Galli brings new meaning to brunch

BY CAROLYN ONOFREY

Galli
45 Mercer Street
SoHo
212.966.9288/gallirestaurant.com

Galli

Grapefruit @ Galli

If you close your eyes you can almost imagine yourself in the swank SoHo apartment you don’t have – a wide open space with 20 foot floor to ceiling windows, bathed in the morning sun as you sit at your breakfast table leisurely sipping a cappuccino and enjoying a croissant… At least that’s what I envisioned when I was delivered my cappuccino and croissant at Galli – a restaurant who prides itself on a neighborhood atmosphere serving Italian comfort food.

Galli launched its Buon Giorno menu this year, just in time for the first glimpse of Spring.  A light cafe style menu comprised mostly of fruit, yogurt, and pastries.  As I sat enjoying the simplicity of my half grapefruit sprinkled with raw sugar, I looked around the dining room to see only a few tables occupied – those who did have people at them were couples with young babies.  Although I had admittedly never put much thought into where a young couple with a new baby went if they wanted to treat themselves to brunch, I was happy to see that it was at Galli.  A type of safe haven – a family place accented by photographs from the owners’, Steve Gallo (Brio Downtown) and Michael Forrest, own family albums.

 

Galli2

House-made granola with Greek yogurt and berries @ Galli

Breakfast continued with fresh berries, Greek yogurt, and granola – a light and healthy way to start the day.  Bistro tables at the front of the restaurant near the bar are the perfect place to enjoy the homemade granola and the people watching of Mercer Street – the back dining room; the perfect place to hide out and soak up the sun streaming in from the skylights.
I often seek out neighborhood type places where I can enjoy breakfast without being rushed and leave not feeling like I just consumed my body weight in bacon and eggs or indulged in the all-you-can-drink brunch, which seems to run so rampant these days, leaving nothing of my Sunday but a sleepy lump on the couch.  After Galli, I am ready to take on the city – run those errands I have been meaning to run for the past three weeks or take a long walk to enjoy the beauty of the city at the first signs of spring.

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Home of Manhattan’s Best Banh Mi Sandwich – Review of Sao Mai

BY ELENA MANCINI

203 First Ave.
East Village
(212) 358-8880 / Sao Mai 

East of the East Village bustle and trendiness, this family-run East Village Vietnamese restaurant serves traditional Vietnamese fare and the best Banh Mi Sandwiches on the Manhattan side of the East River.

Vegetarian Bahn Mi

Available in six varieties including pho, sliced pork, grilled chicken and vegetarian, these sandwiches make a quick, nutritious, flavor-packed meal that’s easy on the wallet (priced between $6-$7). The Bahn Mi are prepared on baguettes are consistently fresh and crusty with a soft and chewy middle. Independent of the filling you choose, the kitchen always strikes the right balance between bread and ingredients. Their vegetarian Bahn Mi is among my favorite comfort-food lunches. Prepared on two warm halves of choice baguette, they’re stuffed with toothsome strands of sauteed bok choy, straw mushrooms, seedless cucumbers, shredded carrot and abundant swaths of cilantro, the sandwiches and seasoned with lemongrass,  sriracha mayonnaise, that provides a subtle and reverberating pitch of complex heat. In sum, it’s a light, filling lunch that delivers high-flavor rewards.

Pho’ Sao Mai

Front: Summer Rolls; Far: Spring Rolls

Lest one think Sao Mi is just about Bahn Mi, flavor mavens and fans of traditional Vietnamese fare will find other  sections of its menu will prove well worth exploring. The Pho Sao Mai will not disappoint. A flavorful broth, rich in tender strips of brisket, sprouts, rice noodles and a medley of herbs will consistently hit the spot. Adding appeal to  Sao Mi’s attractions is its steal of a lunch menu, which includes the choice of an appetizer, entree and a soft drink, all for $10. Sweetening things further,  both the Bahn Mi and the Pho are included in this deal!

Ga Gary – Chicken Curry

With a wide variety of vegetarian options on its menu, Sao Mai is also a smart choice for a low-key dinner that guarantees value, quality and flavor. Pity that wait staff has not yet mastered the walk-in dinner crowd on weekends. During these times, the  friendly service  can turn into a source of frustration for those who do not suffer extended waits and uneven food delivery times lightly.

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A brunch party for Pranna – Review of Pranna’s “Mad” Brunch

BY CAROLYN ONOFREY

Pranna
79 Madison Avenue
Murray Hill
212-696-5700|prannarestaurant.com

A newly launched brunch party at Pranna, complete with a DJ brings this after work drink spot into the ranks with the likes fueled brunch parties hosted by Paradou in the trendy Meatpacking District and Sunburnt Cow in the East Village. Or does it?

