My Harlem: A Q&A With Yvette Leeper-Bueno

May 11, 2016 3:51 pm Last Updated: March 8, 2018 5:30 pm

Yvette Leeper-Bueno is the owner of Vinatería, a restaurant in Harlem offering seasonal fare with Spanish and Italian influences. She walks to work—it’s only seven blocks from home. That would be about seven minutes if she doesn’t meet anyone on the way, but as it turns out, that seldom happens in this neighborhood.

“A walk like that should take no time. But in Harlem we are so talkative,” she said. “So many owners of restaurants in the neighborhood actually reside here. It makes for a different level of care, an even more caring atmosphere. If you live where you actually work, where you have a business, your level of care is that much more.”

Epoch Times caught up with Leeper-Bueno to ask about a few of her favorite things in the neighborhood.

Yvette Leeper-Bueno. (Katie Burton)
Yvette Leeper-Bueno. (Katie Burton)

Epoch Times: What’s your favorite place to unwind?

Yvette Leeper-Bueno: Mindful Harlem, a meditation center that is right next to Vinatería. My husband co-founded the center years ago. His dream was to bring the practice of mindfulness to the community. We have these free drop-ins on Saturday mornings, completely donation-based. It’s my number one place to unwind besides my brownstone, in the backyard. To be able to meditate with people of the community and share and breathe together and share a mindful moment together is really transformative.

Epoch Times: What’s a lesser known gem in Harlem?

Ms. Leeper-Bueno: Everyone knows about Morningside Park but it’s a gem because it has a waterfall and an ascending staircase that’s really long, and if you really want to burn some calories, you can just walk up, and at the end of your journey there’s [the Cathedral of] St. John the Divine.

Epoch Times: What’s your favorite place for a drink?

Ms. Leeper-Bueno: It would be 67 Orange Street. It has just the most wonderful cocktail program. It’s a great little speakeasy type of place.

Epoch Times: What restaurant would you recommend for a special occasion?

Ms. Leeper-Bueno: The Cecil, because it’s large, but there’s also a warm feeling. I would consider Vinatería, too.

Vinatería has been in existence for three years. My husband and I have been living in the neighborhood for 13 to 14 years. We wanted to open that quintessential friendly neighborhood place where really wonderful, heartwarming dishes could be served, a place that would serve as a community gathering point. It really has turned into that. … That’s really what I love to do, connect people through the food and through the little touches that we do.

We have two long communal tables; often people right next to one other another, they meet one another. Beautiful friendships have emerged from just having some time together at a communal table.

Epoch Times: Tell us about your famed cocktails.

Ms. Leeper-Bueno: We have a really very craft-oriented cocktail program. We don’t have any of the large brand names; it’s all locally sourced, small-batch production spirits that are really special and wonderful in their genres. All of our drinks have fresh herbs in them, and the window sill is lined with lavender and rosemary. We’re able to use these not only in our food but in our drinks. It’s lush and beautiful. It can’t get fresher than that.

Vinatería is participating in this year’s Harlem EatUp! Dine In Harlem series on May 20. The event pairs a Harlem chef with another chef for collaborative dinners. Vinatería chef Carmen González will be joined by chef Alex Stupak of Empellón. Though the dinner is sold out, a second dinner is being added.