Brunch for the Socially Awkward

Like many (if not most) people, I look so forward to the weekend that I'm practically clinically depressed by Sunday afternoon --since I know the next weekend is another 5 long days away.

But there are three things that I look forward to as our normal Saturday and Sunday routine: spending time with my family, going to Union Square's Green Market and getting brunch.

Yes, brunch makes that top three list. Why? Because you can relax and eat in a highly social environment. It's not like grabbing lunch with co-workers or getting dinner on date night. Brunch has a special meaning because you're in the midst of the weekend. You're not rushing to make it to appointments and you can eat breakfast and lunch all-in-one at a leisurely pace, because the kitchen is still making breakfast food well past the 10am mark.

Good times.

I was "cordially invited" to dine with my family at Social Eatz. The name was off-putting, to be honest. I couldn't help but wonder "What's with the name?" On the restaurant's "About" page, it explains it a little, so I'm not going to get into it here. Personally, I would change the name -but hey! It's not my place and no one asked me. So who cares, right?

Among a street lined with awnings and sandwich boards, Social Eatz was not an easy find. It was kind of nice that it wasn't some glaring, colorful entrance that would compete with the other establishments. Instead, the signage blends with the neighborhood. I liked that.

Walking into the place, the first impression was favorable. It wasn't over-crowded, although the atmosphere already had a noticeably loud noise level. We were a little early, but not by much.

Greeted with a smile and a friendly face was great. We thought we had a reservation and when giving the name and time, she seemed confused. She checked and re-checked. I had to confirm that we had a 12:30 for 2 and a toddler. She played it off, but I could tell, she didn't know we were coming.

In fact, that set the tone from the very moment we walked in the door.

Getting settled in took a little bit, too -as a few people asked us if we wanted a high chair (we did), but it took some coordination between several people before it actually happened.

Again - coordination is not this place's strong set. At. All.

We quickly ordered a plain waffle for the little one. Our baby sets our schedule -and since he just got up from a nap, we don't play around with waiting for food. We always bring snacks to keep him occupied in the interim. We have a system that works very well for us when it comes to dining out. The waitress seemed to understand that it was important to get the baby something first, and parents would follow with their order once we knew he was taken care of. That was a very positive note, and very welcomed.

While the server seemed nice, it also seemed like it was her first day -or at least her first week. She asked about water and looked at us blankly when we asked for tap water. It was the first choice that she mentioned -but I think she also had a hard time hearing us over the music, and it was increasingly getting louder, as more people came into the door.

After the water arrived, we finally placed a food order and I told her that my husband has Celiac's disease. This is always something that is said before we order a meal, just so the kitchen understands that he MUST eat gluten-free. Nothing with wheat flour can be used for his dishes. Ever. (He can get really sick and pass out.) She clearly had no clue what Celiac's was -or what gluten-free meant. That is an indicator of having an uninformed waitstaff. They HAVE to know these things. She pointed out items that had eggs in them - I think she thought we said he was vegan or maybe she thought eggs had gluten in them. Again, it was so loud, who knows what she heard versus what she understood.

In spite of the noise-level and abundance of confusion, we ordered a few things off the menu: Korean Breakfast Taco, Korean Fried Chicken, Kimchi Fried Rice, Bimibap Omelet and a side of Togarashi Fries.

Bimibap Omelet
I was the only one who could sample the fried chicken -and it was quite good. It was sweet and very crispy. The chicken was also not overcooked like so many places just cook the hell out of it because of health scares and people wanting to have very, very cooked chicken. It was very nice to have tender chicken that had some flavor and a crunchy texture. The portion was a bit larger than I anticipated, so one of the drumsticks came home with me! I don't think it will hold up due to the amount of hoisin sauce used, but it's worth a try. And just FYI: It is NOT first date food, and they really should serve this dish with a wet nap or finger bowl. It's incredibly messy -and since only ONE bathroom was available (the other had an "Out of Order" sign), it took awhile to get to the wash room to get the stickiness off my hands. (My fault for not bringing extra baby wipes, but it shouldn't BE that way to begin with - providing a simple finger bowl with water, lemon and a small napkin would have been an easy fix.)

The kimchi fried rice was overwhelming in size -and we didn't know that it was already a side that came with my husband's omelet. The rice was very bland - it had some Korean-like spice, but it was certainly geared for the American taste buds. However, the kimchi used in the bimibap omelet was very approachable for the American palate. (I've lived in Korea and can tell you that not all kimchi is alike and most of it will make your eyes water upon the first whiff! While I do LIKE kimchi, I know it can be pungent and scary for some to venture to even sample.)