While good for a drink – at night – when the candles are lit and the lights are low, the pretty massive-for-Manhattan space seemed cold and under designed for brunch when the sun illuminated the space and made it seem even larger than it was.

The American, Indian and Asian inspired menu paired with three drinks (for $28 pre fixe) was certainly the thing to wake up my taste buds.

Prawn cake benedict @ Pranna

Brunch started with a choice of alcoholic beverage (bloody mary, bellini, mimosa, or screwdriver) which took a good 25 minutes to arrive after much confusion with the waitstaff.  My bellini was a great refreshing option.  Despite the wait for the drinks and a waiter who didn’t seem like he had looked over the menu before they threw him to the dogs, our food came out timely.  The prawn cake eggs benedict (with a +$3 charge for Tamarind infused hollandaise sauce!?) for myself and a more traditional eggs benedict florentine for my company.

It was hard to tell if the hollandaise sauce was actually there, as my white eggs had only a hint of a yellowish liquid poured over them.  The eggs however, were cooked perfectly; a trait I often use to judge if my eggs benedict are worthy or not.  The prawn cake, what I thought would elevate this benedict over others I have tried in the past, came nestled in between the English muffin and sautéed spinach underneath and the egg above.  It was sadly a dense, thick mass of prawn and other unrecognizable ingredients that did nothing for the nicely prepared egg above.

A mixed green side salad and curried potatoes with cauliflower were also served.  Although quite good and a wakeup call to my palate, I couldn’t quite figure out how the curried potatoes were meant to be served.  They came out lukewarm and left me wondering, potato salad or home fries?

I’d like to think that Pranna’s “Mad” Brunch party will be a hit (I dare them to prove me wrong!), but first and foremost please work out the kinks in your service.

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A different kind of Wall St. insider secret – A Review of Wall and Water Brunch

BY ERIN PALISIN

Wall and Water
75 Wall St.
Financial District
212-699-1700 / hyatt.com/gallery/wall&water/index.html

Unless you trade stocks for a living or want to go take your picture next to the infamous bull, you don’t typically have a need to travel down to Wall St. on the weekends. However, if you are in the mood for a delicious buffet style brunch with a relaxed yet sophisticated atmosphere, make your way down to Wall and Water, the restaurant located within the modern and sleek Andaz Hotel. Work your way up the marble stairs (pictured below) and find your way to the well-kept secret of the Wall and Water brunch buffet!

Marble staircase leading to Wall and Water

Although the $22 for brunch may provide some initial sticker shock, the price is extremely reasonable for the all you can eat fare. I know I certainly ate my $22 worth of food!

Diners have the option of either choosing from the $22 Cold Brunch or the $28 hot brunch. Both options come with unlimited trips to the cold buffet and endless coffee (including espresso, lattes, and cappuccinos) tea and freshly squeezed juices. However, this is not your standard cold buffet serving Cheerios and bagels. Instead, you will find a full oyster bar, shrimp and local cheese and charcuterie selection, fresh croissants and muesli, homemade berry and apple crisp and an assortment of fresh fruits, bagels and breads. If you decide to go with the hot brunch option, be sure you have a large appetite worked up! The hot option includes not only unlimited access to the cold buffet, but also unlimited ordering from the entire hot menu consisting of egg dishes, fresh produce and meat side dishes and hot griddle items galore!

Oyster Bar with Shrimp and Fresh Cheeses and Meats

Regular and Chocolate Croissants

Sunday Brunch in New York City tends to be a huge event and often the highlight of your weekend activities. If you are looking for a place to “see and be seen” on Sunday afternoon, Wall and Water is not for you. However, if you are in the mood for a setting that allows you to actually hear the conversation you are having, take your time enjoying the full benefits of the buffet without feeling rushed by staff and see a uniquely designed hotel space, Wall and Water is a great choice. Oh yeah, the food isn’t too shabby either! Do not miss out on the chocolate croissant (the perfect combination of chewy on the inside, light and crispy on the outside) or the mixed berry crisp.

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What’s on… West 56th Street between 6th and 7th Avenue

BY CAROLYN ONOFREY

It’s all about quality over quantity on this block, where the pickin’s are slim but solid.  The proximity to Carnegie Hall and touristy Times Square as well as the offices of Midtown make this block both convenient and busy during peak weekday lunch hours. Multi use skyscrapers, City Spire, Carnegie Hall Tower, and Metropolitan Tower all have entrances (although not necessarily main) on this block.

