Saturday: The Bigger, The Better, The Boozier (aka the “Birthday Brunch at Essex” Post)

photo-11While other cities around the world have their own weekend-daytime drinking cultures, I think New York owns the boozy brunch.

No one eats that breakfast-lunch hybrid meal later on weekends than New Yorkers — brunch here often extends until 3 p.m., or later. A restaurant recently opened in the East Village entirely pegged to New Yorkers’ adoration of this meal. (It’s aptly called Permanent Brunch.)

So, Saturday. Possibly the one thing that I could love more than a boozy brunch at Essex restaurant — a great Lower East Side scene of a restaurant attached to the Essex Street Market — is a boozy brunch here at 12:45 pm on Saturday for a party upwards of 15.

The planner deserves both some props for their patience and their ultimate faith in the fact that the aforementioned brunch for the aforementioned party of 15+ will actually happen — in a reasonable amount of time. (Parties of 4 regularly wait for 45 minutes to get a table.)

photo-13photo-14

Well, it did, and I’m happy to report that it generally went off without a hitch. And once we started roping in other wait staff to refill our drinks — the whole premise of Essex Street’s boozy brunch is that brunch includes three mimosas, screwdrivers or bloody marys, but you hope that they stop counting after a while — done.

The first time I came to brunch at Essex Street I was a little too excited about the caliber of the menu, which extends far beyond the egg scrambles and pancake stacks of some of the more ordinary brunch suspects in the area. (You can see the full menu here.)

photo-12Slowly but surely I’ve worked my way through some prospects, and today I went out on a limb — crispy potato pancakes with sauteed apples and honey-cream sauce and spinach-shiitake-black bean hash.

Yeah, they don’t look so pretty. Although it tasted delicious, I found myself wishing for a couple of strips of bacon, and the part where the sweet, buttery apples and the savory, spinach-y, mushroom-y, black bean hash — I don’t like mixing.

… Well, unless it’s one of Essex’s excellent bloody marys. The more mixing, the merrier. My recommendation: Don’t overlook the Mexican Matzo Brei — scrambled eggs with tortilla chips, Monterey Jack cheese, avocado and pico de gallo (and no matzo) — still the standing favorite.

Essex, 120 Essex St., at Rivington Street, 212-533-9616.

Advertisements

Saturday: The $5 Meal at Vanessa’s Dumpling House (aka the “I’ll Be Back for You, Sesame Pancake” Post)

Journalism 101: All lists are subject to the opinions, experiences and, ultimately, taste of the author. There’s no such thing as an authoritative list.

photo-1Nevertheless, when a food blog with New York cred, like the Village Voice’s Fork in the Road, posts a list called “Our 10 Best Chinese Restaurants” and only two of the entries are in Manhattan, and I haven’t been to one of them — you bet that place just moved onto my radar.

And so the Eldridge Street location of Vanessa’s Dumpling House was filed away under: Chinatown, sub-category, “cheap, fast, no-frills.”

photo-3Which means it’s going to be busy, if not crowded, all the time. Don’t expect to get a seat — if you get one, you are very patient and/or fortuitous. Be prepared to take out your food and find a bench or curb nearby — the benches in the newly-renovated median of Allen Street are the closest — or stand along a wall while you shovel 4, 8, 10 or more dumplings — varieties include pork and chive, pork and cabbage, Chinese vegetable, chicken, shrimp and more — into your mouth.

On a solo first visit, I opted to try just one of the dumplings so I could sample more of the menu and still get in and out for $5 (so cheap!):

— Order of pork and cabbage fried dumplings (4 ct., $1.50)
— Pork wonton soup (large, $2)
— Sesame and scallion pancake with vegetables ($1.50)


$5

photo-2I was so prepared to fall in love with the dumplings, which turned out to be just okay. The casing was too thick for my taste, and a little gummy; inside, the meat-and-cabbage ball slid around in a pocket much too big. Frankly, I prefer the dumplings I’ve bought frozen at Deluxe Food Market to Vanessa’s.

On the other hand, the sesame pancake, now that’s something I’ll be back for. First of all, it’s more sandwich than pancake: A triangular slice of a giant, circular seeded bread is cut in half and stuffed with julienned vegetables and fresh herbs, all drizzled with a light, and lightly spicy, oil.

The pancake has a lot of the same fresh flavors and attributes that have turned the whole city onto that Vietnamese staple, the banh mi. Priced at $1.50 ea., I’m certain I’ll be back here around this time of month — the making-it-stretch-’til-payday-days — in the near future.

Vanessa’s Dumpling House, 118 Eldridge Street, between Broome and Grand streets.

Thursday: $10 All-You-Can-Eat Craw Bar (aka the “Bondi Road Sauce Conspiracy” Post)

photo-214 oysters (raw, on the half shell)
20 shrimps
5 baked oysters, topped with diced bacon and some sort of Worcestershire sauce
2/3rds of a side of french fries
tap water

—–
$15 (including tax and tip)

If I had to guesstimate the volume of food I ate at Bondi Road‘s unbelievable Thursday “Craw Bar” night in the Lower East Side, that’s the list, more or less — and being an oyster newbie I was one of the lighter eaters.

