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On the Culture Front: Red Rooster and Sarah Small's Tableau Vivant

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Marcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster is a real find on 125th street. Its sleek, old-world Harlem decor feels simultaneously exclusive and inviting while evoking the legend of the long defunct neighborhood bar it's named after. Bread with a chickpea purée is presented upon arrival, soothingly cleansing the palate for the rich flavors to come. A pickled beet salad strikes the right balance between earthiness and tartness while a generous crab cake appetizer contrasts the meaty crab with slightly sweet pomegranates, providing a great start to the meal. The chicken and egg, spiced duck liver pudding and a number of their snacks also looked immensely appealing.

For mains, we chose a couple of chicken entrees (fried yard bird and a lemon herbed chicken) and a baked mac & cheese served with a side of greens. The lemon chicken was easier to eat with a knife and fork and came with a hearty stuffing, but the fried was tastier (isn't it always?). It was served on top of a bed of collard greens, with some drizzles of gravy on the side. For added spice, a shaker was provided, a nice touch to let diners control the spice. As good as the chicken was, though, the mac & cheese was kind of a revelation and the best value of the evening. The strong flavors of the cheese (gouda, NY cheddar, and comte) were balanced nicely with the delicate yet earthy greens, which were served in a separate dish. I love mac & cheese but often get bored eating it alone, but this is a dish I'd order again even without an accompanying meat.

When I heard about their house infused bourbon, it was an easy choice for my first drink. The peanut-infused bourbon (curiously left off the menu) is great on the rocks. The added flavor holds up to the ice, so purists need not worry about diluting it. The Big Red Rooster cocktail made with cinnamon-infused bourbon and cocoa and vanilla-infused bourbon on the rocks were both simply too sweet, especially the cocktail. The house pinot noir, on the other hand, was subtly complex and very drinkable. We ended the evening with an order of sweet potato doughnuts that were delightful on their own but truly outstanding when paired with the wonderfully tart lemon sorbet that accompanies the dish. All in all, Samuelsson and his chefs succeed with some of the most inventive soul fusion food I've ever tasted.

Photographer Sarah Small has a knack for bringing together disparate elements to form images that convey both the chaos and joy of life. Recently, she's turned to bringing these images to life on a grand scale. At a private viewing last week of Tableau Vivant: Of the Delirium Constructions, guests walked into the expansive Bathhouse Studios space to find 39 models in various states of undress piled on top of each other and arranged into striking poses. They remained remarkably inert as we drank wine, ate hors d'oeuvres, and wandered around the room. Some were covered in bruises and their incredible stillness made them seem more like cadavers sculpted by Matthew Barney than living, breathing people.

This changed midway through when the piece shifted suddenly from installation to performance as the models came to life and some began singing, including Small, who weaved through the living tableau while conducting the movement of the performers along with the sound of the singers. The music, composed by Small with Rima Fand, balances the grandeur of the visuals with an understated minimalism that helps the piece build to a surprisingly moving climax and thunderous applause from an appreciative audience that included artist Spencer Tunick.

Sarah Small's currently organizing an even larger (120 models) tableau for the spring and is looking for people of all shapes and sizes to participate. Exhibitionists and their clothed counterparts alike can contact her here.