Tuesday, June 22, 2010

BrunchOUT: Black Swan

Well hello again. Did you miss us? Springtime in Babeland was quite a busy time, with the lovely Melissa earning her college degree (woohoo!) and Emily just being consumed by all things work-related. But the overly chaotic months are somewhat behind us (or maybe we're just adjusting to constant chaos?) and we have finally gotten back to what matters: brunching.

Over the past few months, there was a bit of a commotion over a new bar or restaurant or who knows what being developed in Emily's neighborhood. All of a sudden, it was open and we had Black Swan. Being one to constantly research eateries new and old in the neighborhood, it looked like a nice gastropub had made its way into the neighborhood. And yet, it gets better - they introduced a brunch menu! We craved a low-key, convenient, affordable but also delicious brunch with B, Emily's new roommate and no stranger to Babes Who Brunch. Black Swan just seemed to fit these requirements,  thus our brunch plans were set. 

The interior of Black Swan is gorgeous. You pass the large front bar and the kitchen, where you could easily say hello to the chefs, especially if you're a regular. And then it opens up into the eating space. The sunlight streaming in on that Saturday felt pretty glorious. There is a miniature patio area, but more than eating space, the large open doorway creates a welcome breeze during pleasant weather. A large communal picnic table in the center of the space was home to a birthday brunch during our visit, creating grandiose schemes to bring large numbers of friends to the neighborhood. In general, the space feels rustic and warm with the sheer amount of wood, but open and inviting during the daytime. 

As soon as we were seated by our very friendly, but obviously a bit nervous waiter, we dove into the brief brunch menu. The price was a positive way to start the meal - for $14, you get a choice of coffee or tea and a choice of a bloody mary, mimosa, screwdriver or orange juice. You get to choose your entree, and can decide between a fresh fruit salad or a fruit muffin. Their menu listed Balthazar breads as their bakery, and the recently expanded website mentions the use of Stumptown coffee and organic eggs. We also discovered that they not only have tea, but they had a nice variety from Harney & Sons.

The coffee and tea came out quickly, sufficiently strong and quite a nice start to the day. Next, after an odd pause in the service, came the real open-eye drinks. Again, the small details really shone. The mimosas had a wonderful sparkling bubble to them, with the perfect splash of orange juice. From what we could scope from our table, Black Swan uses mini bottles of champagne, obviously to avoid any flat mimosas. The crisp, fresh bubbles made a nice difference in the drink. The orange juice by itself was also delicious, and they did not skimp on the juice serving. The bloody mary was also quite well done. It had a great lime twist at the end, a perfect horseradish bite, enough vodka and the tomato flavor was pure, not too sweet, fake nor not at all like V8 (which is never a pleasant encounter in bloody marys).

The first bites that came out were the fresh fruit, which happened to be quartered strawberries and a dollop of whipped cream. We couldn't help but notice how the large dishes these were served in dwarfed the berries. Restaurant growing pains, right? Because otherwise, the berries were perfectly ripe and a light simple bite before the entrees arrived. Speaking of the entrees, between the three of us, we ordered a fair variety from their menu.

 Two Organic Eggs any style, Multi Grain Toast, Home Fries and Chicken Apple Sausage

B's dish was a hearty sight - two thick, seed filled slices of toasty whole grain bread, scrambled eggs, browned potatoes, a nice pile of dressed mixed greens and a fantastically crisp, split sausage. The sausage was obviously well griddled, caramelized and snappy, and the eggs not scrambled too hard nor too soft.

Salmon Croquette, Cheesy Eggs and Grits

Emily's dish was the epitome of a comforting, simple, savory breakfast. What it lacked in variety of color, it made up in rich flavors and fantastic textures. The salmon croquette was quite respectable - fried with a great crunch and full of salmon and straight forward ingredients. Very little filler, just enough onion, with bell peppers and spices to round it out. For a lady from the South, the grits were absolutely perfect. Not 'gritty', creamy and full of glorious butter. The only thing that the croquette and the eggs were in need of was an extra dash of ground pepper. The cheesy eggs were wonderfully soft scrambled and oozing with cheese. See exhibit A for the delightful cheesiness:

Eggs Benedict with Home Fries, with Smoked Salmon

Melissa's dish was a well executed Eggs Benedict with a small side salad and home fries. Smoked Salmon added just the right amount of saltiness to balance out the other elements. There was a thoughtful balance between all the parts so that no one ingredient became too much after awhile.

