Saturday, June 21, 2008

Pass by this Nook

Yesterday, I met up with an ex-boyfriend, SSOE, for brunch in my neighborhood. I was tasked with choosing the place, so I chose Nook, a small spot on 9th avenue between 50th and 51st street. I'd passed by there several times and heard good things about its brunch, so it seemed like a good spot.

The outside... looks "cozy," huh?

We were seated immediately, which I appreciate in the cut-throat market that is the Manhattan brunch scene. The place is tiny, smaller than most studio apartments. There are only ten tables or so, if that, and the tables are packed in tightly (at one point I made the mistake of moving my elbow and elbowed the woman sitting behind me. We both apologized, for no apparent reason). You could see partially into the open kitchen in the back, where the chef was hastily plating the usual breakfast favorites. And-- this will become very important shortly-- there was one combination waiter/host/busboy/barista working the entire dining room. One.

The menu, with its annoyingly precious slogan

We sat and chatted and waited a little while for our menus to arrive. And then we waited for a little while longer for our orders to be taken. The waiter brought over a small basket of bread, which we dove into. The crust was crackly but not too hard, and the interior was delightfully stretchy and chewy. The butter was high-quality, as well-- sweet cream with a fresh flavor.

Enjoyable bread basket

Once we had packed away the bread, our dishes arrived. SSOE had ordered the apple pancakes, which came with a side of berry compote of some sort (he guessed there might be some rhubarb in there). The whole thing came buried under a squall of powdered sugar. SSOE enjoyed the pancakes, and with three medium-sized cakes for a $7.50 price tag, the price was right. But he didn't enjoy his cafe au lait-- which, although ordered with the pancakes, never came. More on that later as well...

Apple pancakes, obscured by powdered sugar

Token compote close-up. It wasn't actually cocktail sauce; it just looks that way in the picture

I had ordered the Salade Provencal. It came with mixed greens, diced beets, goat cheese, and roasted red peppers. I asked whether I could have something instead of the peppers, and the waiter informed me he could take things off the salad but couldn't do any substitutions (such flexibility!). So I went with the salad as is, dressing on the side.

Standard salad

As you can see, the salad arrived with the dressing on it, but I figured trying to correct that at the pace we were going would take until Sunday brunch. So I forged ahead. The salad was pretty good; all the ingredients (beets, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers) were fresh, there was a lot of sweet herbed goat cheese, and the portion was relatively generous for a $7 salad. But, as SSOE pointed out after we left, it was a salad you could find at any of innumerable restaurants around Manhattan.

It was at this point in the meal, once we had finished our food, that things began to degenerate service-wise. First: the water situation. Nook serves water in cute glass bottles left on the table; we rushed through ours shortly after we arrived, and no more water was forthcoming, so by the end of my salad I was seriously rationing my sips. After we had finished the food, the waiter came by with the water jug and slopped water into the glasses, spilling a large portion over the table and onto my (by then thankfully empty) plate.

When the waiter came with the much-needed water, our plates were already empty and we were clearly finished. But then he departed and left our empty plates in front of us for another ten minutes or so. After he finally cleared them away, there was another somewhat long wait for the check. When that arrived, we noticed he had charged us for the cafe au lait that never arrived. We had to verbally flag him down (awkward in a small restaurant) to get that changed; he was very apologetic, saying "I wish you'd told me and I'd have brought it" (well, we wish you had just brought it!), and returning shortly with the amended total.

I put down a $20 bill--the place is cash only, another bummer-- and tried in vain to get change for several minutes. All the while, mind you, the waiter is rushing up and down, back and forth across the small space-- it's hard to go unnoticed in such a tiny restaurant, so I'm not sure why it consistently took so long to get his attention. When I finally did get him close enough to ask for change, he returned-- with change for the entire bill, including the cafe au lait. At this point I almost yelled across the restaurant to keep him from leaving so he could correct the mistake. Again apologetic, he returned with the correct change, and as he put it on the table, he said something to the effect of, "Man, I'm really screwing you guys today, aren't I?" Um, yes.

So, after an hour and fifteen minutes or so, we finally emerged onto the street. I wonder: had someone called in sick that day or was the restaurant always manned by only one person? Even with a small number of tables, providing quality service while trying to do EVERYTHING (take orders, bring water, make coffee, pour orange juice, deliver food, tally the bill, make change, clear plates... the list goes on and on) is impossible, as was clearly demonstrated yesterday. The waiter was certainly trying, but his top-speed movements through the small restaurant only added a harried atmosphere to what should be a relaxing brunch. It's too bad, really; the food at Nook was pretty solid, and it's a surprisingly good value. But even so, I would definitely not return, nor would I recommend Nook to anyone seeking a brunch spot in Hell's Kitchen. So, for the very good bread, decent salad, and value for money, I give Nook two out of five Offset Spatulas. It's a pity so many spatulas had to be deducted for service.

(N.B.: Thanks to the astute comments of several readers, I'll now diligently provide location information for all my posts so it's easier for you to find the places. Not that you necessarily want to find Nook, but, you know, for the future...)

746 9th Ave
Between 50th and 51st Streets


AKR said...

Very unfortunate!
The food is actually great (and exceptionally well-priced). Give 'em a second chance, try a weekday dinner. Mushroom cigar appetizer is particularly good.

For brunch, I've always been partial to their scrambled eggs.

Agree on the service. Given that they've been packing the house since 2004, they should have invested in a modest expansion by now! It's a good thing you didn't have to use the facilities - that surely would have made it into your review! Involves a walk through the kitchen to a rickety door at the back.

Janine said...

AKR, I saw someone disappear into the kitchen, presumably to use the bathroom... and I was afraid, very afraid. Now I sort of wish I'd gone, at least for the amusement factor!

So dinner is better, huh? I'll keep that in mind.

Thanks for reading!