A Public Brunch in Nolita

Public made a big splash when it first opened for its interesting Aussie New Zealand fusion cuisine and for a beautifully designed space that won the admiration of many design geeks. I remember loving the brunch back in 2009, but I haven’t been back since, as it was a little bit out of the way from my former UES residence to make it a regular neighborhood spot.

A few weeks ago, near the Elizabeth Street Garden, I heard live music playing, which I assumed was coming from the garden. As I followed the sound, I learned that it was actually coming from a wedding that was being held at Public. I guess over the years they repurposed part of the main dining room into an event space, which is totally fine, although I found it odd that the wedding was being held at normal hours. Semiformal meets Sunday casual, very interesting. With that, Public reentered my consciousness, and I decided to see how brunch had changed over the years.

kimchi waffles with roasted pork shoulder, asian salad and pickled chilies. and of course an egg on top!
kimchi waffles with roasted pork shoulder, asian salad and pickled chilies. and of course an egg on top!
togarashi spiced avocado on toast with maryland crab, pickled chilies and cilantro
togarashi spiced avocado on toast with maryland crab, pickled chilies and cilantro
turkish eggs - two poached eggs on greek yogurt with kirmizi biber butter
turkish eggs – two poached eggs on greek yogurt with kirmizi biber butter

The brunch menu has been tweaked somewhat to accommodate recent food trends like quinoa and avocado toast, and Asian seems to be an even bigger influence than in the past. I never expected to see kimchi, togarashi and yuzu all on the same menu. The French toast that I loved seems to have been retired, which was disappointing, but I got over it. I”m more of a savory brunch eater anyways.

I do think Public has aged pretty well and the brunch is still very solid, even with all the changes that took place. The kimchi waffles, which I was very skeptical of, was a big crowd pleaser, and something I would return for. I remember liking the Turkish eggs back in the day, but this second encounter was not as favorable. The soft boiled eggs and unsweetened thick yogurt was too plain and dense, I felt like I was eating gobs of unflavored 100% Fage straight from the package. But overall the brunch was adventurous and on trend, and it’s hard to beat a table in a pretty part of Nolita that’s not impossible to get. A good meal here is truly available to the public.


Public
210 Elizabeth St (between Prince and Spring St)
New York, NY  10012
212-343-7011

Ruby’s Cafe, Aussie Brunch

The Aussies are very much the cool kids at the brunch table. Something about the accent and that boisterous physique drive women crazy, and they’re all pulling up a chair to be around these rugby-looking players who know how to make a mean avocado toast and drip coffee. If you’ve ever been to Two Hands in Nolita, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Ruby’s Cafe in Nolita is a little more too-cool for school than a Two Hands or even its sister restaurant Dudley’s, a restaurant I had written about earlier where I had first seen this Aussie phenomenon take place. The crowd here is a little less rugby and more Acne or Alexander Wang in aesthetic. Think guys wearing cutoffs and girls wearing minimalist jersey dresses with canvas shoes. Large monograms and loud labels need not apply.

the bronte burger, picture courtesy of rubyscafe.com
the bronte burger, picture courtesy of rubyscafe.com

Clearly a large segment of the clientele is the health and wellness crowd, and the brunch menu does have your requisite avocado toast and kale caesar salad. But luckily it acknowledges the closeted fat kids who just want a big, juicy burger in a good setting, specifically the Bronte burger. Something about the name Bronte sounds really beefy and robust, and the terrific meat patty lives up to those expectations. It comes with a side of fries or a salad, but really, don’t be annoying, just order those crispy, golden fries, and you won’t be sorry that you did.

green scrambled eggs
green eggs

If going full Bronte is a little too much for you, you can try the green eggs, a bowl of scrambled eggs, spinach, kale, avocado and salsa verde. It sounds like a pretty self righteous brunch item, and it also tastes that way. The leafy greens are front and center, and you can really taste the textures and the slightly bitter undertones of all that roughage. I personally liked how real and earthy these eggs tasted, but if you’re looking for something a little more Grand Slam a la Denny’s, then this isn’t the right egg dish for you. And not to worry, there are plenty of options like that on the menu. Ruby’s may be a little bit of a scene, but like the movie, everyone belongs to this breakfast club.


Ruby’s Cafe
219 Mulberry St (between Spring and Prince St)
New York, NY 10012
(212) 925-5755

Fish Local at Seamore’s

at seamore's
at seamore’s

Seamore’s, the new seafood spot in Nolita, looks and smells like a hit. The atmosphere is everything you could possibly want from a restaurant–beachy and airy, where it feels like summer everyday. It’s like the Surf Lodge in the front, and Tacombi in the back, with Bob Marley playing in the background. Who needs the Hamptons when you’ve got all this at your doorstep?