The Bottom Dollar

For those that have lived in Bedford Stuyvesant for years, they could easily say that Black Swan is overpriced for the location. But the realities are, in a slowly gentrifying neighborhood, a new gastropub with these prices is fantastic. A solid alcoholic beverage, endless strong, fantastic coffee, a sweet bite and a delicious brunch for $14 is a great deal in our books.

The Bottom Line

Emily says Black Swan is the epitome of a great neighborhood bar and restaurant. Affordable, convenient [to me] and quality food and drinks make it a place I will more than happily return to. In fact, I have already made it back a second time for brunch since our visit. (P.S. the fried chicken is fantastic!) If you live in the immediate area or on the G train in Brooklyn, it's worth a jaunt over for a relaxing brunch.

Melissa says While nothing blew me away or made me want to call it a destination spot, I don't think that's what its trying to be. Black Swan is certainly a welcome addition and a testament to the changing landscape of the neighborhood.

Friday, April 23, 2010

BrunchItYourself: Baaacon Jam!


(This BrunchItYourself Post is brought to you by Emily. Melissa served as Taste Tester and Photo Snapper. However, she tasted too much before she remembered to snap photos.)

Wait, what, bacon jam?! Yes, it exists. Yes, you can make it at home, easily. And yes, it is delicious. [No offense to any non-pork eaters out there.] A little like spreadable gold, it's an item that is a bit expensive to make but worth every penny. Actually, let me clarify - the main expense in this recipe is the bacon itself. Personally, we babes enjoy the Niman Ranch bacon that can easily be found at Trader Joe's. The price is a reasonable middle ground between your Hormel bacon and your deliciously house-smoked The Meat Hook slab bacon.

But where does this small obsession begin? One fateful night, I had a book club-dinner with two fabulous friends at Village Tart. The side of Brussels sprouts with bacon jam called out to me even before a friend insisted we get them, as she had dined there before and loved the dish. All three of us ordered this side and it was love at first bite. From there, my brain was stuck on the idea of not even replicating the dish as much as the bacon jam. A big BrunchIN seemed like the perfect place to debut my attempt.

Google gave me a few starter recipes, and with the help of my crockpot, the bacon jam comes together easily, with patience in the slow cooker time.

Your New Favorite Thing to Spread on Everything (AKA Bacon Jam)

2 pounds bacon, sliced
5 yellow onions, julienned
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup maple syrup
hearty pinches of:
paprika (hot or sweet Hungarian is fine)
red pepper flakes
cumin seeds (or ground cumin)
freshly ground black pepper
optional: 1/2-2 tsp vanilla extract (see Note)

Before slicing onions and bacon, set your slow cooker on high (basically preheating it). I used a 5-6 quart one, room to spare in the pot is fine. Dump the bacon and onions into a crockpot (I used a larger 5-6 quart one) once chopped. Let these cook on high for about two hours, and then add in the spices, vinegar and maple. My recommendation is to continue to cook on high, watching the crockpot every four hours. If need be, turn down to low. Let cook for a minimum of 12 hours. You're basically looking for a deeeeep dark brown color without full-on burning it.

Once cooked, let cool slightly and drain the mixture. Reserve the fat and 'juices' and blend the mixture slightly. I recommend using an immersion blender for ease, but a blender or food processor works as well. I prefer the jam still a bit chunky and 'rustic' but pureed enough to spread easily. Add some of the liquid back as needed to get it to the consistency you prefer.

