Posts Tagged ‘brunch’
Sometimes a meal fails, but the experience is still worth the price of admission. A recent Living Social deal offered a brunch boat tour for $40. I was lucky to make the trip with Nick and Becca, not only for their fine company, but because Nick drove us in Becca’s car to the dock down in the Southern tip of Brooklyn. The final couple of miles took us along a bay–the smell of the sea filling the car. Worried that the boat might leave without us, we arrived with time to survey the water from the dock. Swans and a variety of seagulls (I learned there is more than one kind) meandered above and on the water until it was time to board. As we sat at a table with a panoramic view of the shore the crew began to pass out mimosas. Horribly sweet mimosas. Possibly made with Sunny-D rather than real OJ. But respectably strong. They tasted great with the view, the sun, and fresh air.
The “brunch” buffet turned out to be be much more lunch than brunch with wrap sandwiches and various salads. The wraps were more or less edible, with the exception of the eggplant, which was as dry as sandpaper. But the Cesar pasta salad was satisfying and lunch was lifted by two of the best words in the English language: “open bar.” We sipped mixed drinks from the bar and refills on mimosas as we floated on the water.
On returning to land, Nick was in the mood for some digital violence in form of Big Buck. I’m never one turn down a game of buck. Various bar closures and fails at internet searching lead us to trek north to Cherry Tree. I had seen this bar on a couple late night cab rides and had been meaning to check it out.
On arrival, after a long walk, we learned the Sunday special: a pizza pie from the attached South Brooklyn Pizza shop and two pitchers of PBR for $20! PBR isn’t my favorite beer, but I’m easily lured by the siren song of a bargain.
Before the arrival of the pizza, we sipped beer and explored the Cherry Tree. The bar is a large space with a generous with a junk filled and closed patio space. However, fresh air and sun could be found near a large open window on the second floor. Renovations appear underway to portions of the interior. Seemingly haphazard planning (odd spaces, protrusions, unlit nooks and crannies) and the halted construction left me feeling like I had dropped into an M. C. Escher drawing or H.H. Holmes’ hotel. But the beer was cheap, the patrons pleasant, animated animals to be shot were of plenty, and the pizza good.
The pizza encompassed the best the New York style, with a thin crisp crust. A higher end version of the New York pizza to be sure, but fantastic. With football season quickly approaching, it may be a while before I’m able to make a Sunday return, though I look forward to it.
I thought about giving the number eight spot to Sake Bar Hagi. But, while the post describing this amazingly fun dining spot appeared 2011, my actual first trip was in 2010.
I’m shocked myself to see a brunch spot in the top 10, but after mulling it over for a few days I couldn’t pull Perch Cafe out. The brunch fills me with all the joy and comfort I would expect from this early afternoon meal. On several trips since my first visit, I’ve sampled more and more of the menu and have yet to be disappointed (except maybe by the wrap, which is just too healthy for me). But more than the food, the great servers have me developing an irrational attachment. The servers are the prefect blend of surly and friendly–willing to stop and chat (or give me shit for not taking down the last bit of cheesy grits). I always leave satiated and with a brightened day. As long as I’m in Park Slope, Perch Cafe has a solid spot in my brunch rotation.
Perch also offers up a dinner menu that I’m excited to sample in the New Year courtesy of a living social deal.
While it seems like every two or three months a new restaurant pops-up in the South Slope–in a former bodega here, in a defunct shoe store there–8th Avenue is still by and large a culinary waste land. So I was excited to see a restaurant in the works just two blocks from my apartment and waited with anticipation as it filled in a store front that has been vacant since I moved in to the neighborhood well over a year ago.
Then, one morning, on my way to the train, I saw that Giovanni’s Brooklyn Eats, complete with its shinny new neon sign, was open. I excitedly grabbed a menu. As I walked my excitement grew when I realized this new establishment was sporting a prefix brunch menu with all you can drink mimosas or bloody marrys. But I could swear I’d seen it before. As I scanned I realized that the menu was the same as Sette’s. The same Sette at which I had a uniquely disappointing brunch experience several months ago. Some internet researching revealed that this is in fact a reincarnation of the now closed Sette.