Although the official address of this juice chain lies on 6th avenue, there is an entrance on 56th street.  In addition to refreshing smoothies, Jamba Juice also serves the community by raising money for local schools’ healthy lunch programs and neighborhood gardens.

Midday, Saturday a line at Burger Joint @ Le Parker Meridian

119 West 56th Street – Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridian
Staying at Le Parker? Just passing by? Whatever your reason is, if you’re in the neighborhood Burger Joint is a must if you’re in the area. Grilled over an open flame and topped however you like (within the boundaries of standard burger fare), these burgers are the real deal and easily make the top 5 in the City.  Come early to get a seat in the graffiti-ed space, as the burgers are best done right off the flame.

Cheeseburger at Burger Joint

119 West 56th Street – Knave at Le Parker Meridian

A grand entrance – Knave @ Le Parker Meridian

The grandiose space that Knave inhabits in the lobby of Le Parker Meridian is both Gothic and modern and is a restorative place to sit and enjoy a cappuccino midday.  Although open for cocktails until 12am daily, the hefty price tag seems barely justifiable when the scene isn’t the most happening and the baristas are the ones making your cocktails.
Knave at Le Parker Meridien on Urbanspoon

119 West 56th Street – Norma’s at Le Parker Meridian

Norma’s Chocolate Decadence French Toast – Photo courtesy of La Buona Forchetta

As cheap as (the above-mentioned) Burger Joint is, Norma’s is not.  However, it is
arguably (and winning 9 times out of 10) the finest brunch in town.  Open until 3pm every day, Norma’s is strictly brunch, but no one’s complaining with menu items like the Waz-Za waffle, a decadent waffle filled with fruit and topped with a crispy Brûlée or the Foie Gras Brioche French Toast (‘nuff said).  Come for a treat, leave with a stuffed stomach and empty wallet. 
Norma's at Le Parker Meridien on Urbanspoon

120 West 56th Street – Starbucks

For your caffeine fix, grab a Starbucks at this location right across the street from Le Parker Meridian Hotel.
127 West 56th Street – Topaz Thai

The bargain prices during lunch are the biggest draw at Topaz for the hoards of New Yorkers who work in the area.  Quality food and nicer than average (though small and always crowded) Thai restaurant décor make Topaz a solid choice even for a sit down dinner.


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150 West 56th Street – Dean and Deluca

This Dean and Deluca café outpost is the perfect place to stop for one of their gourmet coffees and espressos or baked treats.  Expect better quality and higher prices than Starbucks.
Dean & Deluca Cafe on Urbanspoon

An empty Blue Dog Cafe


155 West 56th Street – Blue Dog Café

For a slightly different kind of café, stop by the Blue Dog.  Fresh fruit and vegetable juices along with healthier, lighter choices make Blue Dog a first choice for many who live and work in the area and those visiting alike.  Try an item from Blue Dog’s coffee or tea selection for a great alternative to Starbucks and a wallet friendlier option than Dean and Deluca.
Blue Dog Cafe on Urbanspoon

156 West 56th Street – Carnegie Club

The Carnegie Club – Photo courtesy of Planetzman.com

The Carnegie Club offers a taste of New York past, complete with an indoor smoking license making it the perfect place to light up one of your favorite stogies. The beautiful (though worn) space makes it easy to forget that your Blackberry was even invented yet.  For the cigar aficionado on a budget, bring your own stick for a minimal fee that can be used towards a cigar to go.  *Come on the weekend for a Sinatra performance you won’t soon forget!
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162 West 56th Street – Teleon Café

One of two locations, this Teleon Café is a lunchtime and breakfast standby for those who commute to midtown for work.  With a selection ranging from soups and sandwiches to a salad bar and pizza station, Teleon has something to suit every mood.  Although it seems that the Teleon Café has nothing different to offer than any other deli stop in the area, regulars say that it’s too convenient not to stop in.

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Jamba Juice on Urbanspoon

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A lovely luncheon – Review Corner Shop Café

BY STEPHANIE HARRISON

Corner Shop Café 643 Broadway (corner of Bleecker St.)
SohoGreenwich Village
212-253-7467 /
cornershopcafe.com

CornerShop

This pocket sized, newly opened café feels as if you were making yourself a nice lunch at home. The menu offers comfort food with an upgraded twist. The décor was warm and the windows allowed just the perfect amount of light to enter to brighten up the wooden tables and chairs. The waiter assigned to my table, Matthew, accompanied me as I waited for my guest to arrive – such great manners, and friendly demeanor. Most of the seating in the café is for two, but rest assured, you can bring a few more to stop in and enjoy the cozy atmosphere among the busy street of Broadway.

