People like brunch because it’s convenient. Because it includes drinks. And because you can often do it cheaply and still have a tasty meal.
However, if you are willing to go up a wee bit on price, I have a brunch that will blow your mind.
Head to Blue Water Grill in Union Square. This BR Guest restaurant at first feels like any other corporate brunch in the city – upscale, immaculate, devoid of any personality. BUT, when you book a table, make it for the jazz room downstairs. Then, you are led from the light flooded, bustling upstairs to a small, elegant dining room below ground where, from 11:30 on, a jazz trio serenades you with some absolutely sensational live music. The longer you stay, the louder and more swinging the music gets. There is something about live music that is undeniably New York and enhances the multi-sensory experience of eating a good meal.
Pork and shellfish are natural lovers – the shrimp makes the pork taste sweet and clean, while it gets the pork’s natural fattiness and full-bodied flavor. Here, huge snappy shrimp pair with jalapeno-scented breakfast sausage, creamy roasted potatoes, and soft sautéed onions. The shrimp is so sweet, with no wretched iodiney taste. Pairing the shellfish with such earthy, full flavored ingredients really ups the ante of a usual breakfast hash.
Fresher and more expertly made than I could possibly have imagined. The lobster is as soft and sweet as crab with the unmistakably buttery quality that only lobster has. Pairing it with the lean tuna, soft and mild, is inspired – their contrasting textures really complement each other. Tart green apple, creamy avocado, and a tart-sweet glaze complete this roll, made with excellent room temperature sushi rice. This isn’t authentic sushi, but it is incredibly delicious. It is another example of how well this restaurant does brunch.
If you ever see Santa Barbara Smokehouse fish offered, you change your previous plans, cancel all alternate ideas. This is one of the finest smokehouses in the country, is nationally recognized, and produces smoked salmon that is silky, mild, soft, velvety...it’s so good that it almost makes lox sexy. Fish this good needs not be obscured by lots of other stuff- just a hard-boiled egg, some remoulade, and sour pumpernickel bread is necessary. A stiff, vinegar dressed salad of frisee and lightly pickled onions cleans the palate between bites, preparing it for more of that excellent smoked salmon. This dish is simple but exquisite.
This makes bananas foster look like Laffy Taffy. That’s how divine and purely banana-y this ice cream tastes. It tastes clean and almost floral with soft bananas interspersed in the airy ice cream. It is drizzled with bittersweet chocolate sauce and crowned with sticky, sweet marshmallow cream. Possibly the most delicious part of the dessert is its fragile hazelnut tower. Crisp, sugary, and buttery, tasting like a gigantic Florentine cookie. This dessert might have made my dad stab my sister with a fork for the last bite.
My family dines to win.
Luckily, having to share dessert is the only downer to this brunch - each entrée, by the way, comes with a very nice mimosa or a VERY strong bloody Mary. The service is excellent, the food is way above par, and the live music is just delightful. Make no mistake, the price tag is hefty. You pay for some of the freshest seafood around. However, for brunch with the parents or a splurge-y treat…this is worth it. It’s tasty, elegant, and unique…
And all that jazz.
I’m gonna cut to the chase:
Taboonette is the best cheap lunch in the city.
This tiny storefront in the Union Square area specializes in Middleterranean food, that mish mash of all things Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and North African. Harissa, chickpeas, lamb, pita, and herbs all collide in a cuisine is so cohesive that it seems that it must come from a region.
That region is Taboonette.
Order at the front then wait for your number to be called while seated at one of the long communal tables. The feel is incredibly casual – clean and minimalistic, perfect for a fast workday breakfast or lunch.
The taboon is the large dome-shaped oven that cooks most of the bread and some of the food here. The cauliflower does well in the oven’s heat, becoming crispy and charred in places while turning soft within. It is a wonderful vehicle for the nutty tahini and the creamy hummus. Eggplant is done well here – silky but not slimy, and the rice is outstanding. It must be boiled in chicken broth, because it has a very rich, buttery taste. This dish is satisfying even for a carnivore.
A fantastic rendition of an often greasy and salty classic. This chicken schwarma is rubbed with smoky cumin then grilled to reinforce that deep, woodsy flavor. The chicken is incredibly tender and also tastes of garlic and onions. Mixed with sour pickles, crispy fried potatoes, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, and a creamy hummus and tomato mixture, this is just what a schwarma should be. It is na explosion of flavors, textures, and temperatures, all in an almost exceedingly delicious laffa wrap. One of the best parts of the sandwich is right at the end, when the juices from the chicken and the vegetables soak into the soft bread.
Soft patties of grassy lamb and juicy beef cooked until there is still some pink inside. Redolent of mint and fragrant cilantro, it tastes bright and light with the fresh Israeli salad. Don’t forget to top it with some of the spicy cilantro laden hot sauce on the table – you might, as I did, start taking some of the excellent house baked pita chips and just start eating it straight with the hot sauce. These kebabs are only missing some yogurt sauce, as the tahini on them takes away from the complex, subtle flavors of the kebab.
I love that feeling.
Taboonette is a must-go for anyone who loves Middleterranean food. After all, don’t you want to see its homeland? Well now you can, right near Union Square.
Art is a powerful medium. It not only reflects the human experience, it makes us question our beliefs and contemplate the meaning of life and if we are alone in the universe.
