Golden Unicorn

There is rarely a Saturday morning in New York when dim sum seems like a subpar idea. In fact, almost every morning in New York seems like a great one for dim sum, and so when my cousins suggest we trek to Chinatown, I rarely refuse. While there are countless places to indulge in the perfection that is dumplings for breakfast, Golden Unicorn has been a part of New York City’s dim sum scene since the late 80’s and garnered international acclaim, among Chinese and western patrons alike.

Golden Unicorn is located at 18 East Broadway, at the corner of East Broadway and Catherine Street. Note that at this particular section of Manhattan, Broadway and East Broadway are, in fact, two separate streets. Golden Unicorn, like much of lower Manhattan and particularly Chinatown, is difficult to access but is an acceptable walking distance from the Canal Street stop on the N, Q, R, J, Z, and 6 trains, as well as the Grand Street stop on the B and D trains. Golden Unicorn is a multi-floor establishment, so be sure to find the entrance on East Broadway and not the nearby entrance to a Cathay Bank.

golden unicorn (restaurant)

Because its fame extends to many tourists, Golden Unicorn typically has an incredible line on the weekends, so send your morning people to take a number while you struggle to pull on pants. Like many of the traditional dim sum houses in Hong Kong and China, Golden Unicorn has no qualms seating small parties together with strangers, such as a party of three at the same table as a separate party of two. Separate parties will, of course, have separate checks, and it is a great way to meet new people, make new friends, and get recommendations for new foods to try. However, if you are uncomfortable eating with other people, try to have at least four people in your party. Traditional Cantonese dim sum is almost completely dairy-free, and is a great group activity, so you will most likely be able to coerce at least three other people to come with you.

golden unicorn (dim sum cart)

Unlike many Chinatown restaurants, which have switched to ordering off menus or paper checklists, Golden Unicorn has retained the traditional dim sum style of pushcarts. Women with carts come around and you pick what you want from the stacks of baskets, and they will stamp your ticket.

golden unicorn (cha siu baos)

The range of selection is amazing, and besides the traditional shrimp balls, shu mai, cha siu baos, and sesame lotus balls, they also have more original concoctions, with interesting combinations of seafood, vegetables, meat, and bean curds. They do a great job with the traditional spare ribs, and bean curd rolls.

golden unicorn (spare ribs, bean curd roll)

If you are nervous about trying dim sum, don’t worry about asking questions. The thing about dim sum is that it’s all wrapped up in some sort of fried wrapper, steamed noodle, or baked bun, and it can be difficult to discern the contents until biting into it. The best way to tell is to ask a waiter (usually a frazzled looking man in a dinner jacket and a nametag), of course, and to look at the colors behind the wrapper. At Golden Unicorn, the servers are very helpful in describing their dishes, and can even be helpful in picking out vegetarian dishes if that is of concern to you. We have never encountered peanuts at Golden Unicorn, but if you are worried, it is best to check with a waiter, as at all restaurants.

golden unicorn (restaurant)

Besides picking out delectable little morsels not unlike tapas or English afternoon tea, we also like to order noodles at dim sum. Golden Unicorn does an exceptional beef chow fun that is less greasy and more meaty than your average take-out dive. The noodles remain firm but soft, and the beef is sliced thin enough to actually bite. We could always do without the copious amount of bean sprouts, but they do add a signature crunch to the dish. Noodles, as you can probably tell, are a big deal to us at Brunch with Bear, and we love nothing more than a great plate of beef chow fun with our dim sum!

golden unicorn (chow fun)

Because of its upscale reputation, Golden Unicorn can be more expensive than a more neighborhood-y dim sum restaurant, but the quality and atmosphere are definitely authentic. Most individual baskets are between two and six dollars, so Golden Unicorn can be a great place to really indulge in your favorite items. If you feel like splurging, it can also be a great place to be adventurous and surprise your taste buds in a safe, allergy-friendly environment!

golden unicorn (bear)

If we could eat dim sum every weekend, then our lifestyle would be ideal. Bear loves dim sum, particularly because dumplings and buns are the perfect Bear-sized and bite-sized meal! Golden Unicorn is a popular destination, but also one that lives up to the hype. If you are, like we are, always craving dim sum, Golden Unicorn will not disappoint!

Big Daddy’s

My sleepy hometown in Southern California has a sort of “Anywhere, U.S.A.” feel, a town where everyone remembers you from when you were small and you could never get lost. One of the main streets is on the historic Route 66, and our proximity to Hollywood keeps a nostalgic scent in the air. One of the best things about old Hollywood life is the diner, where jukebox tunes and greasy plates are available at all hours of the night. In fact, in our little town, the corner diner is the only place open at all hours of the night, making it the perfect destination after big games and school dances, when the only thing you want is a pile of breakfast food.

