Though not nearly as close as a showstopper as Le Bernardin was for Marcus's birthday celebration this year, Norma's was our destination for a birthday brunch (i.e., where we ate on his actual birthday). We had reservations at noon, but due to a glitch in the OpenTable system, we were not seated until forty-five minutes later. Even if this weren't the case, Norma's was bustling with so many guests waiting at its wide-opening entrance. So even if you have a reservation (glitch or no glitch), I gather you'll still be waiting a little while after your actual reservation. Unlike many brunch places who could care less about its guests (i.e., you are just like a herd of cattle they're trying to in an out as quickly as possible), they are pretty accommodating here and are very understanding to those patient and impatient individuals waiting for a table.
Located at the heart of Le Parker Meridien hotel in New York, Norma's is quite the popular brunch spot, for hotel guests and brunchin' New Yorkers alike. The posh, metropolitan hotel is run by Starwood, and Norma's is no different. The menu boasts some very creative (and quite luxurious) options.
Love the logo, with the "O" in Norma's designed to look like a fried egg sans-serif style -- sunny side up, of course.
The structure of the menu at Norma's is very clever and cheeky. Among its unconventional categories (i.e., what would usually be something like "eggs," "pancakes," "waffles," etc.) are "Mom Can't Make This" -- twists on breakfast classics; "The One that Didn't Get Away" -- consisting of seafood breakfast combos; "This Should Do It" -- the savory of the savoriest; and "Benny Sent Me" -- a unique assortment of eggs benedicts.
They started us with an amuse-bouche drink. It was a smoothie of blueberries, bananas, and guava -- the three fruits that Marcus doesn't like, all blended in these petite shot glasses for our supposed enjoyment. Yay for me -- two shots of smoothie to start off brunch just right!
To compensate for this, Marcus ordered the most expensive glass of lemonade that I've ever seen (and it wasn't even spiked!). At $9, this was a tangy lemonade, which was in fact quite tangy. We both liked it, but not sure if it was worth that much. Geez, talk about one sophisticated glass of lemonade!
I also admired the flatware. Very modern and minimalist.
So a fun (and extravagant) fact -- the most expensive item offered by Norma's is not even listed on the printed menu. I refer to it as Norma's secret omelette, which has a going rate of $1,000 and is comprised of eggs, lobster, and approximately $995 worth of caviar. Talk about a decadent breakfast, literally.
So I decided to explore the "This Should Do It" section of the menu for my main course. Yup -- I dared to go there. I ordered it -- the foie gras brioche french toast with asparagus and mushrooms. This was possibly the savoriest breakfast course in the history of brunch -- it is also the most expensive listed course on Norma's brunch menu, ultimately because the thick-cut brioche is covered in strips of foie gras. Oh man, this was amazing -- the sauce was a good consistency and was really savory in texture and taste. It tasted very much like a sauce you want to braise hearty meats in like osso buco, oxtail, and short ribs -- which is why it went so well with the foie gras and absorbed nicely into the softness of the brioche. The mushrooms and asparagus balanced out the heaviness of the sauce -- a nice touch. Three quarters of the way through, the inevitable food coma was coming over me by way of the richness of the foie gras and its sauce. The remaining quarter of the dish stared up at me in all of its savory delight. I was so incredibly full already, but I did the best I could to finish it up.
Marcus went on the sweeter side of the brunch menu. He had the PB&C Waffle 'Wich, which is a chocolate waffle with peanut butter and toffee crunch filling. This was very rich, too, in a very chocolatey way. In the same way the savoriness of the foie gras brioche french toast did me in, the sweetness did it in for Marcus. With a few bites left on his plate, Marcus fell victim to a blissful food coma, too. So if you're not a fan of really chocolatey, peanut buttery things, this waffle may be too much dessert for breakfast.
Findings: Prepare yourself for a food coma-ridden brunch at Norma's, especially if you dare to order something bold and unique (which, let's face it, most menu items are) like Marcus and I did. It's a bit pricey for brunch, especially since there's no prix fixe options -- just a la carte and a pretty overpriced selection of juices and beverages. So this is a great place to bring your family -- it's definitely a pleasant treat! Otherwise, if you're looking for a good bargain for brunch, Norma's may not be the place. Waits are also especially crazy, as it is the case with very popular brunch spots, so I would advise getting a little bit earlier than your reservation so that you can let the mâitre d' know you've arrived, giving them enough time to get your table ready (if the previous party has not left yet). But in any case, just be prepared to wait for an awesome brunch ahead of you.
Price point: $22-32 for each main course, $9 for one glass of tangy lemonade.
--October 2, 2011
Le Parker Meridien New York
118 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019