A Peasant in Nolita, NYC

Earlier this week, the bf and I met up with his friends for our monthly dinner.  As is typical of these reunions, there was a long list of requirements on the restaurant choice, not least of which involved the food.  Despite my usual reluctance to use Open Table, I briefly resorted to it, before finding a 9pm table at Peasant.

Having walked by it several times, I knew that Peasant was set in a beautiful space.  The entryway is small and the restaurant itself slightly recessed.  The floor to ceiling windows offer a great view onto a cute, neighbourhoody street while the red brick walls, stone floors and dim lighting create a warm aura of rustic Italian charm.  Peasant is much bigger than it looks from the outside and if you walk past the well-stocked bar, it opens up into a cavernous space with an open fire kitchen and many tables. The clinking of wine glasses and the euphony of happy dinner chatter help create a lively ambience without being too loud.  Perfect.

Unfortunately, Peasant’s early wins were somewhat undermined by a long wait for our table.  I hate it when New York restaurants book tables too close together or when (worse) they deliberately dilly dally so that you’ll buy drinks at the bar. We did happily buy drinks at the bar though and they turned out to be pretty delicious. (Try the La Contessa.)

Service continued to be slightly slow but we enjoyed our appetizers of razor clams, spring vegetables and a bocconcini salad.  The entrees were a little more mixed. The gnocchi was good but a bit one dimensional and slightly doughy whereas the lamb con polenta was a disappointment. The lasagne con capretto was absolutely delicious and easily the best dish of the night but, when your best entree is the lasagne, something isn’t right.

The portions are large, but we’d saved some room for dessert and ordered the hazelnut gelato and a cheesecake.  The gelato was good but the cheesecake not really edible.  Hmmm.

Not really sure what to recommend here. This is another place I really wanted to like but the food was a little underwhelming (especially given the expectations generated by the outstanding ambience and “open fire” cooking) and the service was iffy.   I would go back and maybe try some different dishes, drink some wine and sit near the window. But if you’re looking for a guaranteed fantastic meal, this is not your place.

Damage: $270 for four with drinks.

Other: Interestingly, Peasant has been around for nearly 10 years.  That’s like a lifetime in New York restaurant time!  A lot of the rave reviews it’s received pertain to another era so maybe it’s moved south over time.

Peasant on Urbanspoon

Cafe Gitane, Nolita, NYC

Last night, my bestie and I decided to meet in SoHo for an early dinner and a girly catch up. As we tossed around potential restaurants, it turned out we had some criteria. It had to be lively but not too loud, cute but not too hipster, healthy but not too expensive and most importantly within walking distance and with outdoor seating. Phew! We decided to walk towards the magical square mile dominated by Mott Street and, after passing a few cute, bistro-like Japanese places, quickly agreed on Café Gitane.

Arugula and Herbed Chicken Salad with Goat Cheese Bruschetta

Neither of us had eaten here before but we’d heard and seen many a happy customer. A quick look at the delicious menu and we were sold. We snagged the last outdoor table (literally on the sidewalk) and settled into our tiny wrought iron chairs, which had been endearingly tethered to the windowsill. Our waitress was extremely friendly with traces of an Australian accent. She quickly brought us menus and a bottle of tap water. The place itself is adorable. Charming and cozy on the inside, there are a few tables on the sidewalk as well as a small window for takeout customers.

The menu could be described as French-Moroccan but it’s actually a “lite version” without the cream, cheese and butter of the French or the rice, curry and meat of the Moroccans. It’s mostly French inspired salads and open-face sandwiches, a few couscous dishes and some other light, flavorful concoctions. We both chose the arugula, beet, herbed chicken salad, which arrived garnished with goat-cheese topped bruschetta. Yum! Besides the delicious food and some Italian-style desserts, there’s also a good selection of champagne cocktails, fresh juices (including watermelon), lemonade spritzers and coffees.

Even their coffees are doggie friendly 🙂

We sat and chatted in our prime outdoor real estate for well over two hours and did not feel rushed at all (it was Monday night though, mind you). Several of our fellow outdoor diners had brought their dogs along who were patiently waiting and happy to be petted by the beautiful passersby. Cafe Gitane is the perfect place for a girly catch-up. It’s cozy, friendly, inexpensive and delicious. If you’re looking for a healthy meal with a French Moroccan twist and some of the best people-watching in the city, I’d highly recommend stopping by. Be warned though – its tiny tables and pixie-esque proportions make Gitane quite ill-suited for the large-boned, so if you’re used to having lots of personal space, I wouldn’t go here!

Damage: $50 for two, including drinks and tip.
Café Gitane on Urbanspoon

Two Speedy Brunches and One Magical Neighbourhood

After a week of brochette de marisco, chuleta de pescado, gallo pinto and, of course, tostones (thanks Timur) I returned to New York on Friday hungry for brunch. So on the first sunny Saturday morning of 2010, the bf and I met three friends at La Crepe Parisienne on Spring and Mulberry. I don’t know how I’d missed this place but one nutella-banane crepe later, I knew I was in love. The crepes are large, messy and utterly lovable. The place is tiny but bright and airy with cute, grunge-free tables. Perfect for a quick stop-and-go brunch despite what you may hear from Yelp’s whiny reviewers. Besides, when the weather’s as nice as it was yesterday, skipping the two hour brunch is a great call.

In the spirit of speedy brunches, we decided today to try Parisi Bakery, also on Spring. Having recently discovered several vintage boutiques on Mott, I am increasingly convinced that the square mile between Houston, Kenmare, Lafayette and the Bowery is the most precious little neighbourhood in downtown NYC. Poo-poohing gelato stores and pancake-seeking hipsters lined up on Prince, we ordered Parisi’s only brunch sandwiches (spicy, please) and some rainbow cakes. Our food arrived in less than 10 minutes and was lipsmackingly delicious. Light eggs, spicy potatoes, juicy red peppers and young provolone have never been so happily ensconced in soft white bread. By the time Niraj’s cappuccino arrived, I had housed my sandwich, washing it down with Dr Brown’s diet cream soda. Yum!

Nicaragua was absolutely amazing (thank you America for inventing Spring Break) but my taste buds are certainly enjoying getting back to brunch basics.