Now time for tweaking. Taste the bacon jam. Additional maple, vinegar, some salt or any of the spices is fine to add. Basically, you want to ensure the flavors are "bright", especially after cooking for so long. The jam should have a tang, a sweetness and the obvious bacon flavor.

Note: I highly recommend adding vanilla at the very end of the process. While making the bacon jam for the Brunch Experiment, we discovered that the addition of vanilla calmed down the obvious savory factor of the jam. It does not scream vanilla, but simply balances things out. Take out one spoonful of jam. In the rest of it, mix in 1/2 tsp to start. Taste some of the un-vanilla-ed spoonful and then the big batch. If the change in flavor isn't obvious, add another 1/4-1/2 tsp and taste test again. There is a point in the vanilla addition that your taste buds will be able to tell an obvious, positive difference.

Serving Suggestions: As mentioned, you can spread this on anything. But one combination my friends and I can highly recommend is on a cracker with goat cheese and honey. It is a fantastic appetizer combination, and translates well to bread pudding as well. Mix into roasted Brussels sprouts! Put it on a burger or sandwich. The options are endless, but I guarantee that if you bring bacon jam to any event, you won't have problems getting rid of it. We served this as part of our Babe's Bread Pudding at the recent BrunchBattle: The Brooklyn Brunch Experiment, and got raised eyebrows and subsequent nods of approval. 

If you enjoyed this recipe, let us know in the comments what your own results were, along with any comments or requests for future BrunchItYourself posts. Thanks, and happy brunching!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

BrunchBATTLE: The Brooklyn Brunch Experiment

Just when you think there are only so many ways and so many time slots in which we can experience brunch, someone throws a curveball at you. In this instance, we couldn't pass up the chance to try our hand at The Brooklyn Brunch Experiment, the fifth installment of The Food Experiments by seasoned food competitors, Nick Suarez and Theo Peck. Not to mention, with a portion of ticket sales going to support Ovarian Cancer research, and  prizes as lavish as 2 JetBlue tickets or a year's supply of Organic Valley products, are tempting enough to make anyone want to throw on an apron and whip up a big batch of brunch.

We decided to call our creation Babe's Bread Pudding in honor of Babes who Brunch. Take a gander at the creation. Looks can be deceptive, since this is no regular bread pudding. Go ahead, guess what's in it.... give up? If you thought "bacon jam", you're one psychic cookie.

Layers of challah bread pudding with real vanilla bean and traces of Jack Daniels hid a secret filling: bacon jam. Homemade bacon jam consists of bits of bacon and caramelized onions. A fairly simple recipe executed in a crockpot, with the addition of some maple syrup and a few spices. [Keep watching BWB, the recipe will be posted here shortly!] Finally, we topped it with a dollop of maple-syrup infused goat cheese and a pecan half for garnish.

So how did we end up with this porky pudding? Here's the story. Emily came up with the original idea after dining on some delicious Brussels sprouts with bacon jam at Village Tart (worth visiting for that side dish alone!). For one of the many giant brunches our friends hosted, she decided to create bacon jam to be served with homemade biscuits. As the brunch went on, people started pairing three loves: bacon jam, goat cheese and honey on crackers. When we heard word of the Brunch Experiment, her brain went straight back to that deliciously addictive combination. Bread pudding isn't something Emily has much experience making, so why not tackle it for a giant food competition?!

During the late A.M. hour baking, testing, and tasting session, we made slight adjustments together (AKA: Melissa insisted on adding more sugar to things. Emily's note: Melissa has an awesome palate, she rocked out on the recipe tweaking.) The final product pictured above was the culmination of the day and night's cooking.

After a necessary powernap, we popped these babes into the oven, tapped our feet impatiently, but still managed to carry the two trays over in time to set up before the crowds arrived. We got too wrapped up in keeping down the fort at our station to take photos or taste everyone else's delicious creations for the most part, but Serious Eats, Metromix, Always Hungry, and The Huffington Post have more general coverage of the event and the winners.

