This is the first in a series of posts from New York, where I’m currently on Honeymoon. Our hotel was located in West Midtown, which was a great location, and didn’t include breakfast. Not to worry, there are plenty of places that do breakfast in New York.
Starting our first complete day in The big apple, we looked online for a decent breakfast venue, and the repeated name which kept cropping up was Norma’s at Le Parker Meridien on West 57th Street, just past Carnegie Hall.
Norma’s rates quite highly with Yelp users, but then again so does Pret a Manger, so maybe this should have been a sign. The one thing that strikes you as you arrive at Le Parker Meridien is the cavernous space in the public areas. We asked at the concierge’s desk where Norma’s was, as nothing is really sign posted. The expectation was a little coffee shop type place hidden away in the corner to utilise the space. Instead we were directed to a large bustling room. A table on the banquette seating was offered, where, in the tradition of high volume outlets, the tables are so close together that you can smell your neighbours meal. Thankfully we had a rather lovely couple of New Yorkers, who we had a chat with post petit dejeuner.
The menu at Norma’s is expansive, but not with the usual run of the mill stuff, but it’s broken down into several categories:
- Mom can’t make this.
- Eggs cellent.
- This should do it.
- Somethin’ fruity.
- The one that didn’t get away.
- Benny sent me…
- Crepes with style
To start, an amuse bouche appeared, which was a kiwi & mango smoothie. Unfortunately after establishing that it contained bananas, this was passed to my wife who described it as nice & refreshing.
I suppose, in a way, it broke up the mammoth wait for our mains. My wife ordered Eggs florentine, & I opted for the Norma’s recommended Eggs benedict. At $22 & $24 respectively, plus taxes & tips, breakfast was starting to look a little steep. This said, what arrived was more substantial than anything that you’d be getting in the UK.
The saying goes, that a picture paints a thousand words. There were so many things wrong with this eggs benedict it’s hard to know where to start: the brown yet al dente asparagus (boiled not grilled, as per the menu); the tinned ham; the bland hollandaise which had tarragon it (even that failed to add any level of acidity); greasy roast new potatoes; topped with limp lambs lettuce. The final straw was the lukewarm eggs. The only highlight, was the buttermilk pancakes; which were light and fluffy, with a nice touch of acidity.
And really, as Norma’s was a highly recommended place by New York Yelpers & bloggers, I just despair. The only thing, other than the semi decent pancakes, is the quantity of food. The couple that sat next to us actually had so much left over, they decided to have a doggy bag.
Norma’s is bad; the tables are too close together, the food is poor to average (in fact it just shows people who are going through the motions, rather than actually caring about what they do.). It is highly doubtful that any chef tasted any of the food that they sent out, primarily because there is probably a group chef somewhere, who writes out the recipes & the kitchen staff just cook by numbers. It is soulless cooking, & quite frankly if that is some of the best breakfasts that the NYC food fraternity have to recommend, then it doesn’t say much about their perception of quality.
After the disappointment of Norma’s, I took to twitter:
Looking for breakfast ideas. Midtown west #NYC, tweet me bitches.
A Dutch food blogger called Rutger Schipper recommended Bouchon, which is run by the multiple Michelin starred Thomas Keller, who is currently making waves in New York after throwing his toys out of the pram, because he thinks that hygiene laws don’t apply to him.
I really don’t know what to say; other than average. Yes, the display of multi-coloured macaroons is very impressive, but after that you’d actually have to question how much Keller is interested in feeding the masses. His East coast 3Michelin starred eatery, Per Se, is located on the next floor. But none of the ethos that Chef Keller has used to gain two, 3Michelin starred restaurants on two different coasts has evaporated when it has come to Bouchon. The coffee was no different from a high street chain & the Marshmallow was obscenely sweet.
Yes I could possibly see why Rutger Schipper may have recommended Bouchon, let’s face it, when you have a name like Keller attached to a product or outlet, you’d expect quality. Sadly, this isn’t the case, Bouchon is average & expensive, coupled with indifferent service & a high price tag.