But this last weekend I was on the hunt for a brunch spot and thought I would give this Sette 2.0 a second chance. It won’t be getting a third. Giovanni’s presents a charming modern rustic interior. But, as with the food, the appearance is where my appreciation ends.
As with Sette, the brunch food at Giovanni’s is remarkable only for its ability pack so little flavor into a beautifully presented plate. I again tried the eggs Benedict. This is a basic brunch dish, if it’s wrong it’s usually a sign the rest of menu will struggle. None of the previous problems with this dish are solved in the new location. The Hollandaise sauce is nothing more than a smear of orange on top of an admittedly well poached egg. The ham acts as a salty condom ensuring that the delicious egg yolk and sparse sauce doesn’t accidentally contact the hard bread base. Though I did managed to get enough liquid under the ham to make one piece of bread edible.
The uovo al forno, an oven baked egg over polenta, tomato, and riccatt, was an uninspired, greasy, salty disappointment. Both who ordered this dish received over cooked eggs. The real problem is that the tomato presented no flavor or freshness and nor did any other element to the dish.
On my visit to Sette I ran into serious server troubles–some of the worst service I’ve even encountered. And, while the service was better at Giovanni’s, it still leaves much to be desire. Our server wasn’t hostile or evasive, but it did at times take significant work to grab his attention and he never checked in on the table of his own accord. My biggest disappointment was that, on exiting, I saw a sign outside describing the brunch and listing free coffee or tea as an element. A fact that our server neglected to mention to this poor caffeine addicted soul.
I had strong hopes for Giovanni’s. Nothing would make me happier than having an awesome brunch place such a lazy distance from my front door. But it looks like the brunch gods want me to travel far and walk off my morning indulgences.
Saturday morning, after a late night of grilling, poker playing, and a backyard bonfire, my roomie Nick suggested that it was time for brunch. Fayaz was out of town to Miami on “spring break” and Meg was stuck in Midtown editing an article for the law journal, but a few guests had spend the night – one visitor from Maryland and two NYC friends who decided not to brave the 4:30 a.m. subway ride home from Park Slope — so we had a nice little crew. After a bit of internet searching to decide where to go, we were out walking in the cool spring air to the Perch Cafe.
Before I talk about Perch Cafe I have a Minnesotan confession. When I heard the name Perch, I immediately thought of the little fish that I would catch as a kid–not the thing birds do on sticks and wires. I know, surprising since I currently live with two pet birds. I guess it just goes to show: you can take the Minnesotan out Minnesota, but not the Minnesota out of the Minnesotan.
When the five of us arrived at 12:30, brunch was in full swing. True to Park Slope the children were numerous, but after almost three years out here it’s kind of nice to see them. There wasn’t an open table in the place… but there was outside! All wasn’t lost, we wouldn’t need to wait 30 minutes to get seated, as we made our way directly to the patio. The air was cool, but the sun was warm so we jumped at the chance to take the brunch outdoors.
Last week, I wrote a post about my brunch experience at Sette and I can’t help but compare. The Perch brunch was filled with pandemonium, but the terrific attitudes of our server and the manager, plus the pure awesomeness of the food made for a night-and-day difference in brunching-experience at this place after my recent disappointment with Sette.
The confusion for our server seemed present from her first appearance: she poked her head out the back door, looked around and pondered, seemingly to herself, whether we were her party of five. She slipped back inside and came back in a few minutes with water and only 4 sets of cutlery for the 5 of us. But she was positive and upbeat and we all enjoyed exchanging a few stupid jokes as we ordered. The food came out in spurts, and there was a need to switch-up an order of waffles because the kitchen had run out of batter. After the first plate or two came out Matt, in visible pain, decided that the night before had gotten the better of him, and that it was best that he head home for a nap. There seemed to be a lot of confusion about what food would be ready when. At one point, refilling our coffee, the waitress looked particularly stressed and we inquired what was going on. A little prodding finally invoked a report of a fight in the kitchen (which she had just broken up), but she assured us that everything was back on track now and the rest of the food would be on its way. We then, along with a number of apologies, received the rest of the orders as they were ready.