When you’re lazy and want to make something to eat, most people’s go-to is mac and cheese. When you’re out and you want something familiar, yet is still restaurant-approved standards, mac and cheese is the surefire choice. Of all the appetizers to choose from, Truffled Mac N Cheese – three cheeses, shiitake mushrooms, and fresh peas – stood out the most. The small is enough to share for two, even if your stomach is growling.

Truffled MacNCheese at

Truffled Mac N Cheese at Corner Shop Cafe

You get the same feeling of comfort as the kind you can make on your own stove, but with the truffles added, and the three cheese compared to one, nicely compacted in a glass bowl, it just tastes so much more delicious. Just as smooth, warm, and with a small crunch of fresh peas.

Main course consisted of PB & Banana Grilled Sandwich and Yellowfin Tuna Burger. I know what most people are thinking, you can’t go from the most comforting of foods like mac n cheese and peanut butter and banana to yellowfin tuna, but yes, you can. The PB & Banana Grilled Sandwich was ordinary and could be chosen as a more filling dessert because of its sugary sweetness. Made with honey, walnut cranberry raisin bread dipped in French toast batter served with minted berries, this $9 meal is well worth it. If you dare to up the ante, request for a maple syrup on the side.

PB & Banana Grilled Sandwich at Corner Shop Cafe'

PB & Banana Grilled Sandwich at Corner Shop Cafe'

Sharing half a sandwich means you have to share half your burger. The Yellowfin Tuna Burger – cilantro, onions, peppers, sesame oil, served with fries (spicy, provencal, or plain) – was not like what I expected. The soft texture, crumbled pieces of yellowfin tuna and peppers and onions made this seem more like finger food than a full burger. The fries were accompanied with mayonnaise, which can also be used to add a little kick to the tuna burger. I definitely recommend this compilation of entrees – a mix of sweet, spicy, cheesy, and complete satisfaction.


The next time you’re shopping on Broadway and you’re looking for a place to take a break and put down your bags, consider Corner Shop Café for a homey, yet modern meal in a trendy, comfortable setting. Ask for Matthew if you want a change of pace from the frantic shopping and you want a nice and friendly server to wait on your every need.

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Oh Mama!…A Dominican feast for one and for all- Review of MamaJuana Cafe

BY CLAIRE McCURDY

247 Dyckman St (between Seaman Ave & Payson Ave)
Neighborhoods: Inwood, Washington Heights
(212) 304-1217 / mamajuanacafenyc.com/

New York, NY | Coral Gables, FL | Santo Domingo, DR.

Interior of MamaJuana, Inwood, NYC

Interior of MamaJuana, Inwood, NYC

MamaJuana Cafe

I decided to take my Swedish anthropologist friends to a new restaurant in my own neighborhood, Inwood, in northern Manhattan. – Mamajuana, a Dominican buffet style place has a very good local reputation.  This second time was the charm.  The conversation sparkled and so did the mimosas!

The name MamaJuana comes from a potent Dominican cocktail, of wood shavings and roots steeped in alcohol and honey.  Mamajuana, especially noted as an aphrodisiac, is reputed to cure everything from a toothache to a backache.   Not really a breakfast drink, so sadly we did not get a chance to savor this interesting brew. But the all you can drink mimosas were a pretty good substitute.

I was much struck by MamaJuana’s decorative properties (the bottled brew, not the restaurant).  The restaurant’s Spanish style décor, all twisted wrought iron and dark wood, was set off by bottles of the roots, and by Christmas globes and tinsel.   Not your typical decorator motif..  It’s doubtless unique, at least for the New York City location- (the other MamaJuanas are in Florida and in the DR itself.)  The effect is both festive and mysterious.

It’s a good thing I made reservations. We got there at noon sharp on a Sunday and had our pick of tables; by 1:00 the place was packed out.  Enticing aromas assailed us as we made our way to the table.  And the price was right too.  The buffet was approx. $18.00, all you can eat, complementing the all you can drink mimosas.

Although for a long while we were the only Anglos in the place, which sometimes makes for linguistic confusion, the service was fast, competent and friendly.  Excellent coffee and the mimosas just kept on coming.

The buffet featured a combination of Latino specialties such as rice and black beans and deep fried platanos and steak, and basic American breakfast fare such as French toast and bacon.  And crossover stuff like home fries. To be followed by green salad. And fruit salad or fresh grapes or muffins or brownies for dessert. This was not a low cholesterol spot, but both the chic and emaciated and the hearty eater could put together a very good meal.

