Note: First Looks give previews of new dishes, drinks, and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
The folks behind Harlem's first ramen shop, Jin Ramen, have opened up their second sit-down restaurant on the corner of 121st street and Amsterdam. Flat Top, named after the griddle that most of their food is cooked on, serves up a menu of American-style bistro food with a somewhat upscale French and Mediterranean bent. It's a welcome alternative to the Italian, Asian, and Ethiopian restaurants that populate what is fast becoming one of Harlem's best dining destinations.
Some folks might call it gentrification, but I just like to think of it as diverse foodification. The food is cooked by Charles Cho, a young Korean-American chef with experience in L.A., Hawaii, New York, and Japan. This is his first Executive Chef gig, and the menu shows a conservative approach. There's nothing too surprising here among the roasted bone marrow, thick burger, and burrata salad, but the quality of ingredients and and attention to detail are certainly not the norm in this part of Harlem.
The space is nice too. Open and airy with a large communal table in the front room, a few high seats at the bar, and a dozen or so two and four-tops in the back room under a mural depicting the Riverside Drive overpass that I grew up under. Fancy plates and bare wooden tables make this the kind of place you're equally likely to run into Columbia students trying to impress a first date, or perhaps a professor enjoying a glass of wine and a roasted chicken breast on a week night.
The bar serves a short list of reasonably priced wines and beers, as well as fresh-mixed sodas made with syrups from P&H in Brooklyn in flavors like grapefruit or lovage.
Check out theslideshow for a closer look at some of the dishes.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.