On July 10th 2019 after a series of “soft openings” Harlem celebrity chef J.J Johnson’s (of Cecil fame) FIELDTRIP rice centric restaurant officially opened and is much different from the other restaurants on “Lenox Ave’s Restaurant Row”.
With a very non-descript entrance, I noticed (less than ten days after the opening) as I walked into J.J’s land of Rice Culture.
(Celebrity Chef and Owner of FIELDTRIP: J.J. Johnson)
As I strolled in and looked around the semi-industrial minimilist dining space, I was reminded of the former Republic, one of my old Union Square stand-by’s for many years. A quaint Thai-noodle restaurant that I would meet up with friends for a quick bite to eat, or a drink at the bar, but Field Trip is a little more scaled down and Spartan. I also thought of another former favorite of mine DoJo on St. Marks Place.
At the counter I spotted Myescha Joell, (head of communicationss for J.J.) working at her laptop and walked over to introduce myself in person (we previously met and corresponded electronically). I was to come and do the review two days later, but had some free time that day and thought I try some of the food for a bit of a preview, and return in a couple of days to try something else as well to compare the vibe from a weekday to a weekend.
Now there are no menus, (unless you count the post card size, well post cards at the counter) but all the fare is displayed via signage above the open cooking area, a-la your local Chinese restaurant (wait, even they have menus!) breaking rule #17: your menu should be larger than a post-card!
Not prepared for my two day early arrival (which was the whole point) they seemed to fluster a little to put forth a good image. So I approached the counter placed my order, paid for it and was told by the counter person that I will be receiving a text on my phone informing me when my food is ready to retrieve from the counter. While waiting for my order, I decided to look at the décor and the restroom, (you can usually rate how a place handles it’s food by the state in which they keep their bathrooms) and check out the vibe of this Asian style/Global/Fusion rice bowl haven.
The restroom was not only spotless, it seemed more colorful and up beat in contrast to the neutral semi-industrial dining area that does not seem to invite you to stay long after you have finished your meal.
On the walls of the restaurant hang pictures of a pre-gentrification Harlem, and the music coming from the sound system was not anything that I recognized, and later was told by Myescha that J.J. only plays local Harlem groups which was very interesting to know. I got my text letting me know that my food is ready, and headed for the counter. On the way I stopped to get my eating utensils, which consisted of only a plastic spork, knife and brown (recycled) paper napkins and straws. There was also iced tap water and plastic cups. Very Spartan indeed!
I got my food from the counter and headed for a seat at one of the tables to inspect my meal. I had the Crispy Chicken which consisted of Carolina Gold Rice, Edamame, and “sticky BBQ sauce”. I also had the Crab Pockets as a side (garlic herbed cream chesse, with sweet and sour sauce) and an iced tea.
The food comes on a pink lunch tray (fuchsia?), and a bottle of “house soy sauce” on every table.
I couldn’t get over the feeling that this is what university cafeteria’s, and quick healthy food outlets will look like in the future (sustainability, recycled paper and cups.) While wondering to myself about this I recalled a scene from Blade Runner, where Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling (Ford in the 1st movie, and Gosling and Ford in the 2nd) are eating out at places like this in a dystopian future.
While the chicken was good (with an almost bland neutral taste) I looked to the ‘sticky BBQ sauce to provide some flavor, which it delivered. Next I emptied my wax paper bag of Crap Pockets into my circular recycled cardboard bowl and topped it with the side sauce to find out if it tastes better than the fried wantons across the street at the Chinese restaurant. I have to say that I enjoyed the Crab Pockets more than the Crispy Chicken. the Iced Tea was barely sweetened and just the right ph balance to avoid being tart.
I returned a couple of days later to Field Trip. This time with Jean Germain in tow hoping to finish the review and make the Fashion Show after party before it gets to late. This time I tried the Baby Spinach Grain: (Red Barley, Baby Spinach, Orange, Candied Sunflower Seeds, Red Onion, with Avocado Ginger Dressing).
I also tried the Braised Beef: (Texas Brown Rice, Spicy Black Beans with Turmeric Yogurt). The Baby Spinach rice bowl was good, but I think my version at home is better, The Avocado Ginger dressing is the best thing here in this bowl.
The Braised Beef is solid but the Turmeric Yogurt was the only thing that stood out for me. The portions are quite small, but the nutrition is big, which is reflected in their price point. My bill was only $26.00 and I felt good about my reduced carbon footprint.
The vibe of the place is very mercurial (due to the fact that they just opened) and is contingent on clientele that happen to be dining there at the time. Field Trip is a good place to grab a quick lunch, or dinner and a great pre-destination meet point for a night out with your friends, or a casual family outing.
So as we prepare to leave, as an afterthought I tried to order some Crap Pockets to go, and was informed that they just ran out! How random?
FIELDTRIP is located at: 109 Lenox Ave (Malcolm X Blvd) and 116th Street.