Note: Mountain Bird closed “abruptly” in June 2014, after just eight months in business, due to issues with the landlord. The team is said to be looking for a new space.
And that’s before I heard about New Year’s Eve, when the restaurant served a $59 six-course BYO prix fixe. Oh, that was the late seating; the early seating was just $49.
This isn’t grandpa’s Harlem any more, with luxury condos popping up all over the place. Still, it’s a little dodgy to walk around at night.
Then you arrive at Mountain Bird, with its lace curtains, distressed mirrors, and dainty little sconces. The design on the custom tile floor spells out “Mountain Bird,” and on the white bone china the letters “MB” are written in gold. Wine is served in the correct glassware. French opera classics play on the sound system (just a bit too loud).
The 19-seat space is a tight fit. Our party of three was seated at a wobbly marble table that would have been a bit cramped even for two. And make sure not to trip over the space heaters.
But let me repeat the lede: $59 for six very good courses, and that was on an evening when restaurants traditionally over-charge.
The chef is Kenichi Tajima, who trained in both Japanese and French cuisines, and at Mountain Bird serves exclusively the latter. The regular menu is mostly poultry, and Tajima challenges diners with the likes of Duck Gizzards and Chicken Combs.
The New Year’s Eve menu (click the image, right, for a full-size copy) consisted mostly of items not on the regular menu, and it was not as poultry-centric as usual. There were choices for the soup, appetizer, and maincourses—in each case a foul, a fish, and a vegetarian option.
The first course (above left) offered four canapés, all very good, but the chef seemed to be avoiding the “head to toe” offal that he serves his regular customers. The second course (above right) was excellent: smoked salmon, American caviar, and a poached quail egg.
The house bread service is a crisp, warm pumpernickel baguette (above), but the butter was ice cold.
We didn’t detect much foie in the Foie Gras Dumpling Consommé (above left); it was like a Chinese wonton soup. Wendy had the Cauliflower Soup with Black Truffle (above right).
It was tough competition between the Warm Seafood Salad (above left) and the Ostrich Steak Tartare (above right). You wouldn’t have gone wrong with either one.
We thought the Guinea Hen Trio (above right) was superior to the slightly pedestrian Sautéed Red Snapper (above left).
As I recall, there was a choice of five desserts (all house-made), and the three we tried were all excellent: tiramisu (above left), rum chocolate (center) and double cheesecake (right).
The service staff seemed quite young, but someone has trained them well. They serve wine correctly (almost) and set the plates down with the “MB” logo facing up. These are small things, but they don’t happen by accident. In time, they’ll be even better.
For the price, the food was remarkable. It wasn’t perfect, and there were a couple of slight duds, but if they’re this good on New Year’s Eve, I can’t wait to go back another time.
Mountain Bird (231 W. 145th Street between 7th & 8th Avenues, Harlem)
Food: French, with an emphasis on poultry
Service: Young servers, but remarkably well trained
Ambiance: A small town bistro in the French countryside