It was all little crazy. But the waitress was upbeat, apologetic, and happy to joke with us about the situation. A complete contrast to the manner of the sulking waiter at Sette, faced with similar hiccups. And, near the end of our meal, that manager came over, introduced himself, and explained that there was a new cook getting used to handling the big brunch rush and that our drinks and some of the food would be comped.
I should also note that the patio started to fill as we ate, and that other tables seemed to have smooth sailing with their orders. I think we just got hit by some of the chaos that can happen at any restaurant and the people at Perch handled it well.
But, let’s not forget to address the excellent food. Between the five us, we filled the table with huevos rancheros (my order), waffles, French toast, eggs Benedict, corn chowder, tomato soup, and grilled cheese. With a lot of sharing at the table, I was able to sample a little of everything.
The huevos rancheros started with a tortilla and with a layer of black beans, topped with two perfectly-fried eggs, some sour cream, and guacamole. With a generous helping of the Tabasco sauce (I’m a big fan of spice, in case you haven’t noticed), I was very content. I just love the combination of black beans and eggs for breakfast. And the eggs were done right, with nice runny yolks, but a good crisp on the bottom and edges. (The color in the photo is a little off, the guac was beautiful and bright in person–my cellphone camera sometimes just decides to blue out pictures.)
The eggs Benedict, which I have an ever-growing soft spot for, were delicious. Again, nice runny yolk and a good ham-to-egg-to-bread ratio. In an interesting twist, Perch used corn bread as a base, in place of the traditional English muffin. In my experience, corn bread can be hit or miss. Sometimes it’s just too dry for my taste. In this case, either from some inherent cornbread moisture or from the runny yolk and Hollandaise sauce, the corn bread had just the right level of moisture and worked as a perfect base for getting all the deliciousness onto the fork. This dish also came with homefries, which, in an interesting change-up to the standard fair, included sweet potato.
The French toast and the waffles were good–if you are into that kind of thing. I just don’t understand why I would eat the “sweet” when there is so amazing “savory” to be enjoyed.
The corn chowder was good pick for the cool day and actually pretty perfect to eat via dunking the bread that came on the side. Finally, the grilled cheese and tomato soup was rock star. Yeah, grilled cheese and tomato soup is pretty much always satisfying and it would probably take some work to make it fail, but this stuff was really done well: the soup was thick and chunky and grilled cheese had just the right crunch to the bread.
Each dish was a solid execution of a simple, tasty idea. All-in-all, Perch Cafe should find it’s way into everyone’s BK brunch rotation.
Next up, the Do-It-Yourself brunch!
Who doesn’t love brunch? And here in New York it’s practically an institution. There is no better way to shake off whatever you got up the night before than a little grease or sweet paired with Bloody Marys or Mimosas. But, with so many great places to choose from, it’s a waste of an early afternoon to head back to a place that is OK at best–which is where Sette Park Slope ranks. There was no single disaster when Meg, Stu, and I made our Saturday afternoon trip to Sette, but we were met with a seemingly constant series of missteps.
The restaurant is, without a doubt, aesthetic. The main dinning room presents an exposed kitchen, thick wood tables, and wine storage on the walls above the kitchen. On arrival,, we chose seating on the enclosed patio and got a table in a corner with a great view of Park Slope’s 7th Avenue and 3rd Street. After being seated, we got water and some amazing raisin and walnut foccacia bread.
My disappointment with Sette started with our server. He was a handsome man, with an intriguing accent (when he begrudgingly spoke), who clearly didn’t want to be there and didn’t seem to care that we knew it. Now I’ve worked in the service industry (admittedly only for a short time) and I appreciate that being a waiter is hard and often shitty job, but the active disinterest he showed our table was over the top: no “how are you doing today?” and thinly veiled annoyance when we weren’t ready to order right away – and even annoyance at getting our first round of all you can drink drinks. Stu, always friendly, tried to warm things up by asking his name, which he gave half turned around sulking from the table. Brunch is all about a fun times with friends but the server set the opposite tone, and a good friendly tone could have helped me over look the other problems with Sette’s brunch.
