Marcus Samuelsson might just be one of the busiest chefs and restaurateurs working in the city right now. In addition to his 13-year-old Harlem icon Red Rooster, Samuelsson runs Chelsea seafood restaurant Hav & Mar and just debuted the NYC-inspired Metropolis by Marcus Samuelsson at the World Trade Center.
But it’s clear that Hav & Mar, which just turned one (the anniversary party is on November 17), is his most personal project to date. Hav means ocean in Swedish and mar is Amharic for honey, a nod to Samuelsson’s Swedish upbringing and Ethiopian heritage. Dishes like the Swediopian, a berbere spice-cured salmon, celebrate his background and have secured the restaurant two stars from the New York Times. “I’m really proud that we have a Swedish name and an Ethiopian name in the middle of Manhattan,” Samuelsson says. “What can be more New York than that?”
Plus, it’s all the more exciting to visit right now given that Hav & Mar just launched a new lunch menu with even more dishes inspired by Samuelsson’s childhood. Read on for his lunchtime favorites, the best seat in the house, and when to land a reservation.
What are the must-orders of the lunch menu?
Marcus Samuelsson: We have a pumpkin curry soup with clams that feels November to us. It is a delicious curry with coconut milk, pumpkin, and clam juice. Our crispy Brussels sprouts are back. We took them off for the spring and summer. And we have a Creole crudo that people like ordering at the bar.
What’s the underdog of the menu?
My grandmother’s meatballs [Helga’s meatballs, which are also part of lunch]. It represents comfort and deliciousness and a sense of home. I remember rolling meatballs outside Gothenburg with my grandmother. She really taught me how to taste, taught me about seasonality and foraging. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for making meatballs with my sisters and my grandmother.
What’s the one dish you’ll never remove from the menu?
The Swediopian will never be removed. It goes back to the name, Hav & Mar. The Swediopian represents some Swedish notes and some Ethiopian notes. And also our bread basket because it’s literally about breaking bread and it tells the story of my past. The cornbread is about where I live in Harlem, injera tells the story of where I was born, and the biscuits with whole wheat have a Nordic feel.
What’s the hidden gem among the drinks?
For the holidays we have our coquito, which is this super delicious drink with rum, coconut, cinnamon, and nutmeg, similar to a Swedish glögg. Who wouldn’t during the holidays want something with coconut and cinnamon and nutmeg and every restaurant doesn’t have that.
Who’s your longest regular?
We’ve been very fortunate to have David Rockwell as a regular to our restaurant. David, besides being an icon in hospitality, design, and theater, is also the one who built Metropolis with us. It’s been many dinners where he just came in, and we were talking about life and having conversations about Metropolis.
Who’s your longest-serving staff member?
One of our former food runners, who is a server now, Kwame Thimbiano. His brother worked at Red Rooster, and he’s a server with us. It’s nice to see the growth of someone from the front of the house.
What’s the best seat in the house?
Right in front of the kitchen, there is this bar seat and you see what’s happening at the bar to the left and you see what’s happening in the kitchen to the right of. That’s just so much fun because you’re right in the middle of the action. The restaurant is also about walking around the space. The mermaids and the work of Derrick Adams are really an extension of the galleries in Chelsea [sculptures of Black mermaids on the walls by famed artist and restaurant partner Derrick Adams nod to Chelsea’s history as a rich artistic hub].
When is the best time to find a reservation?
Three weeks ahead is the best time, but we also want the restaurant to have a healthy balance between walk-in diners and reservations.
What’s the biggest change at the restaurant since the opening?
We are market driven, so we make changes constantly. We tweak our bread basket and other dishes based on feedback from guests. I’m excited about lunch because it’s a whole other set of guests who might be in Manhattan during daytime but live deeper in Jersey or Connecticut or somewhere else, so this is a different meal, and I’m very excited about that.
What’s your favorite award you’ve won?
I started Hav’s work in the middle of the pandemic, even though mentally and physically it was very hard for everyone. Out of that came a restaurant that is truly built of joy and wanting to do something different in hospitality, to be able to on a daily basis work with that vision and team and have the guests respond to that, that is the biggest reward and award that our restaurant could get. And the fact that it is super busy everyday—it’s why I cook.
What is Hav & Mar’s X factor?
I’m very slow in my restaurant movement because I love New York, and I want to make sure that when we do something, we have something to say. Chelsea has always been the artistic mecca of New York City, so we wanted to respond to that.
I also wanted to address the lack of leadership roles for women of color in the industry. I hope that women in the industry see this as a place where they can work and that this can serve as a bridge to their own place [executive chef Fariyal Abdullahi leads the kitchen and general manager Franshelis Montalvo oversees the restaurant operations]. It starts with our delicious food and hospitality, but it also has to be a unique proposition.
—Tanay Warerkar is OpenTable’s NYC writer and a content marketing manager