I was invited to a unique, stylish and intimate restaurant near the Sugar Hill area of Harlem on West 145th Street by co-owner Paul Morejon called PEQUE. While this hip and cool place may seem a little unassuming from outside, once you step in its like entering a another time and place; specifically, Spain, France and sometime in the mid 1930’s and 1940’s, but still managing to come off as modern. Paul owns the restaurant with Marla Rose, who is also the chef of this fine and exciting place to drink and dine. PEQUE occupies the same location that was formally “Mountain Bird”. Paul and Marla was looking for a space to open a restaurant in Harlem for almost two years, but was not happy with the locations that they were shown in “Downtown Harlem”(which is the term he used for “that corridor between 110th and 130th street”), as they both live a couple of blocks from the restaurant in Sugar Hill and wanted a space in their neighborhood.
(Co-Owner Paul Morejon)
“We wanted to bring something to our neighborhood that would not only be welcomed, but needed as well; such as nightlife and entertainment that this area does not have a lot of, so we are very happy to be an anchor in this part of Harlem for this.
( Josephine Baker Custom Décor charger by Harlem Artist “Ollomatic”)
As I was enjoying the space and the music and the clientele and the food and the service, I suddenly realized that I was having the time of my life, and all I had to do was walk into this amazing restaurant and sit down. Snapping out of my reverie, I continued my interview with Paul (who is so cool and relaxed) and asked him about his background.
“I have very little restaurant experience, I have decades of eating at restaurant but never worked at one before this. I worked with an experienced restaurant manager and consultant who basically boot camped me for about three to four months before the restaurant opening in the operating and the nitty gritty of the business, her name is Alexis Pepaj Straber (formerly of the popular Red Farm). Everything else I learned on the job opening and closing the restaurant. I learned how to handle the tips, scheduling, wine and food ordering, handling staff, and also having a husband at home and we entertain people to make sure everyone has a good time, I sort of transferred that here to the restaurant.” Before this Paul spend 20 years leading technology teams in internet development, websites and applications. “And after that I was living the life of a New York Fashion week photographer, I still do fashion week photography”.
Co-owner and chef Marla Rose was formally a NYPD Lieutenant for 23 years, and after retirement went to culinary school ICE (Institute of Culinary Education), and is doing an amazing job at transforming the tapas style into something authentic with a Harlem touch on it. Now the fare is an authentic Tapas style with a flair of Harlem added to it.
I was served the “Setas Salteadas”(delicious mushrooms with sautéed shallots) to start and than came out “Cordero a La Parilla” (Grilled Lamb chops with vegetable couscous and arugula salad in vinaigrette), I was also served the “Ceviche”(shrimp & bacalao cocktail with corn tortilla strips. Notable mention must be given to the “Asparagus” (wrapped in Jamon Serrano) and the “Vice” Chardonnay, a 2013 uncommon Sonoma & Napa Valley blend which is far superior to any Chardonnay I have tasted in Harlem, except for Barawine Harlem.
The lamb chops was served medium rare and all my dishes was served on vintage china! “I have a secret place in the Bronx where I get my antique china”. Paul told me. The food was so good when Paul asked me while I was enjoying my meal “how do I like the food” all I could do is nod my head yes, as I did not want to pause chewing these delicious creations of Marla the chef. Now I’ve have had Tapas many times at many places, but this is something I have never encountered before, which was not only a pleasant surprise but an amazing one as well.
The ambience is something of a treat as well, with antique cameras, books and even a miniature disco ball over the bar. Co-owner Paul describe it as “A road trip between Barcelona and Paris, a vintage road trip by a Harlemite”. The clientele was a mix of young professionals, older couples, young couples, artsy types, but one thing they all had in common was that they were cool, layback, relaxed and friendly! Décor custom Diva chargers greeted all the diners, as Paul partnered with Harlem artist “Ollomatic” to create beautiful art out of vintage chargers, featuring the likes of “Grace Jones”, “Nina Simone” and “Josephine Baker”.
Everyone interacted with each other on one level or another, pleasant and nice, something I have not seen in New York in quite awhile, the main thing was everyone was authentic. This is definitely the place where the “real cool” people come to eat and hang out. It is very difficult to talk about the restaurant without using the words: “Hip, “Cool”, and “Chic”, because this place embodies all this and more, along with the fabulous and delicious food and wine.
It was almost a dream I thought, because you know the saying: “If it sounds too good to be true?” So I walked around the whole place to find some kind of down side that could be mentioned, the kitchen clean and spotless, not a table wasn’t ready for a customer to be seated, bar was on point, then I walked into the bathroom and thought I was in someone’s den! A collection of vintage classic books on the shelf, mirrors, and an antique radio playing WBLS. So no I was not dreaming and there was no downside to this restaurant.
The service was excellent and outstanding by the bartender “Wanthy” and the waitress “Delia” (I dropped a fork and it was replaced so fast by Delia, with a smile) Very professional indeed!
(Delia Gubelmann and Bartender Wanthy Reyes)
I was on my second glass of Paul’s “Vice” Chardonnay and said to him “I don’t think I want to leave”. Paul replied: “You don’t have too”. Life just seemed I bit more pleasant listening to “Let a Woman be a Woman-Let a Man be Man”, “Jungle Love” by the Time, “Keep it Together” by Modonna, and “I Can’t Take It” by Evelyn “Champagne” King, and “Baby Here I Come” by James Brown. Marla even came from the kitchen to sit at the bar and have a glass of wine with me. Marla was so easy to talk to, as we discussed how almost everyone lives in the immediate area, all the items on the menu are her recipes, her personal relationship with her girlfriend, like real people having a real conversation! Needless to say I was very impressed with this otherworldly restaurant, I say that because it actually felt like I was eating and drinking in a perfect world.
About that wine! Paul and myself have a love of wines, which we discussed at length, “The wines here are like my children, I know each of them very, very well, I raised them all and brought them all in. I sample many wines and select the best ones for the restaurant. I like to pick the grapes of the wines from the same soil that the food is grown, this is my favored approach.” PEQUE has quite a selection of beers on tap, and carry beer from local brewery’s Harlem, Bronx, and NYC area beers, the best selling beer on tap is the Dyckman Pilsner, which Paul calls a”Dominican German Beer”. Paul is also a native New Yorker like myself and so we say it like it is. “PEQUE is LGBT owned and operated”, and is a safe place for everyone, they have had product launchings, and weddings at this awesome restaurant.
On Wed nights they have live music, and they are about to launch “Broadway Night”on Monday nights, showcasing Harlem Broadway Performers, open mic night, Harlem Pride night every second Friday from 6-10PM, and during the summer will be hosting a “Outdoor Tango Night”. This is a perfect place to take a date for dinner and drinks, or catch a drink with you’re buddies, or that significant other, or just chill out by yourself, either way you are going to have a most enjoyable time. When I finally left the restaurant, I could honestly say to myself. “This was one of the best nights out I’ve had in a long time.”