Samuelsson’s energy, his history as one of the first Black chefs to break the color barrier in fine dining and his tireless media work in books, TV and audio (did you catch him on Mayor Eric Adams’s “Get Stuff Done-Cast”?), you might think he would control a few more squares on the city’s Monopoly board by now.

Something like Hav & Mar, in Chelsea, would have been an obvious move for Mr. Samuelsson after he left the Scandinavian restaurant Aquavit in 2009. At the time, if you had heard of him, you knew two things about him: that he was born in Ethiopia and that he was raised in Sweden by adoptive parents. The story of his early life is embedded in his new restaurant’s name; in Swedish, Hav means sea, and Mar is Amharic for honey.

The two cultures come together most clearly in an appetizer called Swediopian. Gravlax is rubbed with the spice blend berbere, a perfectly logical thing to do to cured salmon; add pickled mustard seeds, honey-coffee-passion-fruit sauce and a crunchy salad of shaved fennel and green apples, and you get a good idea of where Hav & Mar is going.

You might wish Sweden and Ethiopia announced themselves more clearly across the rest of the menu, where they’re blended with ideas from other parts of the globe. But you never sense that any of these influences have been marched into a shotgun marriage. The touch is so light that the combinations never seem forced.

The menu’s real theme is seafood, handled with skill and resourcefulness by Fariyal Abdullahi, the executive chef, and her kitchen.

The skin on a fillet of black sea bass is seared to a pale-gold crisp before the fish is perched over hard-shell clams and purple potatoes. Underneath is a seafood-corn broth. Both the sauce and the bass are flavored with dawadawa, ground African locust beans, which acts as an intensifier in this dish, something like miso.

Red snapper is steamed in an envelope of dried corn husks, which are peeled back so the fish can be spread with a Mexican-style salsa verde, brimming with cilantro. A butterflied whole fish is basted with tandoori-spiced butter as it roasts in the oven with clams and mussels; pickled shallots and thin shavings of lime are little exclamation points of acidity.

Hav & Mar nods cheerfully at chicken and waffles, which first reached popularity in Harlem and may have been invented there. The dish is recast for pescatarians with lightly fried shrimp and red snapper. Instead of syrup or honey, we get a chimichurri sweetened with maple. It sounds odd and it is, a bit, but it’s also fun to eat.

If you’re still looking for fried chicken, you’ll find it has migrated to an Ethiopian American sampler plate called Addis York. A crisp drumstick glazed with berbere and fermented honey leans casually against a bundle of injera-wrapped doro wat, the Ethiopian chicken stew. The injera, which looks like a sponge and acts like one, absorbing the berbere-rich juices from the doro wat, is fine stuff. Made with fermented teff flour, it has a sourdough aftertaste that stays with you and makes you want more.

Injera shows up again, in the form of a long toasted chip, on the bread plate, which is both a wise thing to order and a convincing advertisement for the talents of Farheen Jafarey, Hav & Mar’s head baker. Besides blue cornbread flecked with ground seaweed, the plate holds Ms. Jafarey’s teff biscuits, which have a loft and lightness that non-Southerners aren’t supposed to have access to.

Desserts are her wheelhouse, too. There used to be a bracing lemon tart that sat a few inches away from a rippled puddle of caramelized meringue. The sweet and the sour needed each other, and separating them on the plate was witty, in a teasing way. Now there is a tres leches doughnut that could be just a little wetter and sweeter, and a chocolate-blood-orange mousse on a hazelnut wafer that is a delight just the way it is.

By now I rarely give open kitchens more than a glance, but the one at Hav & Mar offers a sight that’s unusual in a restaurant owned by a male chef. Most of the cooks working in it are women — and women of color, as are Ms. Jafarey and Ms. Abdullahi. Like Kwame Onwuachi at Tatiana, Mr. Samuelsson understands the value of a stage for people whose work is usually done in the wings. And like Tatiana, Hav & Mar has hired a racially diverse serving staff. Both restaurants attract a racially diverse crowd of diners. I wouldn’t point any of this out if it were standard in Manhattan below 110th Street, but it’s dismally uncommon.

The servers are outgoing and deeply versed on the drinks and the food, whose intricacies the menu doesn’t always convey. This is a hard trick to pull off in a restaurant the size of Hav & Mar, which seats about 125 people. You don’t realize how big the space is at first because sightlines are broken up by a big, oval bar in the center and one free-standing round booth that looks a little like a hot tub.

The blond wood and some of the lines suggest midcentury Scandinavian design, but the restaurant’s visual signatures are the arcing, diving mermaid sculptures on the walls. Made by the artist Derrick Adams, they turn up on staff aprons, menus and everywhere else, and their numbers keep growing — 12 at last count. The scales on their finned tails look like quilts of African fabrics. Their movements are graceful. Their skin is black. I’ve never seen mermaids look so at ease in their bodies, or so free.

Follow New York Times Cooking on InstagramFacebookYouTube, TikTok and PinterestGet regular updates from New York Times Cooking, with recipe suggestions, cooking tips and shopping advice.

Site Index

Site Information Navigation

Source: Read Full Article