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the locally sourced menu

The menu at Seamore’s features fish sourced locally from Montauk fisheries Dock to Dish and Sea to Table. Owner Michael Chernow is trying to promote more sustainable fishing practices that catch what is seasonal and available, as opposed to what is popular, which is why you’ll find less common Atlantic varieties such as porgy, bluefish and skate as opposed to the overfished tuna and salmon. Because some of the fish might be unfamiliar to diners, Seamore’s has a huge wall with pictures and descriptions of each type of fish that serves as a useful guide, with red spoons hanging next to the local catch of the day.

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some daytime cerveza
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oh-boy fish sandwich

The Oh-Boy fish sandwich is the one catch that you should reel in at Seamore’s. It’s an unconventional approach using fried skate rather than cod or haddock for the fish filet, but it’s definitely a smart one. The skate meat is less dense, which makes for a filet that’s lighter on its feet. But what really makes the sandwich is the special sauce, a tomato spread with some horseradish like heat that gives it an irresistible flair. No fried fish is complete without french fries, and the side of sweet potato fries was the perfect companion. Crispy without being greasy, and fresh and fluffy inside, the fries definitely went fast.

yellowtail poke
yellowtail poke

We also tried the poke, and again, Seamore’s took a different approach by using yellowtail tuna rather than a traditional red tuna. The end result was an interesting one, producing a poke that had a more muted and almost earthier flavor than the sharper, crisper flavors of the Hawaiian variety. The marinade, with its lime and coconut flakes and red cabbage, was clearly prepared in a way to make the dish seem brighter, but ultimately I don’t think yellowtail was the right fish to use, and no amount of marinade or seasoning could really get around that. But again, I respect the focus on cooking around what’s local rather than what’s popular.

seared fluke tacos
seared fluke tacos

The only real misstep was the seared fluke fish taco, and the shortcomings had more to do with the tortilla and the fillings, and not so much the fish. The tortilla was horrible and clearly store bought, stale and chewy, much like the Whole Foods tortillas that I still have in my refrigerator from a month ago. The flavors were very clean but they didn’t have much chemistry. There needed to be a more cohesive, heartier element to bring it all together, which the avocados and beans were intended to do, but unfortunately, they didn’t do much.

I would absolutely come back to this lovely space, where life’s a beach everyday. The catch of the day might be different from what you’d expect, but what’s a vacation without a little adventure?


Seamore’s
390 Broome St
New York, NY 10013
(212) 730-6005

 

Seamore’s

Brunch with a Scene at Cafe Habana and Cafe Select

With its fun, Caribbean vibe, Cafe Habana in Nolita is a popular place for brunch. You feel like you’re in a retro Cuban diner, similar to the one featured in Sugar Ray’s “Someday” video, and like the video, you’re also surrounded by a lot of beautiful people, many of them European.

grilled mexican corn
grilled mexican corn
cuban sandwich with roasted pork, ham, swiss cheese, chipotle mayo and pickle
cuban sandwich with roasted pork, ham, swiss cheese, chipotle mayo and pickle
huevos rancheros
huevos rancheros

At every table, you’ll see a plate of grilled Mexican corn on the cob, slathered in mayo, cheese and chili powder, and for good reason. It’s one of the strongest items on Cafe Habana’s menu. Another standout is the Cuban sandwich, which features juicy slabs of pork and ham on top of melted cheese, nestled in toasted bread. This sandwich makes you glad that relations are easing between the US and Cuba, and that this detente might facilitate more tasty food imports. One item I don’t recommend is the huevos rancheros, which was a hot soupy mess. Do like the beautiful people do, and stick to the corn and Cuban. I’m not sure how they keep their figures, but maybe fat is the key to slim.

Another place the beautiful people go is Cafe Select in Soho. Whenever I pass by this restaurant on a weekday, there always seem to be models and fashion industry types hanging out. You never hear about people going to Cafe Select for brunch or dinner, ever, so I wondered what it was about the restaurant that drew all the models there. My guess was that it probably wasn’t the food. And maybe that’s why they all stayed so skinny.

