Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Honorable Mention: Cafe Cluny's Breakfast Club

I'm a firm believer in the age-old adage that "everything tastes better when cooked by someone else." Not only that, but I'm also convinced that identical foods (even packaged ones!) mysteriously taste better when eaten out of the confines of one's own home. Whether it's whimsy or scientific fact, Cafe Cluny's breakfast club is the perfect example of a dish that's easy to reproduce but impossible to nail.

Flanked by egg-washed wooden benches and, on this day, an ice cream cart addition, Cafe Cluny straddles one of the quaintest corners in the West Village. The French-ish bistro is reminiscent of what you would suspect a Paris bistro to look like if you had never actually been to Paris - bright and airy, and staffed with mime-looking, Breton striped shirt-wearing servers. Except their outfits are most likely from J.Crew, not Petit Bateau. I've only ever been to Cafe Cluny for brunch, but I hear they pull their weight for lunch and dinner, too, serving ricotta and green garlic pesto stuffed handkerchief pasta (that just sounds delicious) and a supposedly awesome tuna burger.

Cafe Cluny's breakfast club w/ fried egg, lettuce, avocado, tomato and spicy mayo
(I left out of the normally included bacon) - $15
The breakfast club is the model embodiment of brunch - breakfast elements served in a typical lunchtime vessel. Its makings are simple, common provisions likely found in your kitchen, but don't fool yourself into thinking it would taste half as good chez toi. What really brings this brunch megamix together is the spicy mayo. It provides just enough kick to ignite your taste buds for the day. As well, it pulls double-duty as the perfect emulsifier to blend all of the ingredients together into holistic brunch bliss. Another of its high points is the seemingly non-choice you have regarding the bread. Your server won't ask you what type of bread you would prefer (white or brown), alleviating the need for that racist debate of good vs. cardboard. Fewf.

The sandwich comes with a choice of fries or salad. While I'm not big on skinny fries (I'm sure we can all agree that McDonald's has just set the bar too high), they are far better to dip into the surplus spicy mayo than pieces of lettuce.

Overall, Cafe Cluny is a safe bet for any time of day. With a frisée salad on the regular menu (you know how I feel about that), the place isn't the most Plebe out there, but in terms of bang for buck, portion size and reliability, it's par for the course.

Cafe Cluny
284 W. 12th Street
(212) 255-6900
I don't believe they take weekend brunch reservations via Open Table, but with two dining rooms (and the ice cream cart during the summer), the wait is bearable. Reservations are suggested otherwise.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Truckeroo D.C.

Like diamonds to girls and bagels to cream cheese, street food is a Plebe's best friend. Which is why I've been forced to move to Washington, D.C. Psych. I haven't relocated, but I have been spending an inordinate amount of time lately in the nation's capital. Despite this being the home of my other half, my stay here is predominantly based on the fact that D.C. has one of the most thriving food truck cultures in the Northeast.

Serendipitously, last week Samburger and I both had the great fortune of being off on the same day as Truckeroo, a day-long gathering held once a month that 
brings together many D.C.'s finest mobile meal purveyors. So with glee in our hearts and small bills in our pockets, we ventured off to the Navy Yard event space.

After a quick survey of the landscape, we set our sights on four dishes:

Feelin' Crabby's crab slider - $5
Our first bite, and by far our favourite, was Feelin' Crabby's crab slider. You'd assume with such a declaration that I'd have infinite words of praise for this crustacean conglomeration, but I'm at a loss. How do you describe perfection? You can't. You simply urge others to go and experience it for themselves.

The backyard BBQ-style bun served as the perfect cushion to the Old Bay-dusted, overly generous portion of crab meat. Mixed with only the faintest hint of mayo, the patty bore zero signs (or scents) of fishiness or any other negative adjective associated with coming from the sea, a testament to its ultimate freshness. This product 
was sheer quality, and only left us wanting more. Which is why you'll find us at the Feelin' Crabby truck again this Friday for lunch.

The (half) "Full Vermonty" - $6.50
While I waited alongside my khaki-bottomed brethren for the crab slider, Samburger was tasked with making our selection from the neighbouring Big Cheese truck. Being the amateur turophile he is, he opted for the most pretentious sounding - and Flintstone-like - sandwich on the menu, the "Full Vermonty": Cabot clothbound, cave-aged cheddar on sourdough ($6.50). Given my love for Cabot cheddar cheese, and anything dressed in a loincloth, my hopes were high.