We were happy diners, pleased to be having a fine Sunday brunch, satisfied with our food, and with good value for our money.

In short,   we had a wonderful time! Mamajuana was a smash!

Go, and get the brunch!

As we left, a young blonde couple asked us if we could direct them to Papasito’s.  We said, no, but try Mamajuana and the  $18.00 pris fixe.  They yelled “yeah!” and disappeared promptly inside.

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A dose of kicked-up comfort food: A Review of Prune

BY BETH KAISERMAN

Prune
54 E. 1
st St.
East Village
(212) 677-6221/
prunerestaurant.com

After hearing about the epic crowds that assemble for brunch at Prune and drooling over its menu while planning a dinner there, I headed to the East Village to feast on something edgy and inspiring.

Scottish salmon

Scottish salmon

Prune’s menu was completely different from what I had read on New York Magazine’s Web site, but it had the same interesting vibe that drew me in. I chose the Scottish salmon with creamy lemon rice, scallions and peas. It was a light and lovely lunch; the salmon was like a pillow with just the right touch of firmness. It was plated skin-side up, which I haven’t seen before; normally the pink flesh is what restaurants like to showcase. It was well-seasoned with visible flecks of pepper, but the salmon flavor shined through. With skin so delicious and crispy, I didn’t mind that being the first part I saw.

Zucchini with

Zucchini with chili flakes

I also ordered the disappointing fried zucchini with chili flakes, which was soaked in oil, garlic slices and mint (though it tasted like basil to me.) It was flash-fried, not deep-fried in batter like at an Italian restaurant. When it came out with the salmon, it was at room temperature but still edible, so I went for it. The flavors were too overpowering with the salmon though, so I mostly focused on the entrée. I told the waitress it should’ve been hotter, and she was nice enough to take it off of the bill.

Prune is small and simple; it has a tiny bar with only four seats, and you can see the kitchen from the dining area. It’s obvious why you have to arrive super early for brunch. Prune would be a great place for sharing a bunch of dishes, and I definitely want to check out their brunch soon.

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Decadent Brunch in a Noir Style Setting – Review of The Breslin Bar & Dining Room

BY BETH KAISERMAN

The Breslin Bar and Dining Room
16 W. 29th St.
Flatiron District
(212) 679-1939/thebreslin.com

Walking into the Ace Hotel made me wish I was having a shady 1940s crime drama-style rendezvous. At least part of that desire was fulfilled by having breakfast in the 1940s-esque atmosphere of The Breslin Bar and Dining Room in the hotel.

The owners of British gastropub, Spotted Pig, Ken Friedman and chef April Bloomfield teamed up again, to open the Breslin in October of ‘09.

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes at Breslin

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes at Breslin

When I tried to call ahead July 4 for brunch, the host informed me that they didn’t accept reservations, but said there was plenty of room. When we got there, the wait was only 10 minutes, and the host said we could start with a drink or coffee at the bar and bring it to the table. About 7 minutes in, my coffee arrived as we were told the table was ready. It was a bit difficult and awkward carrying a full cup of coffee to the table. Also, she failed to mention that we had to pay for the drinks separately at the bar. If staff members had been better coordinated, this would have been a good way to deal way to have guests deal with the wait, but as it played out, it was  confusing and somewhat frustrating from the guests’ side of things. [Read more...]

Decadent Brunch in a Noir Style Setting – Review of The Breslin Bar & Dining Room

BY BETH KAISERMAN

The Breslin Bar and Dining Room
16 W. 29th St.
Flatiron District
(212) 679-1939/thebreslin.com

Walking into the Ace Hotel made me wish I was having a shady 1940s crime drama-style rendezvous. At least part of that desire was fulfilled by having breakfast in the 1940s-esque atmosphere of The Breslin Bar and Dining Room in the hotel.

The owners of British gastropub, Spotted Pig, Ken Friedman and chef April Bloomfield teamed up again, to open the Breslin in October of ‘09.

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes at Breslin

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes at Breslin

When I tried to call ahead July 4 for brunch, the host informed me that they didn’t accept reservations, but said there was plenty of room. When we got there, the wait was only 10 minutes, and the host said we could start with a drink or coffee at the bar and bring it to the table. About 7 minutes in, my coffee arrived as we were told the table was ready. It was a bit difficult and awkward carrying a full cup of coffee to the table. Also, she failed to mention that we had to pay for the drinks separately at the bar. If staff members had been better coordinated, this would have been a good way to deal way to have guests deal with the wait, but as it played out, it was  confusing and somewhat frustrating from the guests’ side of things. [Read more...]