There were some impressive showings that day, and we extend well-deserved congratulations to the winners. The creative minds behind Wanna Spoon? won over the judges with their version of Breakfast Cupcakes, corn cupcakes with bacon buttercream frosting, paired with a Bloody Mary shooter with spicy candied bacon. The bubbly duo, Emily and Linda, were sweet to come up to us afterward and give us such sincere praise for the Babe's Bread Pudding. It was pretty humbling and inspiring for us as food bloggers to go up against professional caterers and seasoned competitors. But the best part about these slams, cookoffs, or throwdowns, is getting to know the passionate creators who we have the pleasure of competing next to.
And look, our mascot, Babe! Guess we didn't eat him after all.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

BrunchOUT: Zazie (San Francisco)

Brunch, as much of a New York staple as we'd like to believe, does exist and can be well represented in other parts of the country. Like other regional food differences that appear in other meals, brunch items also vary according to local preferences. Thankfully, Babes who Brunch are from differing parts of the U.S. and will report back on brunches during our travels.

I (Melissa speaking!) was recently in San Francisco on vacation, and started off the trip right with brunch to cure my jet-lag. At the recommendation of my San Franciscan host, we went to a popular brunch spot in Cole Valley - Zazie's, a cute French bistro with a line out the door to rival those in New York. There was a sign-up sheet on the outside window, with a warning not to ask how long the wait is. Simply multiply the number of patrons before you by 3 minutes, and that's the estimated wait time. The system seemed to be relatively accurate, so I'm curious to see if that would work in New York.

Line outside Zazie's

When our names were finally called, we were led to a bright and cozy back garden area with wooden benches, surrounded by greenery and signature colorful San Franciscan townhouses. On our table was this adorable hand-made "Reserved" sign:


The Food 

Perhaps I'm used to the amount of pre-fixe brunches in New York, but I was surprised not to find that option here. The menu was extensive, covering anything from a French Toast Tahiti, challah stuffed with caramelized bananas and walnuts, to tartines and even a Mediterranean Plate. A few items, such as eggs or pancakes, conveniently came in price tiers according to the number of each that you wanted.

The New Yorker in me found the Scrambled Egg New York with wild smoked salmon, green onions, and cream cheese to be amusing. Instead, my friend and I both chose to go for poached eggs, served on top of an English muffin with homefries on the side.

Poached Eggs Monaco  
Light Hollandaise sauce, Zoe’s proscuitto and tomatoes provencales ($12)

Poached Eggs Monaco

Poached Eggs Valence 
Roasted eggplant and spicy tomato-chevre sauce ($11)

Poached Eggs Valence

Another tempting, Californian-sounding dish was the Poached Eggs La Mer, with fresh hand picked dungeness crab, green onions, and Haas avocados ($17). Perhaps another time, but I planned to get my fill of avocados throughout the week anyways.

The poached eggs were the highlight of the dishes, evident of really fresh free-range eggs. This first taste of San Francisco gave a sneak peak at the difference between New York that so many people have pointed out already. The primary focus is on fine, fresh ingredients that treat the body well, not about reinventing the concept of a Eggs Florentine.

The Bottom Dollar

The humanistic view even extends to the additional SF Health Care Ordinance charge of $1 per person added to all checks. As taken aback as I was to see this involuntary surcharge, there's not too much to argue against providing better work benefits for employees.

SF Health Ordinance

The Bottom Line

Overall, not a bad start to a week of eating indulgence in San Francisco. Time flies by with a cup of coffee, puppies all around, and best of all, a personal sunbath in the back garden. 

Back Garden

941 Cole Street 
San Francisco, CA 94117

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

BrunchOUT: Egg in Williamsburg

No, the rumors aren't true, we babes haven't been kidnapped, disappeared or quit. It's a busy time in our world, as is true for most New Yorkers. But there has been lots of brunching, both in and out. This adventure was a bit of a last minute holiday get-together between Emily and friends and previous brunching babes, Molly and Anna, at Egg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Egg is a small restaurant that is as well known for its farm fresh, Southern-inspired food as it is for the wait. Like many brunch spots, Egg is a small place that is almost always packed. For the three of us, on President's Day, our wait ended up taking forty-five minutes. We were sat at the end of a four person table. Obviously, Egg is very good at fitting as many diners in their space. One cute factor happening in the place is white paper covering the table with a cup of crayons sitting out. This turned into a great way to pass the time as we waited for our food.

