Lately I’ve been revolting against brunch. I never thought my love of ricotta pancakes and stuffed french toast would wane, but New York’s restaurants offer such variety that many brunch menus have started to look uninspired.
For a very un-brunch midday meal on a Saturday or Sunday, I love to go to Cha-An. This petite tea house on the second story of a nondescript building in East Village is the perfect antidote to New York’s “favorite” brunch destinations that offer leaden eggs Benedict and hour long waits for a table.
Its lunch specials and prix fixe sets are perfectly un-American. So much care is put into harmonious presentation and proportions. The sets are similar to a bento box arrangement, with perfect servings of various vegetables, rice, and proteins, usually fish. Another option is the mini appetizer sampler, a collection of six different vegetable and fish small dishes.
Each mini course within the sets showcases a particular flavor or ingredient. I often have difficulty picking favorite between the tender shitake mushrooms, smoked fish, and other rotating dishes. Even the rice, a mix of seven different grains, is rich and interesting enough that I feel I could eat bowls of it.
As memorable as I find Cha An’s simple savory dishes, Cha-An first considers itself a tea house, and as such makes wonderful sweet treats to be enjoyed alongside a pot of tea. Combining French pastry technique and Japanese precision and simplicity, Cha-An creates adorable, and thoroughly enjoyable, desserts.
The sublime black sesame creme brulee (not pictured unfortunately) has the markings of the French classic – perfect custardy texture, crunchy sugar top. But the earthenware cup in which it is served (no ramekins in sight) indicate that this will be a decidedly Japanese take on the classic. Black sesame seed is in all layers of the dessert – from the crunchy brittle to the scoop of black sesame ice cream to the custard – giving the brulee a unique, nutty richness that creates a more satisfying dessert.
Cha-An’s shortbread cookies are another example of a dessert standard wonderfully redone with more traditional Japanese flavors. The cookies aren’t even on the menu but are sometimes served as an accompaniment to the main dessert, and can also be purchased in a set for takeaway.
Ch-An is the perfect cure for your egg white omelet overdose and a great reminder that lunch can in fact be better than brunch.
Perfect for: when you’ve tired of the brunch crowds and are looking for a cute, simple alternative
Perfect meal: Prix fixe set (usually Set B) with a pot of Darjeeling tea, and sesame creme brulee to share
Neighborhood: East Village