Wildair is always a great place for natural wine discovery. The last time I was here I became absolutely obsessed with a mineraly rose called Christian Venier Gris Gourlaouen, and I would buy a bottle of it any chance I could get at Discovery Wines in the East Village. That was several years ago, and on a recent visit, I similarly went nuts for an amazing, jammy red Txaranga from a Spanish vineyard called Vinya Ferrer. Unfortunately this bottle is hard to find and only seems to be available at Dandelion Wine in Greenpoint.Read More
The newly opened Public Hotel in the LES is an interesting addition to an area that hasn’t completely shaken off its gritty past. It’s essentially a lifestyle hotel for the sexy, jetsetting traveler with exquisite tastes who wants more than just a comfortable bedroom. She can shop for interesting brands at a well-curated retail store in the lobby, grab organic food at the casual eatery, network with like-minded Millennials in the lobby bar or party it up on the rooftop.Read More
Australians always seem to be having fun. Maybe it’s the accent and the sunny beaches back home, but they seem like a positive, upbeat people, and I like being around that energy. Which explains why I was drawn to Dudley’s, an Australian American cafe in the LES that was packed for brunch. I had initially planned on having a virtuous acai bowl at the new Dimes, but along the way, I saw all these fantastic breakie plates and bloody marys at Dudley’s, and I immediately changed my mind. After a 45 minute wait, the three of us were seated inside.
Dudley’s is perfect for brunch because it’s fun and young, and the food is actually very solid. Like any proper Australian cafe, Dudley’s serves a mean avocado toast, and it definitely appeared to be the dish of choice. The toast is thick and wholesome, filled with seeds and grains in every fiber, and it’s topped with generous slices of creamy avocado, as well as an optional fried egg, which isn’t really optional, you kind of have to get it.
If you want something other than breakfast food, then try the famous Bronte burger. I’m not quite sure what makes it famous, but I’m pretty sure it’s the sweet chili sauce and mayo inside. And be sure to order a side of fries, which are amazing–thin, crispy shoestrings that are the bee’s knees. You might also try the chicken schnitzel salad for something completely different. The schnitzel meat inside is tender and the panko crust is crispy without being greasy. If you’ve ever had the coconut chicken fingers at Dishes, which if you have, then you probably love, then you’ll be on cloud nine eating essentially a big plate of this.
I’ve had a pretty good run with the Australians–Two Hands, Toby’s Estate, Flinders Lane, and now Dudley’s. You don’t really hear much about Australian cuisine, but its influence can be quietly felt in this city. All those pretty cafes that serve flat whites and avocado toasts and great salads? Nope, not California, as I assumed, but probably Australian. I wouldn’t mind if Aussie cuisine became a bigger thing, especially if it means more good-looking, rugged Australian men serving me coffee and eggs with a smile…
85 Orchard St (between Broome and Grand St)
New York, NY 10002
It’s been a crazy winter in New York. We’re already into March, yet the snow continues to fall and the temperatures continue to drop. I’m so over the slush and snow, and I can feel the mutual pent up frustration of others around me.
Which is why I love hanging out at El Rey Coffee Bar & Luncheonette, because for a moment I can trade in the weather-induced anxiety for some laid-back California calm. Everyone here is very friendly, which is impressive, as the tiny cafe usually gets packed, but instead of losing their cool, the staff cheerfully tells you that things will be ok. If space permits, you can find seats in the very back by the small but functional kitchen, where you can watch Chef Gerardo Gonzalez create his wholesome, vegetable-driven small plates. Not surprisingly, he’s also a very nice guy who’s happy to tell you what’s in his green mole sauce (answer: everything under the sun that’s green) or to give you wine pairing recommendations (the sparkly Macabeo white was a good call).
What brings me back to El Rey repeatedly is the kale salad. With so much kale all over the place, I’m sure the trend for this superfood is probably on the outs, but El Rey’s version is a classic that should persevere when the fad fades. Almond is the key ingredient here that helps to differentiate the kale salad. Many places rely on heavy shavings of parmesan cheese to add depth to kale, but El Rey uses almond shavings instead. It’s an ingenious way of adding some weight to your leafy greens in a more healthful way. The vinaigrette dressing is a great blend of tangy, sour and sweet, adding a nice spring to your salad step. In the am you have the option of adding pickled or poached eggs–I would highly recommend the pickled eggs, if only for their bright pink color.
Any coffee bar worth its weight should have a selection of tantalizing baked goods, and El Rey doesn’t disappoint. I tried slices of the sesame banana and the sweet potato bread, both very good, but the sweet potato was divine. It was extremely moist with the right amount of sweet, and with the candied nuts on top, you almost felt like you were eating a slice of pecan pie.
With such a great breakfast and lunch menu, I returned to try out the dinner service, which was introduced just a few weeks ago. The coffee bar is less packed in the evening, as I’m sure not that many people know about the full dinner menu, and also most would prefer a guaranteed seat rather than risking the wait for one of the very few bar stools (I would guess there are roughly 15 spots).
With dinner, El Rey assumes more of a Baja California vibe. While Latin music plays in the background, Gonzalez starts cranking out funky tapas with flavors that are a little more spirited and in-your-face, and the heat factor really gets turned up. As an example, the sweet and sour papas bravas at first seemed deceptively mild, and the potatoes appeared to be coated in a harmless ketchup-like BBQ sauce. But then gradually the heat built, and I was taken by surprise by the tingling, fiery sensations coating my mouth.