There were three choice for the unlimited drinks: a Bloody Marry, a Mimosa, or a Bellini. All of which tasted fine, but were definitely on the weak side.
Sette’s brunch offers an antipasti and an entree, in addition to the unlimited drinks and the raisin walnut foccacia bread. Both Stu and Meg ordered the ricotta fritters with fruit puree which were a complete home run. Fried and the size of doughnut holes these little gems were moist, not overly sweet, and perfect when dipped into the fruit puree. I ordered the seasonal melon, balsamic figs, and prosciutto. I have fond memories of prosciutto melone from a past trip to Italy, so I may have had the bar set a little high, but I was very underwhelmed. The long thing slices of cantaloupe were under ripe, hard, and not sweet enough. The prosciutto was fine. The main problem came with the balsamic figs. They were almost rock hard and were drowning in a super sweet syrup (balsamic reduction?) that would have been great on french toast. The syrup was completely out of place in this plate and it flowed it’s way over to the prosciutto, overwhelming it and the melon with it’s toxin sweetness.
For the entree, Meg and I each ordered the poached eggs “Benedict” on foccacia bread with black forest ham and tomato sabayon (a sabayon is similar to hollandaise sauce, but without the butter–so in this case probably some egg yolks, sugar, and tomato puree). Stu ordered the egg panini with fennel sausage and fontina cheese, but, being a vegetarian (yes, shock of shocks, I can be friends with a vegetarian), she ordered it with some onions and no sausage.
Stu’s entree was the first to arrive, with the onion, but also with the sausage. The food runner or whoever it was that brought the entree was great though. He apologized and took it back to the kitchen to get fixed. While we were waiting for round 2 on Stu’s meal, Meg’s entree arrived. A few minutes later Stu’s panini made a return sans meat. But I was still waiting on the my eggs Bendict. So I asked the guy bringing out the food; he seemed confused and went to check with the kitchen. He came back to the table and said the kitchen had never gotten the ticket, but it was making the dish now and it would be out soon. A few minutes later, a nice woman, who seemed to be the manager, came over and apologized and assured us the food would be there soon. After another few minutes, our elusive waiter stopped by to say the same, but started to run off as we were mid-sentence asking for a coffee and booze refill. Finally, my eggs made it to the table. Again, this wasn’t any huge disaster (thought I’m not sure how it seemed normal that I was only doing part of the prix fixe), but was just one of many things–especially the server’s attitude–that soured the brunch.
The eggs Benedict was good. The picture makes it look unappetizing, but it really looked amazing. The white on the outside of the eggs had a perfect cloud like appearance. My one criticism would be that there was too much ham. More precisely, the ham formed a meaty shield for the bread so that when I cut into the poached egg the wonderful yolk ran over the ham on to the plate and didn’t get much of a chance to sink into the bread. Also, foccacia bread, because of the the nature of its outside, simply isn’t that absorbent.
We got the bill. When we left we passed the manager, herself seeming a little stressed. I knew that she knew about at least part of the problems we had. She asked how everything was. I just said “fine” and continued out the door. I know I should have asked for something, a little off the bill etc., but I hate doing that, I feel that when the manager knows about these kinds of issues they should be proactive.
All-in-all I think I might have hit Sette on a bad day. If I had to guess, here is what was happening: more than one of the waiters called-in or just didn’t show up, our server got a call that dragged him out of bed after a long night out into a crazy understaffed brunch rush. The manager was struggling herself (she was out re-filling drinks) to keep things going. But that wouldn’t change the food. Like the excess ham on the Benedict’s foccacia , Sette is reaching a little too far. It has some really great thing going for it, but some of the dishes are just over the top and should be paired back and simplified for a better result.
There aren’t a huge number of brunch places in the Slope, but there is no reason to risk a mediocre C+ when there are enough great brunches to be found (especially considering the endless number in the city).