After fifteen minutes or so, the waitress returned and asked if we needed anything else -again, not the best coordination, because we were still awaiting fries and the Korean taco. It was obvious she was ready to give us the check. Not yet! Geez! So, she turned to go back to the kitchen and it was just moments before the order came.

2 bites of this "taco" were all I could tolerate!
I thought the fries were overly salted and had a strange cheesy sauce as a condiment. Not sure if I somewhat liked the taste or not. On second thought, no. They were just too sodium-heavy. My husband ate a few of them, but he wasn't overly impressed, either.

The Korean taco wasn't what I expected at all. Not in a good way, either. I didn't expect ground beef. I had previewed a menu that said it had "charred beef" - although my husband told me that it was supposed to be chili. I didn't see that, so he's probably right. So there were different versions of the menu. One that was online and one that was in the restaurant. Either way, the "taco" was more like a burrito. The texture of the ground beef gave it a canine-like appeal. I could only have a couple of bites, as the flavor was atrocious and mealy composition was very unappealing.

We also tried both desserts on the menu. They arrived to the table, but without silverware. We waited at least five minutes before we could start eating. The waitress was really not available or attentive - and it was another server who made the connection between silverware and necessity to eat. (The only thing our waitress appeared to be concerned about was getting us the check before we were ready!)
Brunch desserts: "meh"

The pannacotta had some flavor, but I don't know why under-cooked tapioca pearls were mixed in with the blueberries on top? Weird. And for the life of me, I don't understand why they invented "lemon cake black pepper whipped cream" for the strawberry shortcake? Oh -and no coffee, cappuccino or espresso. My husband got something that was sweet, iced, and wanted to be like a Thai iced coffee...

Again, it was just confusing to hear and understand the server tell me what we could have for after the main courses.... we thought we ordered 2 cappuccinos. Guess not. Oh -and I wasn't offered a refill or asked at any point in time during my meal (nor was my husband) about drinks. Another sign of poorly trained staff.

The place had exploded with customers by 1:15 - to include celebrity chef Eddie Huang at a nearby table. In fact, Top Chef Angelo Sosa (owner of Social Eatz) was out there working the crowd. I mean, it was swamped. And up went the decibel level...

Oh - and there was a guy on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 53rd pawning off postcards to "come see a Top Chef celebrity"at the restaurant -so he might have been to blame for the barrage of gawkers, too!!

Since the lines forming at both the bathroom and the front door were growing increasingly longer, we just wanted to get the check (finally the waitress was attentive and understood what we needed) - and we were practically rushed out of the restaurant. Our check was time stamped for 1:32pm - remember the reservation was at 12:30. That has to be one of the fastest brunches of all time -not just for me, but for a lot of New Yorkers. I felt like we were kicked out of the door!

I mean, appreciate that I was given a reservation at Social Eatz, but was very disappointed in the end. Maybe I had my expectations set too high as a "cordially invited" guest. Especially with $100+ bill that we paid and the unconventional push out of our table in the end. (Note to ANY restauranteur: no matter how busy it gets, don't obviously coax patrons out of their seats - that is just very amateurish and your customers don't feel valued.) I wish now that I made my own reservation on OpenTable.com so I could have at least gotten 100 points for dining there.

Overall, the meal was so-so. The kitchen was on top of its game in terms of getting things ready. The front of the house was uncoordinated. Waitstaff was horrifically green. Music started off loud (with spa-like tunes) that went to pop-tunes and even louder after one hour. With the big crowd and the uber-loud music, we paid for a brunch that wasn't relaxing, nor was it "social" in any way because you would have to send a text message to your co-diners in order to have a conversation. That, or start using American Sign Language to discuss the awkwardness of it all.





