Monday, September 19, 2011

Cafe Lalo

Originally written for my school's newspaper.
Cafe Lalo
201 W. 85th and Amsterdam

Paris, 1905. The scene, an alluring wood-paneled cafe lined with twinkling lights and glass panels of freshly baked tarts, rugelach, and so many cheesecakes, like a vision from a Van Gogh. Actually, it’s Cafe Lalo, a scenic walk away from Lincoln Center on the Upper West Side and home to the best brunch I’ve had in New York City.

One crisp, clear, sweater-and-a-latte fall Sunday, I happened upon Cafe Lalo and was drawn in by its anomalous windowfront and bright blue flag, with a Lautrec-style dancing woman gracing the front. While the cafe was a little crowded on such a lovely morning, I was able to be seated almost right away in a spot right next to the open windows. In classic New York style, I was practically bumping elbows with my neighbor, but this element just seemed to add to its charm. The restaurant is bright and cheery, with walls covered in colorful 20s-style posters and filled with flowers and painted tile. The menu is quite extensive, with a full selection of espresso-laden coffee drinks and as many brunch choices you could ever imagine. Not your typical diner food, however-Cafe Lalo instead lives up to its unique European style and offers quiches to cheese plates to fresh organic salads and panini.

I decided I would begin with a skim cappuccino, which arrived hot and steaming with a thick layer of creamy foam on top, just how a great cappuccino should. I was pleasantly surprised to find a tiny Toblerone candy on my saucer, which was a sweet treat with the slightly bitter espresso.

For my brunch, I chose a plate of steamed eggs, something I’ve never seen on a menu before, with goat cheese, oregano, tomatoes, and basil. The eggs came with a side of roasted fingerling potatoes and a small “Mediterranean” salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, pine nuts, and cilantro. The steamed eggs, I found out, are prepared without butter or oil, a nice change from the greasy eggs usually found in breakfast places. I couldn’t taste a difference, however-in fact, these eggs were absolutely delicious, a perfect balance of two complex spices balanced out with the rich goat cheese, which came in a heaping scoop underneath the eggs. The potatoes were obviously freshly sliced and were fabulous with a little bit of sea salt on top, as was the side salad. The cilantro was an interesting choice and a bit overpowering, but when combined with the pine nuts, I greatly enjoyed it as a balancing act to the supremely indulgent eggs. I had to stop myself from scraping the plate clean by the time I was done.

On top of the delicious meals, there is a huge glass showcase absolutely packed with freshly baked desserts that one would be supremely hard-pressed to ignore, particularly when combined with the constant sweet scents wafting from behind the counter and the stacks of cheesecake practically staring you in the face from across the room. The dessert menu is almost longer than the food, from a full list of after-dinner drinks to fondues to unbelievable chocolate-laden creations. While I was far too stuffed to sample any of the desserts in the cafe, I took home a thick slice of decadent cappuccino cheesecake, which I slowly savored over several days.

I spent several hours in Cafe Lalo studying and people-watching from the window, slowly sipping my cappuccino and reveling in the flawless atmosphere, feeling as though I had completely escaped the city, but at the same time, knowing that that kind of moment was the quintessence of the New York experience. I highly recommend Cafe Lalo for a lazy weekend brunch, a romantic after-dinner dessert, or a tranquil coffee to take a step back for a few hours and just watch the world go by.

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