Potato Pancakes
Potato Pancakes
Online communities. Gotta love them. The genesis of my trip to Veselka came about when I commented on Jon’s facebook status that same weekend we both hit the slopes. Then we found mutual facebook friends, Mabel and Alex and decided to meet. Jon chose Veselka as it happened to be bookmarked on Jon’s Yelp.com to-do list.
Veselka is an extremely popular joint in the East Village but luckily spacious enough such that a 20 minute wait was all that took to secure us a nice 4-top in the middle of the action, so we could see what was being ordered around us. I liked the atmosphere of the place, with great natural light, a buzzy feel, friendly servers and a black-and-white wall mural I would love to haul home, if only I could afford it. The expansive menu is split into typical American diner and Eastern European standards, and we had a lot of ground to cover. Thank God for healthy appetites!
Beety borscht

Beety borscht

I generally consider brunch a one dish meal, but here at Veselka, wracked by indecision, we decided to order our overflow decisions as appetizers. I warmed up with a hot cup of borscht, packed rimful with beets, onions, carrots, dill and tender beef, the flavors rich and slightly sourish. Then I joined the rest in devouring a plate of potato pancakes, crisp fried but a little doughy and blintzes, think crepes stuffed with ricotta and doused with raspberry sauce. Not bad, a little bland.
As we were halfway through our appetizers, the oversized plates of “real” food came and we had to rearrange the table settings for everything to fit. A stack of kasha pancakes, oddly gray and with a nutty flavor graced M’s breakfast plate.  My tomato and feta omelette was rather mediocre, the only saving grace being its overwhelming, sides off the plate size, meaning ample leftovers for a second meal.
pierogies and other stuff

pierogies and other stuff

The boys fared better. J’s meat platter was a manly entree, the famed meat combination platter comprising of everything stuffed and delightful. Pierogies are little dumplings filled with ricotta and meat, while a hefty lump of stuffed cabbage revealed more meat and minimal cabbage.  From the starter salad and soup to the main affair, J was well pleased. A’s meal was a plate of bigos, a traditional Ukrainian stew that is “fit for a hunter” according to the menu. Again, not necessarily something I would order for my lunch, but for A, substantial, tasty and he needed no help polishing the casserole of meat, sauerkraut, meat, potatoes and more meat off.

Bigos!

Bigos!

   Overall, a very satisfactory dish. I got to tick off a neighborhood staple off my to-do list, Jon got to yelp about it, and we all got to catch up. Now, if facebook technicians can invent a share a meal function….
Veselka
144 2nd Ave (corner of 9th st)

bouchonGood news: I seem to have found the brunch spot where I actually don’t mind paying for eggs and sausages.  

Bad news: I can’t frenquent it regularly for it is in Vegas.

The place? Bouchon, a down-market casual bistro within Thomas Keller’s restaurant empire.

Brunch started with freshly baked bread, a crusty baguette that branches into roll shaped leaves.  It comes with little pots of sweet butter, soft and spreadable, and a slightly tart and thick raspberry jam. Next comes coffee, the strongest my parents have encountered during their 2 week vacation, after a series of disappointingly bland cups of drip coffee. And endless was the pour, as our server took care that our cups were never more than half-empty.

Then came the meal, a blend of classic bistro dishes and hearty brunch stuff. My god-mother’s roasted chicken was succulent inside and crispy outside, my god-pa’s trout an austere whole fish decorated with scales of sliced almonds and a bed of crisp beans. Mum’s celery root soup was like drinking molten cashmere as the creaminess slid to the back of the throat, with the aftertaste of anisey caraway seeds. SY’s croque madame is a grilled ham & cheese sandwich gussied up in rich bechamel sauce and a fried egg, so rich you could feel instant heartburn, and second only to the monte carlo in terms of decadence. Fries that graced our table in a cone was thin, crispy, almost grease-less.

The brunch stuff wasn’t quite as exciting but still really good. Ruoyi’s french toast should be named brioche pudding instead, stuffed with apples and topped with a rich maple sauce. My father’s crab hash if a riff on corned beef hash, except with generous lumps of crab meat on top of delicately diced potatoes and two poached eggs that my father enjoyed making a dipping sauce out of, for his fluffy and eggy brioche. I looked longingly at Ying’s omelet, stuffed with diced bacon while I ate probably the most boring and least fattening dish, a smoked salmon platter for which the fish was unremarkable but the petit baguette once again crunchy without breaking my teeth, chewy without being elastic and just a little sour, the way I like it. But i undid the good with sides of coarse ground sausages and crisp bacon slices. We looked past the neighboring table, and pitied the lady who ordered granola.

The food was American in size, and seemingly too much. Somehow we managed to finish it off, but it took a while. But the pace was wonderfully languid, the service attentive and the space, a larger, more spread-out Balthazar made it comfortable to talk in normal volumes, something I’ve not managed to accomplish in the New York brunch hotspots. Of course, one had to overlook the outdoor pool facing the restaurant, where even in late December were there game and obstinate souls trying to sunbath in sub-50 temperatures. And the fact that to get out of the Venetian, where Bouchon is situated, one had to fight past the crowds at the Grand Canal shopping area, complete with Venice inspired canals, gondolas, and singing gondoliers. But perhaps that is all good, for a walk through the throngs may just what the doctor ordered after a gut-busting meal at Bouchon.  

Bouchon (inside the Venetian Hotel and Casino)

3355 Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas

www.frenchlaundry.com