"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Friday, January 7, 2011

Sarabeth's - December 31, 2010

I do not do brunches; I have never understood the point of having brunches with people on the weekends. I am barely human at any time appropriate for brunch, not to mention that I cannot talk nicely or look nicely. Moreover, this is the critical issue: if you eat brunch, what about lunch? I would like to squeeze in as many instances of gastronomic delights in my day; therefore, I do not like to be cheated out of a meal, if I can help it. On the other hand, breakfast in bed, now that I can understand. It even carries a hint of the decadent eroticism - feathered slippers and silky dressing gowns…too many French movies, I agree.

My initial encounter with this temple for the yuppies and brunches was not in New York, but in Key West, and for dinner, not brunches. Wandering around after another leisurely day and another key lime pie (Blue Heaven is the place for it), I came upon a rather magnificent sight – a whole fried fish, standing up (not technically, but visually), as opposed to lying supine. The feat of the standing fish was made possible by its slit open stomach: After the bones were removed, the fish was fried with its stomach open to form an irregular oval hole; the hole encased a bright and citrusy arugula salad in the middle. The dining experience at Sarabeth's in Key West was sufficiently pleasant so that I had finally set foot inside Sarabeth's West for the first time upon my return – for breakfast, not brunch. Having eaten breakfasts at Sarabeth's for five days in a row, occasioned by a series of mandatory breakfasts with an out-of-town visitor staying one block away, I can now attest to the consistency and professional execution of two items on the menu: the Porridge and the Salmon Eggs Benedict.

Papa Bear - hot porridge, strawberries, bananas, fresh cream, raisins, honey

My lazy metabolism refuses to get started unless I feed it some fuel; and the only fuel it accepts in the morning is sugar. My brain, running on low blood sugar, has always had a hard time deciding between Papa Bear and Big Bad Wolf – fruits & cream v. brown sugar & butter; but this day, I leaned toward Papa Bear. Strawberries in December were looking pale and tasted paler; but it was not a problem that liberal swirls of honey and cream could not fix. Their warm porridge was freshly cooked, not relentlessly stewed, so that each grain was still separate and visible and retained its plump, grainy texture – instead of a mash of cardboard pulp to make recycled paper. Spooning up a huge spoonful of strawberry and banana slices on top of the creamy porridge, with the mixed in honey and cream visibly enticing and dotted with raisins, life was not so bad after all.

Salmon Eggs Benedict – Irish smoked salmon, Hollandaise sauce, peppers, chives

Eggs Benedict is a dish that appears deceptively simple, but it is not. It requires each layer to not only be perfect but also to web into a coherent whole: First of all, the eggs – the yolk must be runny but the white must be firm; Second, the hollandaise must be creamy but not heavy; Third, the protein cannot be Oscar Mayer; Fourth, the bread must be an English muffin – halved, and; Fifth, an extra touch – e.g. a sprinkle of fresh herbs – will complete the dish.

Sarabeth's does each and all elements beautifully: First, the eggs are consistently cooked perfectly – I despise wobbling and runny egg whites (it rather reminds me of, well, snivel; now I have said it); Second, the hollandaise is light and airy; Third, I prefer smoked salmon as the supporting actor as it lends a certain glamour and sophistication, and Sarabeth’s smoked salmon is tender but not fatty (some unfortunate and undesirable smoked salmons are so fatty that they are orange version of fatty tuna – wrong!); Fourth, the English muffin here is not the flattened and squashed one of half a dozen in a paper tray, but it has enough height, even when halved, to allow you a satisfying bite and chew, and; Fifth, chopped chives and peppers are perched charmingly and aromatically on the eggs.

Ahhh, the thrill of the first cut into the eggs sends a shiver down my spine.

Pumpkin Waffle Topped with Sour Cream, Raisins, Pumpkin Seeds and Honey
The above two dishes are the tried and true favorites, marked by a bright red stamp of approval. This “new” item – pumpkin waffle – for trial on this day was both inventive and disappointing. The use of sour cream, in place of whipped cream, stimulated debate on the merits at the table. However, the first bite solved the issue once and for all: They matched. The sweetness of the pumpkin and the sourness of the cream embraced each other lovingly. In addition, the reduced liquidity level in the sour cream permitted the waffle to remain independently dry – instead of turning the waffle eating into a race against seepage. One thing that I must absolutely emphasize is that the accompanying condiments are served separately in tiny ramkins so that you can add as much as you want and when you want it. Don’t I just abhor places where by the time the waffle has arrived, the whipped cream has already half-melted from the heat and eroded a big messy hole in my waffle? Whipped cream stay on the side, please. As a finishing touch, the well toasted pumpkin seeds rendered the crunchy nuttiness to the entire assemble.

Therefore, you may wonder what indeed the problem was. The problem was the waffle itself: The texture was dense and heavy. A waffle – we are not talking about Belgian waffles here – should be crispy on the outside but fluffy inside. Sarabeth’s pumpkin waffle was neither crispy nor fluffy, which usually indicates either an inadequate amount of baking powder or eggs in the batter. However, in the case of pumpkin waffle, it is more likely due to the wet pumpkin puree, which will make it difficult to rise; thus, the air could not be captured inside to create the requisite fluffiness. Yet, I would have liked to be surprised by a more expert rendition of the pumpkin waffle problem.

Address:  423 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10024
Phone:  (212) 496-6280

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