The funny thing about New York City is that it also loves its diners. It loves the Mom-and-Pop establishments that have had the same faded menus and the same tunes playing since you-can’t-remember-when and the regular customers that order their regular dish—no mayo, extra pickles—and the neighborhood can’t remember a time without that diner. It’s a slice of small town in the big city, a little pocket of comfort from the fast and furious world out there, and it reminds me a bit of home. So when few weeks ago, one of my friends suggested we all hit up Big Daddy’s diner for a late dinner after work, a slightly homesick me smiled at the prospect of a little hometown charm.

Big Daddy’s has three locations in New York City, but we chose the Upper West Side location because it was the closest to school. This particular branch is located at 91st Street and Broadway, a short walk from either the 86th Street station on the 1, B, and C trains, or the 96th Street station on the 1, 2, 3, B, and C trains. If you’re hailing from Columbia University, it’s a pretty pleasant walk from Morningside Heights, especially now that there isn’t any slush on the ground.

big daddy's (restaurant)

Big Daddy’s diner is possibly the most diner-y diner I have ever seen in my life. Walking into Big Daddy’s was like walking into a diner theme park, but in an endearing, rather than gaudy, way. The décor screams, “DINER!” with funky old license plates, signed photographs of celebrities from the last fifty years, and random toys displayed on the wall. In addition, a middle school birthday party was in full swing upon our entrance, and the speaker system blasted everything from Elvis to Madonna to the Beach Boys. It was as if someone had turned a Pinterest board of diner inspirations into an actual restaurant, but instead of being really kitschy like you might expect, it was very sincere. Like a diner that just wanted more than anything to be a diner.

big daddy's (license plates)

The staff was so friendly, and let us switch around tables when we added more people to our group last minute. The staff T-shirts cleverly read “Who’s Your Daddy?” on the back, and our server in particular was attentive without hovering. I told her about my food allergies and she immediately had suggestions. She confirmed that Big Daddy’s is a nut-free kitchen, and she told me that I should just choose something that I liked, and she would ask the chef how to make it work.

big daddy's (menu)

Because I suddenly had choices, I debated for a while on what to order. Big Daddy’s is known for their milkshakes and pancakes, but obviously those were out of the question. Usually diners mean midnight breakfast to me, and heaps of hash browns, eggs, and bacon are all that I consider. However, with the prospect of more options, I decided to branch out and try the Mr. French Dip, a roast beef sandwich. Our waitress confirmed that the baguette bread was dairy free, and made it very simple to eliminate the cheese and the sauce without any fuss.

big daddy's (trivial pursuit)

One of the fun things about Big Daddy’s was the stack of Trivial Pursuit cards on each table, giving us some entertainment while we waited for our food. This particular group of friends loves to attend local trivia nights at bars, but we rarely win anything significant. At Big Daddy’s, we brushed up on our random-fact knowledge, and learned that Christopher Jones captained the Mayflower, that the Houston Astrodome is known as the Eighth Wonder of the World, and that the Ed Sullivan Show was originally called Toast of the Town. By the time our food came, we were basically experts in useless facts.

big daddy's (food)

So I don’t know who came up with roast beef sandwiches or the idea of dipping them au jus, but they were a genius. Big Daddy’s leaves the crusty, fresh baguette untoasted, and the roast beef inside is sliced deli-thin. While the sandwich isn’t packed, there is definitely a good bread-to-filling ratio, particularly when you take into account the delicious addition of caramelized onions. The dipping broth was salty but warm, and full of a hearty roast beef flavor. One complaint I often have about crusty sandwiches is that they scrape the roof of my mouth in an unpleasant way. Eating it au jus dispels that problem! Big Daddy’s also gave an appreciably large side serving of French fries, and pickle slices, a necessity for any sandwich plate.

Because the portions were so large, I ended up taking half my sandwich home as leftovers. Our waitress gave me the perfect size box, and a tiny little sauce container for the broth. I was afraid the container would leak between dinner and our next adventure, but it remained intact until I opened it again for lunch the next day. The sandwich heated up remarkably well, and if there’s anything better than a hot roast beef sandwich au jus, it’s a second hot roast beef sandwich au jus!

big daddy's (bear)

As we ate, the place filled up, mostly with neighborhood youth and young Upper West Side professionals. Big Daddy’s is slightly more expensive than I would expect a diner to be, but then again, I’m used to the insanely cheap “weekday power breakfast” of chain restaurants back home. Compared to regular New York meal prices and considering the portions, Big Daddy’s was actually a great value, especially when you’re also paying for a safe kitchen environment and great ambience.

In addition to being walking distance from school, Big Daddy’s serves their full menu at all times of the day, which is a big plus when planning adventures in the city that never sleeps. Now my friends and I will have a go-to place for our late-night cravings: a diner that is allergy-friendly and also just regular friendly! Cue the jukebox.