My Latest "Steak" Out

The moment I opened the door at 6:15pm, it was a lively crowd. We just arrived at Empire Steak House.
I had a sigh of relief, because when you dine out with a toddler, the last thing you want to hear is a pin drop. Noise is GOOD. Parents like noise when they go out with their kids so we don't stand out like an 80 year-old grandparents at a Nickelback concert.
On the other hand, as soon as the very friendly and attractive hostess gathered our menus to take us to our table, I knew immediately what the majority of their client targets were: Men. Yes - she was pretty and slender, but as a mom (of not just a toddler, but of two daughters, ages 18 and 20), I couldn't help but feel a bit awkward... I wanted her to put on some clothes that were properly sized versus a short-short dress that left very little to anybody's (male or female) imagination. It was a booty show with heels all the way to our table. I felt like I should cover my baby boy's eyes -but he was more interested in the new place with all the people since we just got there, so he didn't pay any attention. I was spared having to deal with a mini-gawker -at least on that evening. (The other men at the surrounding tables appreciated the view, however!)
The really nice thing, is despite her mode of (mini)dress, again, she was very friendly and was completely open to wherever we wanted to sit. As a parent with a little one who needs a high chair, again, I find that top-notch! We went with her location recommendation -as we just wanted to ensure that we wouldn't be in the way of other customers or waitstaff. Believe me, we know that it is not easy for anyone to maneuver around a highchair with a child that has octopus-like arms with the dexterity of a blind man playing a game of chess.
So far, so good! (Another sigh of relief!)
The waitstaff was very prompt -as well as attentive. Again, as parents: please let us dine and get the order moving so we can be out of everyone's hair quickly and efficiently. We don't want a meltdown tantrum or anything embarrassing, because we are also the type of parents that will go outside with our child until he's able to be civil in public spaces. We don't tolerate crying or any kind of misbehaving in a restaurant (or anywhere else for that matter). So having us settled in with drinks, appetizer and meals already put into the POS system, we felt well on our way to a great evening.
For the most part, it was!
Here's a little breakdown of our night out:
After we ordered our basic drinks, appetizers and meal, we didn't get a chance to look at the wine list -but my husband was interested in seeing what might be available by the glass. He had a choice: white or red. He chose red and the waiter rattled off typical broods of the drink, but nothing about vintage or winery. (Note to readers: my husband is a wine snob. Sorry. It's true. I love him but he's really big on knowing all the nomenclature and is especially well-versed in French wines, to the point where I am just a big ignoramus -and actually, I'm ok with that. I let him order for me!) I should also mention that my husband has a level of class that prevented him from being rude about wanting to view the wine list, and simply ordered a glass without asking a lot of questions from the waiter. When the wine came, it was just put down in front of him -no pomp and circumstance, no viewing of the label or a sample before agreeing to the glass. Just, "There you go. Enjoy." Final verdict from wine snob husband? It was fine. Not a real bump in the road, just a little inconvenient if you wanted to browse choices.
Here is the perfection....
The appetizers came (again, very quickly!)- lump crab and little neck clams on the half shell. I found the lump crab delightful - and I'll admit, I wasn't a fan of the clams. I should have known better - I don't do raw mollusks very well. Ok, I don't "do" them at all. It was all my husband -and again, he was happy with them. I found the lump crab tasty and a decent-sized portion. I only questioned if they might be just a tad too cold. That was a fleeting moment, because it was so hot in NYC that night, I welcomed the cool, buttery taste -with or without the accompanying cocktail sauce.
After the appetizer and without much hesitation at all, the Porterhouse for 2 arrived - not only their signature dish, but WOW!
I was impressed.
It was loudly sizzling on the platter. And oh! It was wafting an aroma that I think would make a vegetarian question their dietary choices for a moment...
How did it taste? It was cooked to sheer perfection. It melted in my mouth -and the steak sauce? My husband and I couldn't get enough of it -and we usually don't do sauces like that... ever.
Let me do a quick compare and contrast:
My New #1 Steak Sauce
Peter Luger's (which is the steak restaurant by which most are compared to in New York, and there is also a history that you can find if you go to the Empire Steak website that connects the two) - They have the same style of waiters as this place, but at Empire, they seem to be friendlier and not as "Just order, already and stop annoying me with your questions" as they can be at the Brooklyn iconic locale. Same "boys club" atmosphere, same lively crowd. Both have GREAT steaks.
I prefer Empire Steak House because they offer the steak sauce in a bottled container, versus an open-style gravy boat filled at Luger's. (It is cleaner and quite possibly, more hygienic.) The steak is not as heavily seasoned and has just the right amount of char (again, my personal preference - my husband thought they could go crispier and heavier on salt and pepper). The signature steak sauce played as a perfect compliment to the Porterhouse -without question. It's  also in MANHATTAN, which, I won't lie, is a better, easier commute for me and my family (even if it's Midtown). The space is pretty much standard for the type of restaurant, but not as old fogy-ish as Luger's. Another positive. And! Oh yes! They take various forms of payment versus Luger's cash-only (hugely inconvenient) model.
There are also more sides available, and the waiters aren't as brusk about throwing plates down at the table.
I would also recommend the German potatoes (aka "bratkartoffeln") to accompany your steak-very delicious and the portion was a hearty one.
Ahhhh..... We were enjoying a very, very good steak dinner for two with a toddler. And the baby actually had a couple of nibbles of Porterhouse, too! No meltdowns, no chaos.
The waitstaff promptly cleaned the table and we felt like a couple of stuffed holiday birds...
I'd love to comment on dessert -but we weren't shown a menu and I couldn't understand the waiter very well -(due to noise mostly) - I kept hearing "cake, cake and cake". With my husband's Celiac disease (he must eat gluten-free), I couldn't order dessert on my own! Not fair. We both commented that a hot fudge sundae a la Luger's would have fit in well. Plus, it does seem to be the typical after-dinner treat at many steak houses in the city -and quite notably, across the US.
We had a couple of coffees and asked for the check.
A final sigh of relief.
In summary, we ate very well. We thought the main dish was just right, the portions were generous and the waitstaff was very attentive. It is good to know that there IS a decent steakhouse in Manhattan and I'd recommend this place to locals and tourists alike.

