It’s crazy to think that a meal at Masa in NYC, which costs ~$595 a person pretax, is comparable to the cost of a round-trip ticket to Europe somewhere. I’m not quite convinced that one meal, no matter how good, would ever be equivalent to a transcontinental getaway. Those of us priced out of Masa will never find out if the food there is worth an arm and a leg, but what we can do is go to its more accessible sister restaurant Tetsu, a Japanese robata newly opened in Tribeca, where dishes are comfortably priced in the single or double digit range.Read More
Planning brunch is a struggle. The criteria is always the same–somewhere cute, with good food, preferably with some healthyish options like avocado toast, not too crowded, no waiting and preferably downtown. It’s nearly impossible to coordinate a brunch that checks the box on all of these things, because everyone wants the same thing. Friends try to be helpful by recommending Egg Shop or Prune or Bubby’s, which really isn’t because these places are always packed and don’t take reservations.
So really your best option is to arrive on the early side as in before 11:30 am and cut your wait time by half. This is what we did when we planned for brunch at the new Two Hands restaurant in Tribeca. Two Hands is an enormously popular cafe in Nolita that somehow manages to be a recruiting center for the hot Aussies in New York. They’ve opened another bigger location that is now a proper restaurant, and it’s just as packed and just as Aussie as ever. We waited for 30 minutes for a table of three, something that comes with the territory.
It makes for good people watching. A lot of people wearing denim or leather jackets will be sitting around you. One afternoon I even saw Alexander Wang grabbing a coffee here. If you want something cute and sceney and downtown, you can’t ask for more. And the stylish girls always want something healthy, so you can expect lots of wholesome ingredients on top of toast or bowls with lots of nutritious grains and greens.
The avocado toast is solid, it has a little bit of a spicy kick from the chili oil and good texture from the pepitas and watercress that make it a little more interesting than all the other avocado toasts out there. I also liked the beet cured salmon on toast served with a creamy fennel yogurt spread, which was a nice, lighter and less carby spin on smoked salmon and cream cheese on a bagel. If you don’t want carbs at all, you can opt for the brassicas bowl, which has nary a bread in sight, only veggies that are mostly green–kale, brussels sprouts, broccolini, peas and beans. Truth be told, I’ve had better leafy green salad bowls elsewhere, like at Sweetgreen or El Rey, but it’s above average. And if you’re like eff it, I want more than rabbit food, then there’s a humongous Two Hands beef burger that comes with a side of potatoes on the menu. Everyone wins at Two Hands.
A lesser known secret for a fashionable brunch without the wait is Rose Bakery, the eatery on the ground floor of Dover Street Market. Dover Street Market is a boutique for the most fashiony of people, the ones in the know about obscure brands like Vetements and who can afford to blow their money on hugely impractical Comme des Garçon pieces. By virtue of that, you will be surrounded by well-dressed patrons with the most discriminating of taste, despite its odd location on 30th and Lex. I guess Dover Street Market attracts a pretty niche crowd so not that many people really know about the store, much less the restaurant.
Which is a big win for me since I can drop by at 12 and just slide into a seat. The cafeteria style seating isn’t the most comfortable, and the service can be a little slow, especially on a Sunday, and they seemed to be running low on things, but the baked goods are worth the wait. The house bread is incredible and on par with the best rustic breads that I’ve had at Wildair and Relae. I was also extremely pleased with the scone we ordered. It was not dry, had a little bit of salt to it, and came with the most amazing side of clotted cream that tasted like honey butter. Smearing some of that on with the marmalade was magical, a moment that ranks up there with opening a new package of Chessman Pepperidge Farm shortbread cookies.
The high end shoppers also like to eat light, so the menu is similarly geared towards wholesome items with an emphasis on vegetables and grains. The daytime menu has some key breakfast staples, all-day sweets, different seasonal vegetable sides and a small selection of entrees. I’ve already raved about the scone so you must get those, and the savory items are nutritious and filling. My farro bowl looked like spring was in full bloom, overflowing with a bountiful harvest of green peas, beans, mushrooms and farro grains. Each morsel was incredibly filling in the most meaningful way. You could probably get away with sharing this with another person and not be hungry. For something lighter the lentil soup should do the trick. It’s more liquidy than most lentil soups, but it’s in no way watery and tasteless.
The beauty of this place is that you can linger here, get some reading done, order another pastry or juice once you’re fully digested and then browse the store at your leisure. The prices of the clothes are sky high, so having a meal at Rose Bakery is a more accessible way of experiencing Dover Market without the same investment. And it’ll be your little secret to have in your back pocket the next time someone wants to do brunch somewhere cute and cool with healthy options and a good scene.
Two Hands Restaurant and Bar
251 Church St (between Leonard and Franklin St)
New York, NY 10013
Rose Bakery at Dover Street Market
160 Lexington Ave (between 30th and 31st St)
New York, NY 10016
Maman in Soho is an Instagrammer’s dream, which is why it’s packed with stylish, pretty little things with nice manicures and handbags drinking lattes and quiches off of exquisite china. Charming French cafes with croissants and avocado toasts is a pretty winning formula, and not surprisingly, the Maman team has opened a second location in Tribeca, knowing that they will appeal to those fancy yoga moms and their well-heeled kids.