The Food

One of the main items I knew I had to order at Egg are the biscuits. The main photograph on the Egg website is a tray of biscuits, and really, how can you turn these down?

photo from the Egg front page

Personally, I found the biscuit a bit too doughy in the center, but the edges were deliciously browned and cooked properly. Served with some nice raspberry jam, these biscuits were a nice side to all three of our dishes. Anna ordered two fried eggs, bacon and hashbrowns, Molly got the eggs Rothko, and I ordered cheese grits and bacon.

Eggs Rothko $8.50

Photo via Pabo76 on Flickr

Served with a nice tomato sauce and green veggies, this is one of those meals that fools the eyes. It's a classic egg-in-the-hole done Williamsburg style. (Really, how many restaurants could get away with naming a breakfast dish after an artist?) The egg (hiding under all that cheese), Amy's brioche bread, and lots of Grafton cheddar cheese make for one dense breakfast.

Two Eggs, Any Style $7

Photo via Yelper Alex S

Egg seems to know their namesake - they're quite talented at cooking eggs perfectly, and as requested. Anna's dish intrigued me because the hashbrowns are sort of a big patty, crisp and crunchy on the outside, and softer inside. The bacon is also quite delicious, and this seemed to satisfy Anna's brunch cravings.

Organic Grits and Eggs with Grafton Cheddar $9.75

These stone-ground grits from South Carolina's Anson Mills are served with two eggs cooked any style, and a side of bacon (my choice). Placing my two over easy eggs on top of the bowl of grits, mixing the yolk in with the cheesy grits, this made a very comforting dish. It definitely needed black pepper, which I did add, for a perfect balance of flavors. A great size bowl of grits, two eggs and the side of bacon made a really great meal, along with my biscuit on the side. Whether fortunate or not,  I was unable to find a photograph of Egg's breakfast grits online, but in reality, grits just don't photograph beautifully.

The Bottom Dollar

Egg owns their own small farm, and I feel that the prices reflect an ability to get homegrown produce without the middlemen. Many of the breakfast meats are housemade or very local, along with the breads and cheeses. The most expensive item on the breakfast menu is an $11 duck hash, which is very very reasonable. The portions aren't Cracker Barrel huge, but they are quite filling.

The Bottom Line

Egg has me wavering between fantastic and so not worth it. The food was beyond solid, yet a 45 minute wait on a holiday Monday? Between the crying baby at the next table over and the line that had tripled over the course of our meal, we felt rushed to finish eating and handle our check as soon as possible. Egg serves breakfast all day, and begins lunch at noon. My best recommendation is to check this restaurant out on a weekday, if you have a holiday or a more relaxed work schedule. But on a normal Saturday or Sunday? I won't even try it!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

BrunchOUT: Gus and Gabriel

Excruciatingly delayed trains, fierce winds, and a late awakening made for a rough start to our Saturday morning. We were both running late to meet Anna at Gus and Gabriel, a neighborhood Greek gastropub that she had highly recommended at our previous brunch together. As we were coming all the way from Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, one might wonder if there are good brunches worth traveling to the Upper West Side for, of all places. After all, there are plenty of people who never travel above 14th street, and others who are shocked when they find out Manhattan has streets above 200. The answer? Read on and be enlightened, or at least marvel at our stomachs' capacities.

The Restaurant

First, a little background on Gus and Gabriel, because it's so darned heartwarming. The proprietor, Michael Psilakis, is an acclaimed Greek chef and restaurateur. Melissa attended a class hosted by Chef Psilakis before at the Astor Center, and enjoyed the food at Anthos, the only Greek restaurant outside of Greece to receive a Michelin star. But after Anthos, interestingly enough, Chef Psilakis left to open up this subterranean gastropub named after his late father and his son, with the intent of, according to him, "taking American pub food and making it all from scratch." Gus and Gabriel would both be proud.

