At LoLo’s Seafood Shack (303 West 116th Street, 646-649-3356), chef Raymond Mohan’s specialty is Caribbean-style seafood like conch fritters, steamed crawfish pots, and crisp shark sandwiches. But on his day off, Mohan explores the breadth of cuisines in his Harlem neighborhood, often landing at nearby La Savane (239 West 116th Street; 646-484-5293).
“One of the reasons I love being in the Harlem neighborhood is because of the cultural diversity and rich history,” Mohan says. “The 25-year-old West African neighborhood on 116th Street is an amazing community, full of really authentic places to eat. My favorite spot is La Savane. I take my wife and friends there, or people who are visiting me in the neighborhood, because it’s like stepping into a totally immersive experience: Everyone speaks French, the walls are covered in French-African paintings, and soccer matches are on television. You feel like you’re somewhere else completely.
“My favorite dish there is the chicken dibe. Chicken is one of the hardest things to make taste good, in my mind, and you have to do so much to it to make it really flavorful. They take skinless chicken, then dust it with chile peppers and flour before frying it just until cooked so that it stays moist and is a little spicy. They serve it with chopped onions, tomatoes and a sauce of mustard, habanero chile, and vinegar.
“Altogether you get the spice from the chicken, tons of acid from the vinegar to cut through the heat of the fry, plus the crunch of the onions and tomatoes. Then the habanero mustard sauce adds a little extra heat and some tang from the mustard, which you really need. Overall, it’s got smoky and salty elements plus spice, creating a depth of flavor that is so unique to African cuisine.”