Flavor: Vegetarian, international
Ambiance: Peaceful and vibrant
Just about anywhere you go out to eat, Easter brunch is a glimpse of controlled chaos, at best. This Easter, I groggily began my brunch foray at about half-past noon, with a dull feeling of trepidation about the specter of post-church hordes – and a slight pang of guilt for forcing someone to cook eggs for me on such a day. Along with most other cooks I know, I hate working on Sunday almost as much as I hate cooking brunch – and if both of those activities happen to fall on a holiday, I enter a kind of mild personal hell.
At any rate, the need for food and coffee overrode my misgivings about entering the fray, and I steeled myself for what I was sure would be a long wait alongside families wearing their Easter best and irritable with hunger.
Maybe it was the miserable weather, or perhaps the fact that the Laughing Seed Café has been at this for quite some time now, but the raging disorder I expected to encounter was missing when I entered the noted vegetarian restaurant on Wall Street. Though the place was jammed with diners, my Picky Companion and I were seated swiftly, and I noticed that all of the customers seemed quite content (except for one woman, who seemed to mostly be discontented with her companion).
For its part, the staff seemed to be under quite a bit of pressure, but they managed to cloak this fact from the casual observer. Our waitress, for example, was tending bar as well as our section, and incredibly, she looked not a bit frazzled. She did, however, appear visibly relieved when she realized that we were incapable of making swift decisions, requests or anything else that required mental alacrity. She assured us she was not in a rush, and told us to take our time. In my opinion, this is one of the most pleasant phrases a server can utter, next to “Your meal will be on the house.” We requested coffee and carrot/ginger juice to clear the cobwebs.
Perusing the menu, I noticed that many of the options seemed to be on the sweet side, though they looked interesting. For example, the Plantain Tropicale, three plantains stuffed with grilled pineapple, mango and spinach and topped with maple-raisin sauce and candied walnuts, was a decidedly bold breakfast choice. So were the sweet potato-cinnamon-pecan waffles topped with candied sweet potato fries, and the corn cakes layered with grilled pears and finished with a sweet apple reduction sauce. Three different omelets were also offered, as well as a vegan interpretation of eggs benedict.
None of the breakfast choices called out to my belly, which was a bit queasy from the previous night’s activities. I decided to have one of the five lunch options on the brunch menu, the Harmony Bowl, which Picky Companion dubbed “a bowlful of penitence.” Layered with brown rice, grilled tofu, pinto beans and steamed veggies, and served with sesame ginger sauce, the Harmony Bowl is probably the best alternative to mainlining vitamins. The vegetables seemed a bit overcooked, as though they were more boiled than steamed, but all in all, the dish was comforting and satisfying, and it managed to prime me for something more along the lines of a traditional breakfast.
We ordered the Hash Patties next. Made of potatoes, seitan mock corned beef, herbs, leeks and roasted garlic, the cakes were grilled and topped with an onion chutney. The patties were spicy, savory and delicious. Picky remarked that the dish was spicy enough to warrant a mention of that on the menu, which meant that it was just right for me. The Hash Patties might not be large enough to satisfy a big breakfast eater (even with the accompanying side salad), but the restaurant offers plenty of sides like eggs and grits for under $3.
Once we finished with our coffee, we decided that drinks were in order: a Mediterranean Bloody Mary for me, a Tropical Mimosa for my partner. Both of us were pleased with the mimosa, which contained not only the usual orange juice and champagne but papaya and pineapple juice as well. I was more than pleased with the bloody mary. The mix seemed house made, with fresh basil and garlic and the perfect amount of spice. I wondered why this hadn’t been mentioned on the menu – any restaurant that makes its own bloody mary mix with fresh herbs deserves to toot its own horn a bit.
The server said our next dish, the Morning Taco Salad, was her favorite. Of all the items we sampled, it was mine as well. The presentation was quite nice; nestled atop an array of salad greens and assorted fresh vegetables was a tower of fried tortillas, refried beans and scrambled eggs, all crowned with house-made salsa and a light sprinkle of Monterey Jack cheese (the restaurant also offers tofu as a replacement for the eggs). The tart mango salad dressing was not too sweet, as a lot of fruity dressings tend to be.
Pleasantly stuffed, I leaned back in my chair and marveled at how serene the surroundings were for a Sunday brunch. The water from the fountain near the register cast reflections on the whitewashed ceiling beams, the noise level was low, and the glow from the tasteful glass pendulum lamps combated the outside dreariness. The warmth of the atmosphere – along with the food and liquor – spread through me.
And that’s when it hit me: I had made it through a Sunday breakfast without fried pork-belly fat, and I felt just fine.