It was a chilly Friday night, just one day after the death of beloved U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, when I walked into Reverence in Harlem’s Strivers’ Row and read a welcome card emblazoned with a quote from the Baltimore congressman: “I’m going to do what feeds my soul.”
If Russell Jackson’s restaurant is any indication, it seems that’s exactly what the chef-owner is doing in this project.
Reverence makes good on its name by immersing visitors in a semi-spiritual experience that starts with a strict no-technology policy. Against a backdrop of ’70s and ’80s rock, visitors begin the $98 five-course dinner by breaking bread — vadouvan gougères of roasted carrots and benne miso lightly brushed with olive oil and black sea salt. Wine pairings invoke a communion experience not unlike those in the Baptist churches that line the neighborhood, and the French Riviera-blue walls envelop diners in an unusual dining experience, free from the always-connected confines of modern life.
Jackson says that the power of unplugging from the modern world can go well beyond a restaurant experience. “It’s about making you exceedingly uncomfortable and taking as much control away from you as possible, because in the end, we knew that if you will truly let go, something excessively unique is going to happen to you in your life, not just in the room that night, but for the rest of your life,” Jackson says.
The absence of camera flashes and backs hunched over blue screens is liberating in that it allows diners to be more present and focus on conversations. As for the lack of free marketing in the form of Instagram posts of his dishes? Jackson thinks the policy is actually better for business and has no intention of letting up on the policy — even enforcing it himself upon a customer who was trying to check in on Facebook.
While Reverence stands out in the Manhattan dining landscape, it’s also fitting that it’s in Harlem.