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The Platt List


The Hattie platter at Russ & Daughters Café.  

Gourmet Brunch

The finest culinary minds in the city have attempted to raise the burger, fried chicken, corn dogs, and even the lowly tater tot to the level of gourmet cuisine. So it was only a matter of time before New York’s elite chefs turned their considerable energies to that most tired of all big-city-dining rituals: the weekend brunch. Take the trio of dainty ham-and-cheese “éclairs,” served three to a plate, on the new Sunday menu at Wylie Dufresne’s high-minded East Village gastropub, Alder. These ethereal little creations taste like gougères and are decked with brittle, candylike ribbons of ham. You can complement them with a whole variety of other cutting-edge Sunday specials (the dreaded B-word appears nowhere on the menu), like small helpings of headcheese arranged with rolls of the eggy Japanese tamago; bacon tarts capped with crisped, buttery wheels of pommes Anna; and an inspired new creation called “frog leg wontons,” which Dufresne and his henchmen construct with little ravioli-size dumplings stuffed with frogs’ legs, spoonfuls of steamy ginger-and-carrot soup, and a decorative topping of brightly colored nasturtium petals, which float on top of the broth like lily pads in a Japanese scroll painting.

The most gratifying portion of the menu at David Waltuck’s new Flatiron restaurant, Élan, is the one served on weekend afternoons, when the generically appointed room brightens up a little and it’s a pleasure to graze on traditionalist brunchtime specialties like fluffy pancakes softened with ricotta, a properly rib-sticking “chef’s breakfast” (two eggs over easy plus Nueske’s bacon plus “smashed” potatoes), and a giant fried duck egg, which the kitchen pours with an opulent, duck-fat-laced béarnaise sauce and serves atop massive wheels of hash browns. For an even more elaborate throwback breakfast feast, however, the choice is the new Russ & Daughters Café, which the proprietors of the downtown smoked-fish emporium opened not long ago in a remodeled storefront space on Orchard Street. The marble-and-tile-trimmed room can feel a little antiseptic on dark winter evenings, so go for a stout weekend breakfast, when sunshine floods through the windows and the booths fill up with groups of nostalgic uptowners sipping $7 egg creams and grazing on antically named butcher boards (“Mensch,” “Shtetl,” “Yum Kippered”) piled with sturgeon, smoked sable, and different iterations of the famous Russ & Daughters smoked salmon. There’s a slightly more studied quality to some of these old Lower East Side favorites, but you can’t go wrong with the crunchy-edged latkes smothered in sour cream and applesauce, or the seven varieties of eggs folded with lox or sturgeon (or, if you’re feeling flush, caviar), or the excellent $20 herring plate, which on the morning I devoured it included five kinds of herring, three different sauces, and generous slices of freshly baked pumpernickel.

My favorite venue for an inspired, southern-style midday feast is Sarah Simmons’s exceptional new fried-chicken-centric restaurant, Birds & Bubbles, which opened not long ago on the northern fringes of Chinatown. And whenever the Platt family wants a satisfying Mediterranean-themed weekend-brunch experience in our own neighborhood, we crowd into Carlos Suarez’s tastefully appointed new Greenwich Village dining establishment, Claudette, and order a crock of the spicy harissa-baked eggs, followed by the sticky-sweet, North African–style “Honey Pot,” made with layers of honey-soaked phyllo, scatterings of raisins and sliced almonds, and a dash of rose water. My fashionable Francophile breakfast-loving friends can’t stop nattering about the assorted pastries (the almond croissant, the pain au chocolat) and egg dishes (the soft scramble au pistou with toasted and buttered brioche) that are now available every morning at Andrew Carmellini’s downtown bistro Lafayette, and if you find yourself stranded in the vicinity of North 5th Street in Williamsburg on a blustery wintry afternoon, I recommend you duck into Patti Jackson’s snug little Michelin-starred spot Delaware and Hudson for a platter of eggs decked with crisped triangles of scrapple, which the Pennsylvanian chef makes in accordance with old-fashioned Amish-country methods, with pig hearts and livers and generous amounts of salt and pepper. For the ultimate in brunchtime dining, however, you won’t find anything more satisfying than the weekend breakfast spread that the city’s current chef of the moment, Ignacio Mattos, lays on every Saturday and Sunday morning and afternoon at the rabidly popular Nolita bar-restaurant Estela. The long barroom is generally warmer and less hectic on a bright afternoon than during the crowded evening hours, when Mattos fans like the Obamas have been known to drop in, and the menu includes all sorts of specialties you won’t find at dinner, like thick slabs of warm country bread spread with orange marmalade and lardo, and squares of the delicious egg-topped “blood cake” sausage, which was so decoratively arranged that I did what the other assembled gastronauts at the bar were doing: I took out my trusty iPhone and tweeted a picture of it.