In the case of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, it also makes us hungry.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a documentary about what many consider to be the finest sushi restaurant in the world. It chronicles Jiro’s life work, his passion for sushi, and his relationship with his two sons.
To get an idea of how serious he is about his sushi, when a young man first comes to apprentice him, he is allowed only to squeeze hand towels for the first 3 years of service. After that, he may start slicing fish. Then, and only then, is he allowed to start making the omelettes.
Jiro doesn’t fool around.
And neither does Chef Shimizu, at 15 East.
This small, almost hidden restaurant in Union Square, has some New York City’s most excellent sushi. After seeing the veritable food porn on the silver screen, I was craving some really high end nigiri and sashimi, and 15 East was the first stop on my list.
The restaurant is done in clean lines and light tones, with a small sushi bar in an anteroom outside the calm dining room. Note that if you make a reservation online, you won’t eat at the sushi bar – you must call in person to make a reservation here.
Though I was craving sushi, that’s not all that 15 East does well.
Foie Gras and Truffle Chawanmushi
This steamed egg custard arrives piping hot, with an earthy scent from the black truffles. The first taste is that umami hit of the foie gras reduction swimming on top, then the rich creaminess of the egg custard. Eggs, truffles, foie gras: the trio to end all trios. Perfectly balanced, perfectly complimentary. Hidden in the custard are meaty mushrooms and slightly spicy radish. This savory custard is indulgent without being heavy – an ideal appetizer
Soba with Santa Barbara Uni
Uni is the pure essence of the ocean, like a silkier version of oysters. At its best, it is salty, clean tasting, and almost melts on your tongue, leaving behind something like the memory of ocean air. This is uni at its best. Perfectly cleaned tongues of uni, dissolving in the mouth, tasting so fresh and almost sweet. Draped over al dente soba noodles, which have very earthy taste that is pleasantly reminiscent of hay. With its deep, soy flavored broth, this is a complex and satisfying dish.
For $28, you get a selection of 7 pieces of nigiri plus half of a roll, all the chef’s selection. If you particularly like or don’t like something, feel free to mention it, and your request will be met with pleasure from the waitstaff.
This could not be a more perfect plate of sushi. Well, rewind…it could. The rice, is, to my taste, a bit too al dente and not seasoned enough. However, that is nitpicking, because it is still good and the fish is fantastic. Everything from needlefish to hamachi to king salmon to seared goldeneye snapper is seasoned specifically and served so that each fish would compliment the other. Some are clean and snappy, some are velvety and rich, some are lightly seared and smoky and others are touched with a bit of ponzu to impart a lightly acidic taste. The negitoro roll is fantastic – fatty, lush, sharp with scallions.
Though this is a perfect lunchtime portion, be aware that your inner sushi beast will be awakened and you will probably order more sushi after this. Don’t blame yourself – after all, you’re only human. And this sushi is divine.
15 East is not the place to come when you want 3 sushi rolls for $10 and a fruity cocktail. It isn’t the place to take someone who thinks that sushi means fusion rolls filled with cream cheese and Doritos. This is a place to spend some serious money in a lovely setting with a passionate waitstaff who loves to discuss the difference between toro and maguro with you.
The sushi is pristine and the cooked dishes are inventive and expertly prepared. Though Jiro dreams of sushi, Fritos and Foie Gras dreams of 15 East.
Sweet Corn and Cashew Tamales with Chili Spiced Portabella,
salsa verde, cashew coconut sour cream, avocado, raw cacao mole
This was FABULOUS! Not like real tamale, mind you, but a refreshing, sweet corn taste, with the texture of a true tamale. The cashew cream tasted like nutty throw up, but let’s forget that shall we? The cilantro cucumber salsa verde was so delicious, vibrant, and herby with just a touch of spice, and the mole was thick, sweet and went so well with that fresh and creamy corn tamale. I would order this again and again.
Three Pizzettes in the Style of Southern Italy with Almond and Rosemary Crust
spinach pesto with arugula, pizza margherita, crimini and kalamata, black garlic
Can’t say the same for these.
The pizzettes were just not great. The crusts were oddly chalky and stiff, the toppings were bland and flaccid, and for the love of DAIRY, people…don’t make nuts into sour cream. It just tastes BAD. So, yeah…these were a miss. Even the olives and mushrooms, which I totally love, were weirdly limp and kinda slimy.
But the dessert…was…divine.
Mint chocolate sundae.
Minty, sweet, cooling, sharp ice cream. Deep, chocolaty, rich ice cream. Dense cookies, reminiscent of thin mints. Sweet, creamy whipped cream.
All made out of cashews and coconut.
But this time…it works!
So sour cream – no.
Ice cream – yes.
I liked vegan food a whole more than I thought I would! The food was plentiful, interesting and totally delicious…well, except for that weird cashew sour cream. But the salad was to die for and the ice cream was SERIOUSLY delicious. I would go back there for that alone. Pure Food and Wine is a beautiful, celebratory restaurant with great service, and I would head back there in a heartbeat.
I’m not giving up bacon anytime soon.
I am a New York City based writer, editor, and food blogger. Join me as I cook and eat anything that isn't moving too fast for me to catch! I love Michelin-starred tasting menus, chili cheese Fritos, and everything in between. Feel free to drop me a line at Fritosnfoie
with any questions, comments, or recommendations for awesome kimchi!