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New York 2005

Lox and the City: Midday Meals That'll Wake Your Tastebuds

Sunday, April 17, 2005; Page P07

Late night in the big city? Don't rush to an early-morning meal. Take your sweet time and meander over to a brunch place, where breakfast foods dolled up in their Sunday best can cure any hangover.

Balthazar. The beloved SoHo brasserie is great for late-night steak frites and roasted chicken, sure, but did you know it rocks for weekend brunch? The great old space is gorgeous any time of day, and positively shrieks Paris with its atmospheric high ceiling, red leather banquettes, worn tiled floor and brass rails. The tables are closely spaced, all the better for eavesdropping on the stylish downtown crowd (more locals than out-of-towners show up at breakfast time, it would appear).

At Barney Greengrass, even late risers can load up on NYC's finest: bagels and lox. (Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)

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Start off with a hangover drink like a Ramoz fizz -- gin, lemon and lime juice, milk and egg white ($9.50), then dig into an entree: Offerings range from sour cream hazelnut waffles with warm berries ($14) to poached eggs with polenta, pancetta and tomato ($15.50) to grilled brook trout over a warm spinach, walnut and lentil salad ($16). We opted for thick slabs of brioche french toast, which were light, fluffy and redolent of cinnamon, and served with smoked bacon. The fruit salad ($9) was simple, unadorned and delicious. Just remember that the restaurant's legendary crowds apply at breakfast time, too, so reservations are a good idea -- or arrive right at 10 o'clock, when brunch begins.

80 Spring St. between Broadway and Crosby Street, 212-965-1785, www.balthazarny.com. Brunch entrees $13-$27.

Barney Greengrass. This iconic Upper West Side deli-cum-brunch spot doesn't accept credit cards, but we didn't know that till after we'd finished our breakfast and pulled out the plastic. Oops. As we scraped the bottom of our purse for loose change, the cashier put us at ease with a kindly, "Don't worry, you can mail it to me. You look honest." Yes, this actually happened. In New York. It was a fitting ending to a fantastic, fish-centric breakfast. Eggs came scrambled with sturgeon and onions ($15.25), salmon and onions ($13), sturgeon and salmon and onions ($15.25) -- you get the idea. Specialties and platters are paired with bagels or bialys. Barney's isn't stylish: The dining room features brown Formica tables, a sawdust-strewn linoleum floor, bright fluorescent lights and faded wallpaper with scenes of . . . old New Orleans? But the aromatic and authentic deli staples, jokey waiters and tables of kibbitzing New Yorkers more than make up for the decor. Stop at the counter on your way out for chocolate babka ($12) or sturgeon to go ($12 a quarter-pound). And remember to take cash.

541 Amsterdam Ave. at 86th Street, 212-724-4707, www.barneygreengrass.com. Breakfast entrees $4.50-$16; specialties, $11.25-$16.50; smoked fish platters, $20.50-$75.

Blue Water Grill. Built on the soaring bones of the old Metropolitan bank in Union Square, Blue Water Grill has a street-level restaurant as well as the subterranean Jazz Room, with live music nightly. On Sundays, the action comes earlier in the day: Between 10:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. you can toss back a mimosa or a wicked spicy virgin Mary and join Carrie Bradshaw types, families celebrating birthdays and out-of-towners for brunch staples like wild mushroom and egg white omelets ($12) and eggs Benedict ($11). But this is a seafood restaurant, after all: Try an order from the raw bar. On a recent visit, a neighboring table made quick work of the chilled shellfish sampler (two tiers of lobster, shrimp, and clams and oysters on the half-shell served on ice, $30) while a slick young trio in slouchy suits played to enthusiastic applause. A drink, along with coffee or tea, is included with each entree.

31 Union Square W. at 16th Street, 212-675-9500, www.brguestrestaurants.com. Brunch entrees $11-$33.

Clinton Street Baking Company & Restaurant. When husband-and-wife team Neil Kleinberg and DeDe Lahman opened on the Lower East Side in 2001, they had a simple goal -- to make the best buttermilk biscuits in town. Call them victors of their own success. The biscuits (along with the scones and muffins) were so fabulous that locals persuaded them to expand to lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. Arrive early. By 10 a.m., the joint is jammed with LES hipsters and families enjoying brioche french toast with sauteed bananas and pecans ($9.75) and truffled fried eggs with roasted artichokes, haricot verts and warm black truffle vinaigrette ($14.50). Of course, there are still the biscuits, served with scrambled eggs ($6.75), eggs and Spanish chorizo ($8.50) or in their most perfect form, hot from the oven with nothing more than a pad of sweet butter.

4 Clinton St. between East Houston and Stanton streets, 646-602-6263. Brunch entrees $6.75-$12.50. Cash only.

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