With a little encouragement — along the lines of, “Could we get some more shrimp?” and, “Could we put in an order for those baked oysters?” — the kitchen certainly wasn’t stingy on the mains. Each time, the oyster tray came back stacked heavier, and so did the shrimp. (There were five of us making this our dinner, after all.)

photo-4photo-5Some of my friends were taking advantage of Bondi Road’s (in)famous drink special — $20 all-you-can-drink for 2 hours — and all in all, food and booze flowing, we were poised for success.

But then, there was a hiccup. Intentionally or otherwise, Bondi Road on this night was unbelievably stingy with their sauce. Cocktail sauce, fresh horseradish, ketchup (which never came)  … it became such a joke at the table that we started speculating conspiracy-theory style about the stinginess with the sauce.

photo-3Theory no. 1: This was the restaurant’s all-you-can-eat exit strategy: Serve them huge platters of seafood with the puniest portions of sauce imaginable, ignore their requests for more until they are infuriated and leave.

Theory #2: The sauce that’s served with the shrimp (of which we got two tiny, half-filled containers no matter whether there were a dozen shrimp or 20 shrimp in the bowl) is imported from Australia, which justifies the rationing.

(In actuality, we’re pretty sure it was just cocktail sauce whipped with mayonnaise for a creamier texture, dolled out into these disposable condiment cups during prep hours earlier — which only deepens the mystery of why the server couldn’t just grab a couple of extras from the kitchen in less time than it took us to finish the shrimp, reluctantly, anyway …)

The conclusion: Still a killer deal, the quality’s decent (for the price, spectacular). Bring your own sauce — or be prepared to eat some seafood in the buff.

TIP: Go early. The five of us were seated immediately and served quickly at 6:45pm, and the restaurant had a line out the door by the time we left. Plus, the 2-hour drink special makes for an excellent kick-off to a Thursday night out.

Dinner: It Began with Chips, Guac and Margaritas…

photo-33… might have ended there, as well. Now that I think about it. I also shared part of a friend’s taco plate, but surely didn’t eat enough to even say that we split it. Oh well, sometimes festivities get the best of you! 

From what I did taste, Festival Mexicano Restaurant in the Lower East Side has passable Mexican food — there’s much better options elsewhere in the city; a personal favorite of mine is Florencia 13 in Greenwich Village, not street-cheap, but restaurant-quality. 

The margaritas at Festival Mexicano, on the other hand, were frothy, cheap ($5 well, $7 Sauza Hornitos, 100% agave tequila) and wicked strong.

Lunch: Friday, May 1, 2009

Love, love, love Russ & Daughters.

photo-4

photo-3It’s so perfectly New York. The gorgeous smoked fish, the chocolate-dipped everything, the cheeses, the fresh-squeezed juice and premium dried fruits — makes me look at the rain outside and get impatient for summer and park picnics and all the good food and merriment that goes hand-in-hand. 

photo2I love the “Super Heeb” sandwich, which is horseradish creme cheese, whitefish salad and wasabi-flavored roe that are both so pretty and green and crunch so squeakily and give the whole thing a nice kick.

So how surprised was I to see that the Heeb and Super Heeb ($2 worth of the wasabi roe to make it “super”) have been renamed to the Heebster and the Super Heebster — what?!! LOL

There is some brilliance stirring here: Lower East Side (Jewish) institution enters 21st century, realizes is surrounded by cute young things with asymmetrical haircuts, decides to embrace the new LES culture, makes hipster pun yet remains true to heritage.

Not a bad model for neighborhoods everywhere which are evolving and changing: If you’ve got a good thing going, you don’t have to change. But there’s no reason you can’t some have fun with it. 

COST: $25 splurge
PREP TIME: 5 minute walk!  

Drool-worthy photos of fish and more after the jump: 

Continue reading “Lunch: Friday, May 1, 2009”

Sunday: April 19, 2009

Monday is going to be here before you (I) know it, so let’s enjoy the last hurrah of this weekend. Via pictorial essay. Well, kindof:

photo-72This is where I brunched. Yes, I just used quotation marks and “brunch” as a verb.

I sat at that upper level that’s sortof in the back of this photo.

photo-81 This is what I ate. Mucho deliciousness. The potatoes don’t taste as scary as they look. It’s a red pepper/onion mix … which, while tasting okay, looks a little bloody on the plate. Trust me, I, too, was scared before they arrived.

photo49 This is where things started to go wrong. See the whole, “Closed on Sundays” thing? I was hoping to find whole allspice kernels (proper?) here, no go on a Sunday.

photo-92… And this is how I feel about my life. Excited, but disjointed between the old and the new. What happens if it really looks that ugly?

COST: n/a
PREP TIME: 27 years