1Coffee, 1 Marshmallow, 1 Crossiant & 1 Orange juice wades in close to $20 (inc tax), then you have to tip.
The NoMad hotel on Broadway has be gently going about its business since spring 2012, despite being several years in the pipeline. Ordinarily I wouldn’t be overly bothered by dining specifically at a hotel; but the kitchens at the NoMad are overseen by Daniel Humm, of the 3Michelin starred Eleven Madison Park (EMP). As a table for EMP wasn’t available during our time in New York, this seems to be one of the better options. Just on the off chance I rang mid morning for a table for brunch, my wife liked the idea of having smoked Pork belly as a side order, so I was onto a winner in terms of brownie points.
Whilst the menu isn’t as expansive as, say, Norma’s, there is something for everybody. Unfortunately in the ‘land of the free’, you can’t have one of their Bloody Mary cocktails until after noon. No matter, I’m sure that we could drag out brunch until 12pm.
We actually arrived quite sometime before our booking, no matter, we were shown through to the Library where we were served orange juice and a coffee while our table was prepared. Bang on 11:30am our table was ready, and we moved on through to the lovely airy atrium which housed the 20 or so tables.
We ordered an Eggs benedict with crab & tarragon and a Croque madame, ordinarily basic staples of any brunch menu worth its salt. But you just get the feeling that it is going to be something special. Service is attentive, as you’d expect in this type of environment, yet not so as to be formulaic. The floor staff are smartly dressed in white shirts & grey waistcoats, gliding effortlessly from table to table, where as the hostess’ are dressed along a theme of black with various splashes of colour, this makes them hard to pick out, as they blend in with customers, but they’re all jolly professional.
The Atrium was starting to fill up by this point, either people on early lunch breaks, or like us, on a late brunch. But no matter, it all adds to the fun people-watching, by this time our food arrived.
The wife & I both craned our necks to see what the other had ordered, but deep down I think we were satisfied with our choices. My Eggs benedict was a triumph: a toasted muffin; two beautifully poached eggs, with the deepest yellow yolks; topped with warmed chunky white crab meat & a light hollandaise sauce. It was everything that Norma’s wasn’t, delicate, well judged, harmonious and tasty.
Needless to say the wife was also impressed by her Croque madame. Ordinarily a peasant’s dish, the kitchen staff at NoMad have elevated this hot sandwich to new levels of joy. The toasted bread has swirls of ham running through it, and the two perfectly fried eggs topped with bechamel sauce ,on top of yet more ham. It really was a prime example of taking a simple idea & making it their own.
A dab after noon my bloody Mary cocktail arrived. Although I’d ordered a shellfish version, I get the impression that I got the wrong drink. As exhilarating as a punchy bloody Mary is for brunch, I was more interested to see how they did their versions of the classic. This fly in the ointment didn’t spoil the meal, as it really was a great drink; spicy, yet balanced; a full on tomato flavour without the excessive acidity.
The only real disappointment was the side order of smoked Pork belly. At $12 it was poor, there were three slices, all about 4cm tall, of which 3½cm was fat. Now I like a nice bit of fat with my Pork belly, but this was excessive in anybodies world. The addition of the moist plump prunes, showed again, that the kitchen had paid attention to the flavour combinations they are serving, just not the fat content.
The NoMad isn’t cheap by any stretch of the imagination, this meal was somewhere in the ballpark of $80 for two; but quite frankly, I’d rather have this over Norma’s & Bouchon any day of the week.
Having breakfast in New York can be a real hit and miss affair, yes you can play it safe & go for what you know. All the major US chains we have in the UK are well represented, and during my stay Taco bell had started to pick a fight with McDonalds, with their taco waffle breakfast. But go further, New York is much more of a 24/7 city than London (or any other major UK city) will ever be, there is something for every pocket, you just need to look for it.