If Maman Soho is where all the young people are, Maman Tribeca is where the young people with families graduate onto. You’ll see former bros sporting baby bjorns with their well coiffed wives by their side. It’s much roomier, which makes it better for pushing through multiple strollers and seating actual large groups of families. They are so accommodating to babies, in fact, that should your stroller not fit through their entrance, they have a side elevator that can. Families need more food and service, and so the Tribeca branch builds upon the light menu and counter service of the Soho location with a proper full-service, fully staffed restaurant.
No meal at Maman is complete without its famous chocolate chip cookie, and an order of the pastry basket assures you of one. The fact that there is only one piece is a bit of a disappointment, as the word “basket” suggests a bounty of treats, but there’s only one cookie, one financier and one croissant. They were all very good, but more would have been better.
They don’t skimp on the entrees, thankfully. The squash spaghetti “a la carbonara” lived up to its promise as being hearty and filling. Don’t be fooled by the healthy headlines of gluten free and squash on the menu, at the end of the day, pasta swirling in melted cheese and runny yolk is rich and tastes glorious. The papa poule’s chicken caesar also came armed with some meat and some heft. The generous slices of chicken and avocado ensured that you wouldn’t go hungry, and its tangy, yellow take on the traditional caesar dressing was much more interesting than the typical white variety. Like a good mother, Maman is keeping her children, and her grandchildren, very well fed.
211 W. Broadway (between Franklin and White St)
New York, NY 10013
If you want to know where your eggs come from, and if you want to truly taste the farm on your table, then try the seasonal brunch at Little Park, Andrew Carmellini’s restaurant in the Smyth Tribeca hotel. Little Park sources its ingredients through the longstanding relationships Carmellini has forged with local farmers, rangers and foragers, and that earthy kinship really shows in these brunch dishes.
The poached eggs tasted like they were freshly hatched in the middle of an open pasture, so fresh and natural that the bits of mushroom and earthy debris were still on them. It’s the kind of bowl that you eat on a cool fall day, when you need something warm and comforting to fill you up inside. The closest thing I can compare it to is a bowl of congee.
The beetroot tartare took the farm to table motif one step further. It arrived on a plate looking like the chopped beets had literally been plowed from the depths of the earth, an illusion served by the sprinkling of crushed rye surrounding them. It appeared all very raw and wild, but the layer of creamy horseradish and the wonderfully smoky and vibrant trout roe smoothed out the rough edges and transformed this bite into an intriguing one with many layers and textures.
The baked eggs arrived in a stew of lamb chorizo that was intensely seasoned and spicy like a bowl of chili. It was certainly delicious, but a little too much to eat plain, which was why we ordered a side of toast to go with it. While the toast was intended to be a neutral surface, it had its own merits, especially when you slathered on the creamy butter and the jam. As you can tell, any dish, big or small, was going to leave an impression. Little Park may be its name, but its flavors are anything but.
85 West Broadway (between Warren and Chambers St)
New York, NY 10007
Sushi Azabu is one of those restaurants so under the radar that you can’t even see it on the street. For awhile, it used to be in the basement of the Greenwich Grill, and now it’s underneath an izakaya place called Daruma-ya. You might wonder how a restaurant with such a low profile can survive in this town, but with sushi this good, strong word-of-mouth will keep them coming.
You can either choose one of the omakase options, or you can order dishes a la carte. We opted for an abbreviated omakase titled the “omotenashi course”, which featured a different assortment of sushi, sashimi and small hot plates, as well as a hot bowl of soba at the end. We supplemented that with the nigiri special, a chef’s selection of 10 pieces of sushi, a maki roll, an egg omelet and some miso soup.
The fish truly has that soft, melt-in-your-mouth quality that can only be found in the freshest catch. I was also struck by how much I liked the sushi rice. The rice was a bit al dente, but with some cohesion between the grains, and there was a subtle sweet and tangy flavor aspect that was very appealing. According to their website, Azabu uses a unique blend of sushi rice imported directly from Japan and from a prior year’s crop so that it avoids the overly-high water content that you find in fresh harvests of rice. They always say the difference between sushi places is really the rice, since all the best restaurants source fish from the same places, and I didn’t really appreciate that until now.
The cooked dishes were just as good as the raw courses. The dreamy blend of rich, briney uni and salty salmon roe in our tofu dish was just so effortlessly good, and the yellowtail collar had been cooked perfectly so that the crackling skin unearthed a plethora of tender, mild meat. The deep fried taro potato with duck was certainly rich but also very clean. so that any sense of heaviness was very much contained.
Really, the only thing I didn’t like about Azabu was the physical space. The booths were arranged along the walls so that there was an odd, open space in the middle. The atmosphere felt a bit cold and impersonal, and it didn’t help that with all the mood lighting and clubby music, that you felt like you were in a hotel lobby. Obviously there are worse things in life than eating fantastic sushi in a nice hotel lobby.
428 Greenwich St (between Vestry and Laight)
New York, NY 10013