The restaurant is a true pub, with lots of dark wood, dark paint colors and some fun vintage accessories. Psilakis' desire to create a true neighborhood pub seems perfectly on point. It's not snooty nor does it scream "world renowned chef". While we don't live in the Upper West Side, we're inclined to commute just to become regulars here. Our waiter was incredibly friendly, gave us some great recommendations, and did not rush us out the door. In fact, we lingered there for hours, quite content with the feast spread out before us. Then again, after the massive amount of food we ate, I think our waiter knew there was no rushing to be made by these little piggies.

The Food

Given that Gus & Gabriel is a gastropub that revels in the best versions of the supposedly "worst" food for your health, the starters all sounded inventive and refined. So we dove into brunch with an appetizers and shared plates smorgasbord.

Fried Mozzarella Balls, $4.95
The idea of creating genuine bar food from scratch was well-introduced by these mozzarella balls. Your eyes might not jump to this dish by the uninspired name, but that's a regrettable mistake to make. Imagine golden, delicious, still warm, and more importantly, full of chewy, stretchy, real mozzarella cheese wrapped bite-sized poppers. Served with a spicy, tangy, and smooth marinara sauce, these went fast and rightly so.

Cheddar & Pork “Tater Tots", $3.95

These particular tater tots were an interesting take on a freezer section classic. The filling seemed to be made of a sweet potato, with cheddar and pork in them as well. The potato was smooth and creamy, unlike your typical tot, with the texture and added kick of pork. These were served with a duo of spicy BBQ sauce and what the menu says is cheddar fondue that tasted more like sour cream dipping sauce.

Nachos (for two), $9.95

Wow, these nachos were the ultimate decadent giant plate of nachos. Topped with chili, pulled pork, refried beans, guacamole, sour cream, jalapeños and pico de gallo, they may not fulfill the nacho purists' standards but they were fantastic in our books. Each component was made with high quality ingredients, with tortillas fried daily for fresh chips. Our only suggestion is that the toppings could have been better distributed among the chips- a clump of guacamole here, a pile of pulled pork there. But make no mistake, there was more than enough of each topping for a covered chip every time.

Bone Marrow, $9.95
Bone marrow... Need we say more? Well, this marrow was served with lemon butter, pickled onions, roasted cloves of garlic and toasted bread. The dish had quite the "Oooh/Aaaah" factor for the sheer size of the bone it was served in. The bone marrow was pleasantly fatty and savory, delicious spread on the bread (which was quite like grown up Texas Toast) and topped with onions. We ladies are definite fans of bone marrow and this truly hit the spot. Not to mention, the sheer novelty of that giant carved out bone is enough to keep around for goofy picture-taking afterwards.

Gnudi, $11.95
Oh gnudi, you're like the horribly delicious, cheesy cousin to gnocchi. Basically, gnudi is a thin skinned, cheese filled pasta. Each piece is a delicate purse of cheese, ready to burst and melt simultaneously in your mouth. Paired with oyster mushrooms and ricotta salata to balance out the gooey innards, this nailed it as a great belly-warming dish on a winter day. While this is an entree on the menu, we greatly recommend ordering it as a shared plate as we did.

Fried Egg, Bacon, Onion Rings & Gruyére Burger, $13.95
As a brunching group, the fried egg and bacon burger was a definite order for us. This mammoth burger looked so immaculate with the egg perfectly perched atop the beef, it was the last item we finally dug into. I do think that factor had an effect on our burger - we ordered it medium rare but the waiting time on our end meant we got a medium to medium well burger. Possibly because of food fatigue, but we didn't find the burger blow-your-mind delicious. A solid choice, yes, but earth-shattering, not quite. The fries however, were pretty close to perfection with a nice balance of salt without being overly greasy.