2 eggs any style over rosti (Swiss hash browns)
2 eggs any style over rosti (Swiss hash browns)

With my low expectations, I went for brunch, and it wasn’t that bad. It was very cute inside, especially with the whole Swiss-Euro vibe it had going for it, so perhaps that was part of the appeal. We tried the 2 eggs any style over rosti, which are Swiss-style hash browns. Rosti are very similar to American hash browns, except that they are much larger in size. The hash browns were nice and crisp, and paired very well with the eggs, making this a very solid brunch dish.

pea soup with croutons
pea soup with croutons

We also had the soup of the day, which was a pea soup. Perhaps the puree could have been thicker, and I wish I could have tasted more of the sweet nuttiness of the peas rather than the flavoring from boullion cubes, but it was a pretty decent bowl of soup. The quinoa salad was very light and refreshing, and probably worked better as an appetizer or a side dish, rather than as an entree.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by how the food wasn’t so mediocre. I would definitely come here again if I needed to eat brunch in the area and I didn’t want to deal with a 2 hour wait at Jack’s Wife Freda or Egg Shop. And in case you were wondering, there are less models on the weekends, and more girls with Celine and Chanel bags. Either way, your rosti will come with a side of good people watching.


Cafe Habana
17 Prince St (between Mott and Elizabeth)
New York, NY 10012
(212) 625-2001

Cafe Select
212 Lafayette St (between Crosby and Lafayette)
New York, NY 10012
(212) 925-9322

 

Ramen Lab’s Master Class Noodles

…and yet ANOTHER new ramen shop debuted in the city. It’s like for every yogurt shop that goes out of business, a ramen shop takes its place. The newest kid on the block, Ramen Lab, is not just some clueless ingenue trying her hand at the ramen craze. It’s run by Sun Noodle, which supplies custom made ramen noodles to Momofuku, Ivan Orkin and all of the city’s heavy hitters, with chef Jack Nakamura at the helm, who is known as one of the “gods of Ramen” in Japan. With credentials like these, Ramen Lab is a legitimate shop that deserves a visit.

Clearly a lot of other people think so, because I had to wait outside on a winter night for about 45 minutes for one of the 10 spots around the counter. There’s no sign up sheet or a person quoting how long the wait will be. You just wait until someone leaves. Once a spot opens up, you make your way inside and stand, not sit, around the counter. There are two ramens to choose from–the torigara shoyu ramen and the XO miso vegetarian ramen.

ramen lab - orion beer
a beer feels nice after waiting in the cold

There’s a reason why they call this a ramen lab. The chefs are more like mad scientists with a few tricks up their sleeve. The most unusual one was when Nakamura was cooking the noodles, he would take the strainer and suddenly lurch forward, as if he were about to pitch the noodles into the wall, and then stopped abruptly. This epileptic fit was quite fascinating, although I’m not quite sure how this impacted the noodles at all. During the day, the restaurant converts into an actual lab of sorts, offering educational seminars and courses on ramen making.

ramen lab - kitchen unfiltered
mad scientists in the ramen lab

The torigara shoyu ramen was much more traditional. It featured a very clean broth made of chicken, a departure from the intense tonkotsu pork broths that the city seems to be obsessed with. Delicate, thinner noodles were used, since the broth was simple enough to let the slight, starchy glutens of the noodle come through. The ingredients were there to provide little accents of texture and flavors, but not so much to throw the delicate nature of the shoyu off balance. I guess I am so used to tonkotsu broths that I was surprised by the basic nature of this shoyu, but I liked how drinkable the broth was, unburdened by all that cloudy pork fat. A bowl of ramen seasoned well and reasonably with impeccable noodles is something I can get onboard with.

ramen lab - shoyu ramen with egg
torigara shoyu ramen with eggs on the side

The XO miso was on the opposite end of the spectrum. The miso broth was intensely rich and earthy and almost buttery, and as such, thicker, springier noodles were used so that they wouldn’t recede beneath the heavy miso veil. I thought this bowl played extremely well to the senses. The noodles were perfectly chewy, the stir-fried bean sprouts and chives provided some nice texture, the XO sauce added just a hint of heat and brine without being too funky, and the miso felt very smooth. Add the silky, luscious yolk from the eggs to optimize the experience. This vegetarian bowl is no leafy green milquetoast, it has a lot more depth and heft to it than a lot of meat-based ramen bowls out there.

ramen lab - xo miso ramen
xo miso ramen

I would come back here for the shoyu ramen because I like my ramens a little more basic, and I like to slurp the broth at the end without feeling like clouds of liquid fat are weighing me down. The miso ramen was very unique and good in its own way, but that dense broth certainly was not drinkable. If you’re expecting an Ippudo like flavorful tonkotsu broth, then you might come away disappointed by the shoyu here, but it seems like simplicity and subtlety are the ways to go. They don’t call Nakamura the ramen god for nothing, and his group of disciples are growing by the minute.


Ramen Lab
70 Kenmare Street (between Mulberry and Mott)
New York, NY 10012
(646) 613-7522
CASH ONLY

Ramen Lab