Similarly, the chorizo was heavily spiced, absent the burning heat. I’m not totally sure what was in the marinade, but I could taste something like cumin and vinegar packed into every part of the chorizo sausage. If you ate the meat by itself, it would have been like eating a slice of pepperoni, which would be intense. Luckily the sweet roasted garlic cloves and the hazelnuts provided balance, as did the focaccia bread, although you could never quite shake off the presence of the marinade.
I preferred when the flavors were scaled back a little bit, more in tune with the tone set at breakfast and lunch. The sardines on tostada were fantastic–it featured such great textures and a good balance of flavors that were overall refreshing, never veering into salty, fishy territory as sardines tend to do, and not falling back on tons of rich aioli or a heavy poblano to cover things up.
The green mole burrata similarly impressed me with a complexity that still felt bright and clear. You could taste so many of the different herbs that had gone into the mole sauce, yet the multitude of ingredients served to enhance the mild burrata rather than overwhelming it.
The shaved cauliflower was probably the lightest and most wholesome small plate of the night, but that didn’t mean it was boring. The thin slices of raw cauliflower were coated in a bright vinaigrette, which again exhibited the distinctive qualities of sweet, sour and tangy. Cauliflower’s cruciferous qualities naturally provided the dish with a lot of fibrous bulk, but the poached egg softened the edges so that things didn’t feel too raw and crudite-like, and it felt like a proper appetizer.
After dinner is over, I would suggest that you take a short walk to Morgenstern’s, an ice cream shop whose owner is a partner at El Rey Coffee Bar. Even though it’s freezing out, the ice cream here is so good that it’s worth the trip. The raw milk in particular is outstanding–I’ve never had a vanilla flavor feel so creamy, rich and genuinely pure. They also offer ice cream breakfasts, which is an intriguing thought, and whether you take them up on it or not, a meal at El Rey or Morgenstern’s is always worth the gamble.
El Rey Coffee Bar & Luncheonette
100 Stanton St (between Orchard and Ludlow St)
New York, NY 10002
Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream
2 Rivington St (between Bowery and Chrystie St)
New York, NY 10002
Here’s something you don’t see everyday–a restaurant specializing in Balkan food, a “cuisine of the long lost empires!” The only Balkan I know is the Balkan crisis, and that certainly doesn’t have any positive associations with it. The long lost empires tagline didn’t help either. Is this stuff that aristocrats like Anna Karenina would have eaten? Which would be…again, I don’t know. Caviar and vodka? All I know is that she killed herself–clearly the food wasn’t worth living for.
When the server at Saro Bistro in the Lower East Side described the food here as such, I was a little apprehensive. The word Balkan as I indicated isn’t exactly a warm and fuzzy one. I was expecting some very bare bones meat-and-potatoes type dishes to come my way, but the mood and atmosphere of Saro Bistro indicated otherwise, which put me at a little more ease. How could such a charming and whimsical place with pretty walls and lights serve anything dark and sad? This is a place where Eastern European hipsters brunch, you can’t please this clientele with cabbage and boiled meat. Again, I have had no exposure to Balkan cuisine, but cabbage and boiled meat is kind of what I imagined it to be.
Luckily the food did live up to its surroundings. I wasn’t totally wrong about the meat and potatoes theme here. The dishes are definitely hearty and homey in nature–there’s even a humble “peasant breakfast” option on the menu–but Saro provides some modern updates to the traditional cuisine so that everything is bright and balanced.
Brunch started off with a plate of Saro’s doughnuts–nice, small sugary bites that prepared the palate for the savory dishes that would follow.
How could you not order something Balkan at a Balkan restaurant? To check the box on this, we ordered the prebranac, a traditional and unique dish that serves two eggs on top of baked beans and sausage. A hash of legumes and meat initially sounds dense and a bit overbearing, but the lemon zest and parsley helped to lighten the flavors. There’s nothing more satisfying than swirling around soft ribbons of egg yolk into a chunky terrain of seasoned pork and chubby beans, and it’s even better when you sop everything up with some bread. My first foray into Balkan cuisine was a success.
We also ordered the saro’s crab cakes benedict, which obviously isn’t the most traditional dish, but it came highly recommended by the server. The crab cakes were well seasoned, and the ratio of meat to bread crumbs was just right. I liked how the hollandaise was a little smokey, which was an interesting take on the normally tangy and lemony sauce, and which lent the crab cakes with extra flavor.
As opposed to using English muffins, Saro serves the poached eggs on top of lepinja, a homemade Yugoslavian flatbread that looks like a baguette but with a much softer crust. I actually thought the dish needed a stiffer bread to absorb all the moisture from the cream and egg yolk, because the lepinja disintegrated into a sad, soggy state. Taking a fresh piece of lepinja from the bread bowl and dipping it into the sauce yielded much more successful results.
Much like its homeland, Saro Bistro is a bit out of the way in the Lower East Side, residing on a section of Norfolk St that gets little foot traffic. The location is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a bit of a trek to get out there, but that also weeds out a lot of brunch competition, so it’s possible to get a table as a walk-in during early brunch service. But the trip is worth it–Balkan cuisine is a very under-the-radar category that should get more recognition. The Michelin Guide certainly agrees and included Saro Bistro in its guide of recommended restaurants. Now it’s up to others to catch on.
102 Norfolk Street
New York, NY 10002