The space is small, but the vibe is big. This is the best way to describe the environment inside Clay, a new farm-to-table restaurant in Harlem. It is just two blocks from 125th Street and is surrounded by landmarks such as the Apollo Theater, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Alhambra Ballroom. Located at the site of the former Perk’s Fine Cuisine — a historic club and restaurant, headed by the former “mayor of Harlem” Henry Perkins, and known for its jazz, R&B, and calypso band — Clay has some big shoes to fill in terms of becoming a local favorite. Yet, this does not seem to be a problem for the New American restaurant.
Stepping through the large French doors and past a set of interior curtains is like entering into the cozy, yet classy living room of a friend who definitely has his or her life together. The ground level room is intimate and warm with white porcelain light fixtures, wooden tables, shelves decorated with books and candles, and a white marble bar that runs the length of the restaurant. A small staircase at the far corner of the restaurant leads to its lower dining room where white stone walls and terracotta floors are similarly accented by comforting and sophisticated decor. Imagined and created by architectural designer Roberto Sosa, Clay’s interior is meant to capture and evoke earthy undertones while also imbuing a sense of modern style.
“Good Morning Heartache” cocktail. Image courtesy Clay
Chicken liver appetizer. Image courtesy Clay
The team behind Clay includes Executive Chef Gustavo Lopez, Wine Director Gabriela Davogustto, and Bar Director Andrea Needell Matteliano, who also used to be a bartender at the previous Perk’s. The food menus boast local, seasonal ingredients masterfully paired and prepared by Chef Lopez, whose specialty is homemade pastas such as gnocchi, garganelli, and bucatini. Davogustto’s well balanced natural wine list showcases bottles from places like the Canary Islands, Italy, and South Africa, while Matteliano’s cocktail lists offers an array of fresh and flavorful drinks, each named for an iconic jazz tune.
After a delicious dinner in their comfortable upstairs space, there are four important things that have to be said about the experience. First, Matteliano’s cocktails are dangerously good; second, Lopez is able to transform something as scary as chicken liver into possibly a new favorite appetizer; third, he is also unparalleled in cooking the perfect gnocchi; and, fourth, the chocolate budino is a dessert that every single person (without exaggeration) must try before he or she dies.
Yogurt panna cotta. Image courtesy Clay
Chocolate budino. Image courtesy Clay