Contrary to other reports, I actually found this sandwich to be a decent size. However, in terms of taste, the Full Vermonty was lacking. I'm fairly confident that my own version would've been equally satisfying, and that's saying something. The highlight of this sandwich was definitely the butter-battered toasted sourdough. (The above linked piece mentions it's from Lyon Bakery*.) Absolutely divine, but again, nothing that couldn't be mastered at home with a good teflon pan.

*Lyon Bakery does not have a retail outpost. They do, however, have a Farmer's Market-type kiosk outside of Union Station.

The Stixmobile
Our third stop was Stix, a truck that specializes in the impalement of innocent veggies, meats and fruits. Here we singled out the grilled corn on the cob with "garlic parm butter."

Before I begin, I'd just like to say that the disappointment I experienced here was partially my own fault. When I saw the words "grilled corn" and "parmesan" together, I automatically assumed that the cob would be prepared Mexican style (since parmesan cheese is often used as a substitute for Cojita). It wasn't.

Either way, it still wasn't great. Not enough char on the kernels and the garlic parm butter was lacking, well, garlic and parm. Overall, a total waste of $3, and starch.

In an unrelated plug, if you're looking to experience the alegría that is great Mexican corn, head over to The Standard.

TaKorean's caramelized tofu taco, topped with Napa-Romaine slaw, Sriracha, lime crema,
cilantro and sesame seeds - $3 
Our fourth and final stop was TaKorean, one of the event's biggest draws.

These days, Korean seems to be the street food fusion partner de rigueurAnd for good reason. Like Asia Dog in New York and Koji in LA, TaKorean is bringing the flavourful combinations of Korean BBQ and accoutrements to the Embassy-laden streets of D.C., but in Mexican form. The one word that comes to mind when I think about the marriage of these two cuisines is harmony. The whole thing just works. The Sriracha and lime crema play beautifully off each other, only serving to enhance the hoisin flavour of the marinated and seared tofu. Like Feelin' Crabby, TaKorean will definitely be a repeat offence, especially considering each of these bad boys is only a Plebe-tastic $3. 

Price: For all four bites, a stellar $17.50.

Truckeroo is held once a month in the Bullpen space adjacent to Nationals ballpark, at the corner of Half Street and M Street SE, across the street from Navy Yard metro (green line). Check out the next one on July 13th. Admission is free.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Honorable Mention: Leméac's French toast dessert

Pas mal
I feel like I've put on weight recently. Rather than be horrified and use my toothbrush for purposes other than dental hygiene, I've decided to take a more positive mental (and physical) approach. As I write this I am looking over the Crete Senese, a Bob Ross painting-like area in Tuscany. Google it. I had a hunk of parmigiano for breakfast (and a bit more for lunch), I won't deny it. Life could be worse than an extra 5 pounds.

Rewind three weeks. Two of my best pals and I are finally in the same area code after weeks of traveling for work (or in my case, to put in some face time with Samburger in D.C.). We decided to reunite at the lovely Leméac on Laurier to fête the belated birthday of B, a trooper of a clothing sales rep who's been peddling her wares on the road for weeks (with only hand luggage, no less!)

I hadn't been to Leméac in years, but as resident restaurant chooser I figured it was a safe bet, and it was. I know they have that Plebe-friendly $25 after 10 p.m. deal, but there was no way we were waiting until the double-digit hours to commence our evening.

We ordered well:

To start:

-Mushroom ravioli with cream sauce, pine nuts and arugula ($15)
-Panko-crusted goat cheese, apple and walnut salad ($12)


-Classic tartar ($25 - a bloody fortune for something that does not come with a side, or BMW) with potato puree ($6)
-Truffle oil tartar ($25), which tasted no different than the Classic, with fries ($6)
-Mussels & fries (oddly not on the online menu, unless I'm visually challenged)

The food was nice, don't get me wrong. It just wasn't the type of meal I'd write home - or on the internet - about. For those prices I far prefer either of the Tavern locations (Monkland or Westmount). However, there was one major standout: the famed French toast dessert.

Aside from all the picci, pizza, parmigiano, Prosecco, prosciutto, and all the other P (and other letter) foods I've been inhaling while in Italy, Leméac's French toast dessert is the reason I now need Spanx.

French toast w/ milk jam ice cream and maple caramel - $12
First you have the hunk of bread. I'm inclined to say it's brioche (correct me if I'm wrong). Perfectly charred, perfectly plump, perfectly puffy on the inside - the Pavarotti (RIP) of French toast. Then there's the generous scoop of "milk jam" ice cream. I use quotes because I don't get this whole milk-flavored ice cream trend. I recently sampled NYC's Momofuku Milk Bar's "milk jug" iteration and was equally confused. Call me ignorant, but it tastes like vanilla. Either way, it was ample enough to provide a frosty reservoir in every spoonful of the French toast. To top it off you have the maple caramel - the ultimate hybrid of warm sugars - which cascades over the French toast and pools beneath it. 