Strawberry Cheesecake Milkshake, $6.50
And now for the most anticipated part: dessert! Gus and Gabriel has a great selection of milkshakes and floats, most of which are spiked. Perfect for boozy brunch lovers who want it in a different form. This shake had a strong cheesecake flavor, with a nice kick of Plantation Jamaican rum in the background. Heck, even the whipped cream on top was just the right consistency without tasting artificial or falling flat at all.

Mint Chocolate Cake, $5.95
Hello, four-tier cake! This cake was so incredibly dense and rich, and the serving was gigantic can you can tell. The mint flavor was subtle, a very nice change from many chocolate-mint desserts which can be too overpowering. The waiter explained that Creme de Menthe is the source of the mint flavor, and the reason for the subtlety. The chocolate ice cream and whipped cream on the side aided in our slow but study destruction of the decadent cake by giving us a little texture and temperature relief.

Apple Crisp, Burnt Caramel & Toffee Crunch, $6.50
Goodness gracious, this apple crumble was such a winner. Topped with a heaping scoop of maple walnut ice cream, the warm and cold combination was delicious. The toffee crunch, softened apples mingled with burnt caramel and maple walnut flavors made this quite an addictive dessert. This blows your mama's apple crumb (or apple pie, at that) out of the water.

Angel Food Cake "Sandwiches" with Three Fruit Sherbert, $5.95
This dessert was described as the "bizarre" choice on the menu by the waiter when Melissa questioned him. It simply is exactly as it looks - slices of well-made homemade angel food cake sandwiched balls of flavorful, but not too sweet, fruit sherbert and fresh fruit. It was a welcome break from the rich desserts and fun to play around with, but not anything worth writing home about.

Chipwich & Shake, $5.95
The final dessert to come out, this sampler plate is a great value for the variety in flavor. The chipwich was composed of two triple chocolate cookies hugging a filling of caramel ice cream and decorated with crunchy chocolate pearls. The shake was a simple vanilla ice cream shake, spiked with Jim Bean! Unlike the first milkshake, which was more balanced in the use of liquor, this basic (but delicious) vanilla flavor couldn't handle the Jim Bean. The liquor came on strong! The chipwich was tasty, the thin cookies having a bit more chew and less crunch than your typical cartwheel. The caramel ice cream had a pure flavor and the jimmies added a great pop in the mouth.

The Bottom Dollar

Gus and Gabriel is such an economical steal. The food is obviously made of high quality ingredients, not to mention plenty of care and love, and the prices are most definitely set to encourage the neighborhood feeling. $14 for a fully loaded burger? $5 for mozzarella balls? Delicious $7 desserts? Completely worth it, and beyond. Well worth the journey for "out of towners" coming from Brooklyn and below 14th st.

The Bottom Line

Emily says: I cannot truly articulate my excitement about and enjoyment of my meal at Gus and Gabriel. This restaurant embodies basking in guilty pleasures, and I highly recommend it. Chum up with the waiters, enjoy a beer or two and a spiked shake and make this place your neighborhood spot, whether you live in the Upper West Side or Brooklyn.

Melissa says: If every gastropub were like this, I'd reconsider where I go for my meals. It's great that you can really taste the freshness of the preparation and quality of ingredients without having to attribute that kind of care to fine dining. Pub food, you've met your savior. 

Saturday, January 23, 2010

BrunchIN: Veggie Frittata for a Rainy Day Brunch

So not every brunch that we ladies attend is a "sponsored" BWB meal. One such brunch occurred last Sunday. A last minute invite to the welcoming brunch party for Jessica, a newly transplanted Seattleite, proved to be just what the doctor ordered for a drizzly Sunday afternoon.

The aforementioned charming hostess greeted us at the door, smiling and quick to offer drinks to cure our rain-drenched selves. A glance at the overflowing tables of food confirmed that this Brunch IN was worth the trek.

