During the first weeks at NANA, a busted computer made for Homeric wait times. Then city workers cracked a gas pipe, forcing a lunchtime evacuation. Such mishaps were exacerbated by slowish service. Fortunately, waits are decreasing, due in part to whip-cracking servers like ours, who was heard querying the cooks sarcastically, “You want me to come over there and help you out?” Cafe 28 pastry chef Maria Solis (aka Nana) and her sons, Omar and Christian, preside over this genuinely friendly, slightly crunchy upscale diner, which generally adheres to the standards set by the USDA’s National Organic Program.Menu selections include a breakfast burger crowned with a runny egg and smeared with aioli and the “Nanadict,” two cheese-stuffed pupusas topped with poached eggs and house-made chorizo in poblano sauce, a colorful and creative take on the standard. Banana-hemp buckwheat pancakes (see “crunchy”) were remarkably light and airy. Soyrizo is a surprisingly successful vegetarian alternative to the real thing, and we also enjoyed the mascarpone-stuffed French toast, though the accompanying sweet agave sauce is as close as you’ll get to tequila here: alcohol is prohibited. Instead there are fresh-squeezed fruit and vegetable juices—we dug the carrot-Granny Smith apple combo. The inventive chow and positive energy outweigh the service bumps that remain—and when you think about it, really, if you’re in a rush you probably shouldn’t be doing brunch. Lunch brings sandwiches, more burgers, a house-made soup of the day, and salads including a wheatberry side salad with carrots, scallions, cilantro, red onion, and cilantro-lime vinaigrette. —David Hammond
Early reviews and Internet chatter didn’t lead me to expect much of 33 CLUB, Jerry Kleiner’s new take on a 1930s nightspot, and my own first impressions were a mixed bag. Naturally, the decor is theatrically Kleineresque: soaring ceilings candy-striped in cream and Versace gold, a sweeping staircase to the mezzanine, walls lacquered deep red and green, lots of dark wood paneling, fancy-framed artworks, and tufted-velvet and faux alligator banquettes, not to mention the full-length collectible-filled shelves separating the noisy dining room from the noisier bar. Sure, he has Daniel Kelly (D. Kelly, Tramonto’s Steak and Seafood) as chef. But another menu of steaks and updated American classics—a concept that failed at Kleiner’s Room 21? And a remarkably boring Caesar salad to start—romaine cut too small, underseasoned croutons that could have come from a box, thin dressing—boded ill.
Most of the rest of the meal, though, exceeded my expectations. A pair of sweet seared sea scallops perched on bacon-creamed leeks with a side of superfluous but tasty corn puree. An opener of grilled-as-ordered skirt steak, sliced and bathed in limpid red-wine sauce, functioned nicely as a preview of (and would be a fine light alternative to) several steak entrees, even if the polenta with it had congealed. Mouth-puckering sweet-and-sour red cabbage and little scraps of spaetzle detracted from our 12-ounce pork chop, but the thick cut of medium-rare-as-requested meat with Dijon demi-glace was moist and flavorful. So was roasted king salmon, partly because medium rare in this case meant still cool in the center. Braised white beans laced with roasted tomato and bits of overdone escarole complemented the fish. Roasted Amish chicken and veal ragout are among the other entrees, while openers range from shrimp cocktail to bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese. The bar menu, which is available in the dining room, offers snacks such as deviled eggs and bacon popcorn, as well as burgers and sandwiches, main-course salads, and a truffled mac ‘n’ cheese. Don’t bother saving room for dessert: the key lime tart was the worst I’ve ever had, limp crusted with a filling that tasted like Lemon Joy, and chocolate pudding cake was third-rate. Affordable wines by the glass are a plus, but our mumbling server needed a session at charm school. —Anne Spiselman
Chef Rick Spiros, who survived the administrative train wreck of the short-lived Mantou Noodle Bar, has resurfaced at the throbbing “gastrolounge” The Red Canary, a clubby cavern done up in an overfamiliar Fauxhibition style that’s at odds with the juvenile vodka-dominated cocktail list and tableside keg service. If you’ve actually been lured here for Spiros’s food and not the scene, the most interesting element of the space is the long, tinted window into the kitchen, which makes the crew appear to be a pack of laboring molemen, bent over fussy platings of buttermilk-fried quail and tempura artichoke heart that just might never be noticed on the dimly lit club floor.
They’re plying a streamlined menu of shareable plates closer in style to Spiros’s work at Lincoln Square’s late Block 44 than the Asian-inspired Mantou, and it’s equal parts hit and misses. French fries, which seemed to come out of the kitchen more than anything else, were overseasoned and a bit limp, but probably better than they needed to be. A few times on a quiet Monday night the kitchen displayed an unjustifiable inattention to certain plates given the relative calm that had settled over the place. “Sushi grade” scallops were overcooked and rubbery atop a rich spread of goat cheese-red pepper grits. A poached egg topping pulled short ribs on a toasted baguette was also overdone, and a clutter of mussels provided a labor-intensive distraction from an affectless, soupy jambalaya. The simplest things (excluding the fries) came out best: a crock of crispy, crumb-topped cheesy penne with bacon, a pair of gooey ham and cheese croquettes with a bracing jalapeño-mint emulsion, and a minimalist (and minuscule) lobster roll with bacon and avocado, the priciest item on the menu at $16. But despite the uneven execution, I still think Spiros is a chef worthy of attention—and a better environment in which to receive it. —Mike Sula