Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
19 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10010
One of my favorite indulgences is sleeping late on the weekend, and then going out for Brunch â“ a good sized meal that combines breakfast and lunch dishes.
I consider brunch an American phenomenon and I find it especially popular in New York City where many restaurants serve brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Some brunches are as simple as ham and fried eggs with a side of French fries, a usual American breakfast item, while others â“ especially the ones served in the better restaurants - are by far more elaborate. Brunch is also almost always washed down with such cocktails as Mimosa (Champagne and Orange Juice), Bellini (Prosecco and Peach Nectar), Bloody Mary (Vodka and spicy Tomato Juice) or Coffee with assorted ethnic spirits such as Coffee and Kahlua, Coffee and Irish Whisky etc.
A recent find of ours that serves excellent brunch is Tratoria Italienne, whose kitchen I thought was very compatible with my personal brunch preferences. According to Chef Jared Sippel, who is also a co-owner, the dishes have Southern French and Northern Italian influences but in their brunch menu I also saw what I would consider pan-Mediterranean specialties, such as the Gigante Beans in a tomato and onion sauce (Greek); Boquerones - white sardines pickled in a vinegar solution (Catalan), Piquillo Tonnato - tuna and red peppers (Andaluz), Gildas - Basque pintxos made of pickled green olives and wild onion bulbs, green pepper strips and an anchovy filet speared on a small wooden skewer; plus, what is called on the menu “Eggs en Cocotte”, a sunny-side-up egg on a paste of baked tomato, basil, onion and garlic, which is a traditional breakfast dish from Turkey called “Menemen”. Chef Sippel makes his own version of the tomato base that is scrumptious.
The house-made breads include savory Scones and a Pain d’Epice i.e. spice bread which came with milk jam -- more commonly known as dolce de leche - and a citrus marmalade. There were three scone varieties: a spring onion, bacon and black pepper; a fresh ramp and cheddar; and a raisin and orange zest. All were delicious and we made them disappear in no time.
Of course there are also some very traditional Italian selections such as Polpettine --“ small pork meatballs with soft polenta and Calabrian chili agridolce; Aranchino, rice balls with saffron and a lovely Southern French Ocean Trout Rillette i.e. chunks of silky fish in a ras el hannout, panisse and herb salad.
Then there is the roasted Little Gem Lettuce; charcoal-grilled lettuce heart sprinkled with chopped boquerones, light breadcrumbs and Parmigiano cheese and drizzled with an extra virgin olive oil vinaigrette; it was to die for.
We also loved the Tortelli Carbonara, lovely filled small pillows of pasta, a Rome regional dish with crunchy guanciale strips (smoked pork cheeks) and a sauce made with fresh cream, egg yolks, fresh peas and Pecorino Romano.
Not surprisingly, I also spied some North African ingredients in some of the dishes such as the aforementioned ras el hannout and on the octopus plate harissa, a spicy pepper paste very popular in Tunisian and Moroccan cooking.
The wine list is interesting with most selections coming from Italy, especially Piemonte, Friuli, the Veneto and Alto Adige, a Northern Italian region close to the border with Austria. The Alto Adige white wines are very well made but not from classic Italian white grapes; they are made from white grapes of Germanic origin such as Müller-Thurgau, Gewürztraminer or Riesling. There are also a number of good beers, lagers and ales, and ciders; and the bar makes nice cocktails in addition to the ones mentioned above.
The restaurant is divided into two sections, the front room that is informal, very handsome and warm, with leather-cushioned camel-colored banquettes along the walls, zinc covered tables, and a well stocked bar illuminated by demijohns (French) and bombones (Portuguese), both large glass containers that were used in the past to age wine when the winemaker did not want any oak evident; that was prior to the advent of stainless steel. They are suspended on top of the bar with thick hemp ropes and house decorative light bulbs.
The back room is also handsome and used for more formal dinner or events. The tables are made of warm wood, the banquettes on the periphery have the same honeyed leather look as in the front room but the ones in the roomâs center have blue pillows and contoured chairs with blue backing. Similar to the front but smaller, demijohns are used to house decorative light bulbs.
Many thanks to Chef Sippel and Co-owner James King for the warm hospitality and the flavorful brunch.
We will be returning soon and hope to meet many of our readers there as well.
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