Marcus Samuelsson clearly knows how to open a good restaurant.
The owner of the iconic Red Rooster in Harlem and Marcus inside the Four Seasons Hotel Montreal, among plenty of other eateries across the nation, has just debuted a brand-spanking-new outpost in Chelsea, a neighborhood that, at first impact, seems sort of at odds with his other projects.
And yet, upon further dissection, opening Hav & Mar on Eleventh Avenue makes total sense.
“I really wanted to think about the restaurant in Chelsea as being part of the iconic creative community that makes up the neighborhood,” the 51-year-old chef, who hasn’t opened a restaurant in town in over a decade, tells us. “I love being in Harlem so I wanted my other New York City restaurant to feel special as well.”
And, boy, is Hav & Mar special! As a clear dedication to the area it calls home, the venue functions as a continuation of the gallery trail that defines the neighborhood. Inside, patrons get to eat delicious food while browsing through a series of specially curated works by a variety of artists.
The 5,000-square-foot restaurant at 245 11th Avenue by 26th Street sits inside the landmark Starrett-Lehigh Building and is a joint effort between Samuelsson, chef Rose Noël of Maialino Mare fame in DC, artist Derrick Adams and Studio Museum director Thelma Golden.
“Derrick, Thelma and I are great friends and when we sat down together we discussed how the restaurant should be,” explains Samuelsson. “We thought of people of color and women and decided to focus on female leadership. We also talked about fine dining and how it’s hard for Black people to sell to restaurants so we made a commitment to create a wine list focused on Black makers.”
The result of all the planning is a seafood-focused menu featuring dishes like a corn wrapped snapper, a hamachi with black ceviche, a crispy rainbow trout for two and a roasted green garden curry, among many others.
Decor-wise, drawings depicting black mermaids are the stars of the show. “We spoke about sustainability and I told Derrick that I wanted to create a platform women of color through this restaurant because they have been so pivotal to me in my career,” says Samuelsson. “That’s when he said that we should have Black mermaids all around, and that helped us shape how we built the bar and tables.”
As for the name of the destination, Hav & Mar is no accidental moniker. As explained by the culinary guru, “hav” means ocean in Swedish and “mar” translates to honey in Amharic, which is the official language of Ethiopia.
As fans of Samuelsson know, he was born in Ethiopia but raised in Sweden—a fact that turns Hav & Mar to a giant ode to the chef’s personal history, the city of New York, Black culture, the power of women, the necessity of art and, of course, the importance of food.
“Art and food bring people together and they’re a great way to show your culture, who you are and what you’ve gone through,” notes Samuelsson. “The experience in America is not monolithic. It’s very layered and, through art and food, we can share those stories. That is what has been such a joy here: one can be from Ethiopia or Baltimore or elsewhere but peacefully co-exist.”
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.