My birthday is next month (April 15th, to be exact). Instead of the perennial Loblaws cake, I think I'll opt for Leméac's French toast. Think they'd mind if I just dropped in for dessert? I'll need a table for three - me and my love handles. 

1045 Laurier O.
Montreal, QC
(514) 270-0999
Reservations through OpenTable

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Before planning a special meal, especially in NYC, I do so much research I inevitably render myself into a state of analysis paralysis. I Chowhound, I blog, I Yelp and I cross-reference until even the most appetizing of options gets nixed. 

I really need a hobby.

Nevertheless, after my hopes for reservations at both Locanda Verde and Marea were squashed I decided to take a gamble on Scarpetta. I'm always reluctant of restaurants with multiple outposts (there's a Scarpetta in every city rappers rap about, or own property), but I was too frustrated to keep clicking.

Fast-forward two weeks.

My travel companion, Mother Plebe (MP), and I hopped in a cab and got dropped off at the corner of West 14th and Hudson St. Pirating the celestial light from the adjacent Apple store, I consulted my phone to get the exact address. The damn map showed it was on the corner! It was cold and my new shoes were pinching.

We finally found the place by sheer miracle. The entrance was so dimly-lit the only thing I could see clearly was the glaring B grade from the Department of Health posted in the window. I know the letter grading scheme is so sensitive that even a paperwork snafu could affect a restaurant's standing, but still. Eek.

We check in, give our coats to the hostess and shimmy over to the bar. It's so friggin' dark that I briefly lose my mother in the crowd. I use my phone to navigate the territory. Surprisingly, MP is less bothered than I am. All of a sudden she makes a spotting: Monica Lewinsky. Her hair totally gave her away. You'd think her layers would've grown out by now.

Image via
Finally it's time to sit. We score a cozy table by the window replete with natural light and a banquette to spare our purses from the floor.

Naturally, we begin with a bread basket. I had read about the meat and cheese-infused bread, but never in my life did I imagine something so divine. Ironic, because to me it totally tasted like Bar Mitzvah hors d'oeuvres (the amazing kind). I was too entranced to take my own pic, but here is one I borrowed off the interwebs.

(Please excuse the less-than-stellar quality pics. I was too shy to use flash considering I would've likely blinded someone.)

Seared sea scallops - $19
I'm normally not wooed by scallops, but these were impressive. The two honkers, smothered in a sweet, almost honey-like sauce, were the perfect preview to the evening's meal.

Spaghetti with tomato and basil - $24
I should've trusted my gut, and the internet, on this one. This dish is supposed to be a Scarpetta staple, but I read a handful of reviews citing major "over-hypedness". Over-hyped, indeed! It's friggin' spaghetti and tomato sauce. Sure, it was tasty and satisfying, but for $24? The one thing I will say is that the sauce was really nice. I'm no tomato sauce aficionado, but this was sweet and coated the noodles evenly and generously. Nothing I hate more than those watery sauces with isolated glops of tomato.

Was I missing something here? If so, enlighten me. PS. Doesn't it totally look like a brain?

Black taglioni w/ seafood ragout
and basil bread crumbs - $28
MP loved this dish. I only managed to score a few bites, but from what I tasted it was
well balanced - not too seafood-y, not too creamy - and nicely complemented by the bread crumbs. I was also pleased to notice the generous chunks of seafood (for $28 they better be!) Although dwarfed by the giant bowls, both pasta dishes were fairly portioned.

Chocolate cake w/ salted caramel gelato
and chocolate butterscotch - $11
Oh, ma damn, I am still thinking about this dessert. I never really got the whole "salted" dessert bit until I tried Lindt's Fleur de Sel bar; what a novel concept. That being said, the real star of this dish was the salted caramel gelato. This was dead sea style salty, but it worked well - amazingly well, in fact. Coupled with the "this is soooo worth not fitting into my leather leggings" molten chocolate cake and the I'm-Skor's-younger-bitchier-cousin chocolate butterscotch, this was literally the perfect dessert. Except for the fact that I had to share it with MP. Lame.

Overall, our meal was lovely. Nothing awe-inspiring (except for that dessert), but solid, delicious food with super attentive service, to boot.

Price: Mother Plebe paid. Gd bless her.

Scarpetta NYC
355 West 14th Street
(212) 691-0555
Reservations are a good idea