And P.S. - I can honestly say that I really didn't need dessert -especially after seeking the skinny, attractive hostess before departing the restaurant...





Wine: An Artful Expression

Wine is much appreciated, just like Art.
I have yet to really agree with any wine critic about their tastes in the fermented grape juice. I either like it, or I don't.
Ridiculously packed with too many people.
I was recently invited to a Wine Enthusiast event here in the city, Toast of the Town NYC. I was given a ticket that was provided by an Italian wine company that also featured prosecco.
In the world of vineyards and corkage, I know very little about the region of the world that takes credit for refining its current form (via the Romans).
Plus, I will admit: I love French wines. I know that is highly subjective. Again, think about Art.
In all honestly, I have not found too many from the U.S. that I consider tasty -and you'd think that the NY girl in me would have a penchant for local wines. Simple answer: no. I've been partial only to Honig wines from California -and it's only a select few labels that I really enjoy. I have also sampled Portuguese, Chilean, South African and Australian wines with the same level of caution - so my exposure to the Italians has also been limited in that regard.
Apart from my small view of the world of wines, I do know that I love a label that has the magical words, "Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape".... lovely words that just send me to another place where I should be sipping the nectar of the Gods on a coastline somewhere, the breeze flowing through my hair.....
Sorry. Digression. I must be getting thirsty and it's not even noon.
Ok. Back to business.
As a guest of an Italian winery and an offer of free tickets to an event, I need to be fair but also make mention that I find their invite exceptionally gracious. I really appreciated the opportunity and had a very nice time. Thank you, Zonin Wines.
The Zonin prosecco was certainly acceptable -as it started off the evening on the right note... it made enjoying Hudson Valley seared foie gras just perfect and the Murray cheeses (shout out to the Camembert) was also notable.
There was plenty of "people watching" for my entertainment. Including an old lady LITERALLY dipping finger into a cheese log in front of me to sample not just once, but twice -by double dipping for a SECOND TIME, to see if it was acceptable and finger-lickin' good! People can be disgusting in large groups. Note to everyone: USE CAUTION when sampling ANYTHING that is open to the public. This venue had WAAAAY too many people crowded in the Hammerstein Ballroom, so of course there's a few crazies (if not a lot, because it IS New York, after all.).
As one can imagine, seats/tables were also difficult to come by and once you had a seat, you kept it. Forever. I think that old lady is still sitting there. Waiting for another cheese log to be graced with her crusty old finger.
Maybe that's expressionism. Upon further reflection, perhaps it could very well be that the old woman thought cheese, like wine, is also like Art.... Sculpture, anyone?

Worth the Trip

I was really saddened to hear that Robuchon is closing. It was a special occasion restaurant for my husband and I... we spent Christmas Eve there with our daughter, had my 40th birthday there and visited on other meaningful evenings. It was something wonderful.... it will be missed. Make your reservation before the end of the month - they are set to close by the end of June.

But there are other places in this city that are also teetering on that closure list, too.

Some I wonder why -rather, HOW come some restaurants are even still around? There are places that are literally POS's... (and I am not referring to a "Point of Sale"!) There's something for everybody in this town, that's seriously an understatement.

Take D.O.B. 111 - I knew that place didn't stand a place, and guess what? CLOSED not too long after I posted a bad review. I had nothing to do with it - they were the victims of their own demise.
However, just as there are places that should be closed - there are others that I wonder why they don't have a bigger following.

Take, for example, Rouge et Blanc. This French-Vietnamese restaurant in SoHo has an amazing array of menu choices and a matching wine list. Service was terrific and the food was incredible -yet the place? Empty. There was hardly anyone there on a Saturday night. Could it be that I was there on a holiday weekend? Maybe, maybe not. One would think that there would be MORE people there, even if mostly tourists, because the reputation of the locale should speak for itself.
My husband and I are looking to go back as soon as we can. I even tweeted LIVE - which is something I rarely do. This place was worth it. I want people to know about Rouge et Blanc so that it doesn't disappear any time soon.
I mean - look at these beautiful dishes! They not only made a statement, each one was absolutely delectable....

Green Papaya with Whole Shrimp - Quite possibly, the BEST green papaya I have EVER had! Delicious!!

Tasty and incredibly tender octopus

Dessert du Jour


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