Is it too early in the week to start thinking about Sunday brunch?
I sure hope not; I’ve had the Vanderbilt‘s on the brain since my meal there last weekend.
Two weeks ago, my friend and I stopped into this newish restaurant (a collaboration between the chef/owner of Saul, a Brooklyn-restaurant pioneer, and the co-owner of Num Pang, one of my go-to sandwich spots) for an impromptu Monday-night meal; we sat at the bar, ordered a few small plates and glasses of wine, and promptly fell in love with both the gorgeous food and delicious space.
In passing, the bartender mentioned that brunch service would be starting the following weekend, and, as such, the staff had been lucky enough to sample the new menu; he name-checked some of his favorite items and slid the full menu over so we could take a look. Given the quality of the small sampling we’d tasted that evening, a repeat visit was in the cards anyway (I was already planning what I’d order), but when he started describing the bloody mary, it was inevitable that we’d return for brunch.
A simple phrase sealed the deal: homemade scotch-bonnet pepper sauce. I’m enamored of the stuff, as y’all well know; add a pickled veggie or two to the mix, and I’ll be yours forever. Luckily, during our second visit, we found that the drink lived up to its promise: thick with horseradish and spiked with that slow-burning pepper sauce, at $7 per pint, it was also a great value.
As we looked over the menu, we couldn’t help but notice a bowl of beignets making its way to our neighbors a couple of seats down; we placed an order for our own immediately, not knowing or caring, at that particular moment, what the rest of our meal would entail. It would prove to be a prescient decision, one of those rare impulse purchases that you don’t second-guess in hindsight: Delivered hot out of the fryer and doused with powdered sugar, these little squares of doughy goodness were worth every single calorie and every bit of messiness.
As much as one would like to try, woman can’t live on fried dough, coffee, and bloody marys alone; though we were unable pick just one entrée each, we narrowed it down to two to share. First up, the bacon and caramelized-onion tart: a slender swath of pastry cradling sweet onions and salty bacon, the ideal bed for two tiny quail eggs and a petite-herb salad. The flavors were perfect, the textures, too, but the portion size was modest; if you need a serious breakfast, this probably isn’t the right thing for you…
…unless you balance that light dish with one of heftier proportions. Our second pick was the smoked-trout crêpe, its delicate casing and garnish of fresh dill sprigs belying the richer notes of creamy hollandaise-esque sauce and buttery leek-and-fish filling. Although the plate was strewn with roe – an unheralded player – I found that the flavor of the fish got lost in the mix; I would’ve welcomed a bit more trout, but that’s splitting hairs, really. We scraped this plate clean.
After some debate, we ordered one more round of drinks and yet another snack to keep our beverages company. When you think “brunch,” brussels sprouts might not be the first thing to come to mind, but don’t let that stop you: This mix of crisp-charred leaves and soft little nuggets, dressed with a sweet-sour-spicy mix of honey, lime, and Sriracha and a handful of sesame seeds, would be appropriate any time of day.
Despite the sunlight streaming in through the front windows, visual proof of the first nearly springlike day on record for 2010, we still weren’t quite ready to tear ourselves away from our perch at the bar. Could we manage another bite to eat? No? Maybe one more drink? No? …Sigh.
Finally, common sense prevailed: There would be no more ordering that day. I had errands to run, bookstore shelves to browse, (even more) caffeine to consume, but a tiny piece of my heart lagged behind on Vanderbilt Avenue, waiting to be reclaimed when I return. If I have my way, that’ll happen sooner rather than later.