Clockwise from the top, we have delicious Baked Bacon, Emily C's outta this world Mac-n-Cheese, Blue Cheese Stuffed Prunes, Emily H's Roasted Vegetable Frittata (recipe below!). Also shown are cookies, chocolates, and croissants courtesy of Niki, scones and Chocolate Babka (both quite tasty!) from Moishe's, Chocolate Donettes from Patrice sharing the plate with Devin's homemade French Toast Sticks (with Mint Whipped Cream and Apple Compote accompaniments), and finally, Jessica's Corn Souffle. There was also two huge, overflowing bowls of Murray's bagels, a variety of cream cheeses, and a crackers and cheese plate to round it out. Whew.
Roasted Vegetable Frittata
1 large or 2 small heads of broccoli
2 onions
4 cloves garlic
1 bell pepper, either fresh (and roasted) or canned roasted
8 eggs
1/3 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp heavy cream
1/2 small wheel (about 2 oz) goat cheese
1 cup or one heaping pile grated cheese - I used gruyere and parmesan
Parsley, thyme, scallions - or your herbs of choice, chopped
Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes - to taste

All vegetables listed are interchangeable - this frittata is great for leftover vegetables you may have had in the fridge from a previous meal, dinner out, whatever you like and is in season, preferably. If using leftovers OR if you roast the vegetables the night before, this truly is an easy recipe to throw together the morning of a brunch!

Cut the onions in half and each half into thin half moons. Warm a skillet (nonstick is fine) with a little olive oil on low to medium-low. Add the onions, a pinch of salt and black pepper, and basically let these cook for at least 45 minutes, up to an hour. Stir every 5 minutes or so, and right at 30 minutes, add the 4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced. To make sure these cloves don't brown, I keep the heat as low as it can go. When you're almost ready to pull the pan off, add a splash of balsamic vinegar and a heavier splash of vermouth or white wine. Scrape off the bottom of the pan, let cook for a few more minutes to dry it out a bit, and voila.

Once you start the onions, move on to the broccoli. Preheat the oven to 450. Chop the broccoli into small florets, and cut the stalks into rings. Spread out on a large baking sheet and drizzle on olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss to coat, and roast for 20-40 minutes. Basically, every 10 minutes, take out to stir. You want the stalks to get browned and almost cooked, but not mushy. Brown is important, though, so resist the urge to stir.

For the roasted bell pepper, you can easily use a jarred, pre-roasted pepper, or you can be like me and roast one right on the gas flame of your stove. Or in the oven. (Learn all about both techniques here  and here.) Once roasted, cut into thin strips.

Now assembling the frittata! Throw the heavy cream and goat cheese into a small saucepan on low. Let the goat cheese melt into the cream, and then pop the pan into the fridge for a few minutes. Whisk the eight eggs in a bowl, and carefully add in the flour and baking powder and whisk thoroughly to combine. Finally, whisk in the slightly cooled cream/cheese mixture.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Liberally grease/PAM a heatproof (read: all metal) large skillet and place on a medium stove. Once pan is a bit warm, spread onions, broccoli, and red peppers evenly across the bottom of the pan. Top with half of the eggs, add all of the grated cheeses and chopped herbs, and add the rest of the eggs. Place the pan in the preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
We passed the time chatting and lounging around the bright, open living room, complete with a big screen TV, comfy white couches, and a small outdoor patio. Space is an important factor of hosting Brunch INs, or any large meal really, yet it is an element that many city-dwellers simply lack. Another testy factor to consider is the neighbors; a large group of people having a good time tends to get pretty loud, and walls are comparatively thin. That said, the brunch went smoothly. Only after a whopping 4+ hours did guests begin clearing out, amongst pleas to stuff our faces with the leftover food, and a buildup of noise complaints from the neighbors.

This was definitely a pleasant experience that we can't wait to partake in again. A big thanks to Damien the organizer, Jessica the host, and every one of the awesome guests we met there. We've got plans to host our own BrunchIN soon, so keep tabs on the Babes who Brunch!