Gabriela’s

Happy Easter Sunday! Though we usually do not have such a fast turnaround time between the Brunch with Bear outings and writing the posts, our little Easter Bear couldn’t wait to share our Easter brunch at Gabriela’s with you. So for the first time ever, the Brunch with Bear team is brunching and blogging immediately, in honor of the brunch-iest holiday of them all! Along with hot cross buns and egg hunts, Easter Sunday brunch is a fun and delicious way to celebrate the season of rebirth, no matter your religious affiliation.

Located on 93rd and Columbus, Gabriela’s Restaurant and Tequila Bar is an expansive and welcoming establishment. It’s an easy walk from the 96th Street station on the 1, 2, 3, B, or C trains, which is close enough to Columbia and the American Museum of Natural History to offer a full day of entertainment!

gabriela's (front door)

Gabriela’s, as aforementioned, is quite spacious and has indoor and outdoor seating. When we sat down this morning, it was quite sunny and only a little breezy but by the end of the meal, even the covered patio did not shelter us from the blustery gusts of wind that had swirled in. It was easy to get a reservation, even for Easter Sunday, but the tables quickly filled as our meal progressed.

gabriela's (exterior)

One of the servers situated us at a nice table away from the sidewalk and graced us with a basket of tortilla chips and two different salsas. The red was a more traditional tomato-based salsa while the yellow had a mustard-y flavor; both were mild, but had very smooth textures and were quite addicting! Note: Try not to fill up on chips, because the brunch plates are large.

gabriela's (chips)

The brunch menu at Gabriela’s is extensive, and features a number of favorites, such as breakfast tacos, breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros. Their pancake and French toast options are quite original—the pancakes were served all rolled up with fillings, more like crêpes—but of course, these options were sadly not dairy free. I opted for the huevos con carne, or steak and eggs, because to find a steak-and-eggs brunch plate under twenty dollars is amazing in New York City. Brunch at Gabriela’s includes a drink, though it should be noted that they do not serve alcohol before twelve noon on Sundays. I opted for white wine sangria, but they also have red wine sangria, mimosas, a variety of juices, and coffee. Our waiter was very friendly and noted the allergies right away as he was writing down my order, assuring me that the steak and eggs would not be cooked with dairy in any way.

gabriela's (menu)

When my plate came, the side dishes were numerous—not only did I receive a small steak and a pile of scrambled eggs, but I also received beans, homemade hash, and avocado. The plate was also served with a corn muffin, but after our server double checked with the kitchen, we learned that the muffin had milk in it. He brought a separate plate to remove the muffin to the side. Usually I prefer that my plate have no allergy items touching anything at all, but the muffin was only on a small bed of lettuce that I was not intending to eat anyway, so I was okay with just moving the muffin.

gabriela's (food)

The portions at Gabriela’s are generous, which is great because brunch is the perfect time of the day to nosh at your leisure. The steak was well-seasoned and easy to cut; I asked for it to be served medium, but I think next time I may go medium well, as the steak was slightly pinker than I prefer. The scrambled eggs were cooked firm, which I appreciated, as I think nothing ruins brunch like runny scrambled egg goo. The side dishes were great, especially the potatoes, which had a lumpy-mashed-potato-like consistency. Mashed potatoes, like stuffing, are actually one of my favorite side dishes, because I can so rarely eat them. These potatoes were a little crispier, having been fried on a griddle, but I still appreciated the soft consistency. The beans were pretty standard refried beans, but they were a great complement to the eggs and avocado. The sangria had bits of apple and was very refreshing as it added to the ambience of the outdoor seating patio.

gabriela's (bear)

Gabriela’s outdoor atmosphere made it a little difficult to hear conversation, but was a lovely ambience and I can see myself going back there on a warm summer morning to try some tacos or maybe the huevos rancheros. The main clientele were young families, and the kids seemed to enjoy the endless supply of chips and the opportunity to watch strangers. The brunch menu is well-priced, considering the large portions and the included beverage, but the dinner menu is a little pricier so we will probably keep Gabriela’s as a daytime option.

easter sunday bear

Whether or not you celebrate Easter, April is a time for rebirth, renewal, and rejuvenation and we were delighted to indulge in a relaxing meal at Gabriela’s to prepare us for the new season! We appreciate a holiday that favors eggs, brunch, and bunnies, even if the bunnies are just rolled in colored sanding sugar and packaged as wildly unhealthy snacks for children. As we open yet another bag of candy and enjoy the flowers that are beginning to peek out, we look forward to a renewed zeal for brunching and blogging! Not to mention, making bunny ears in all our photos!

BwB5K

Happy Sunday and happy spring, Brunch with Bearees! We hope you enjoyed your Pi(e) Day yesterday, and we have another exciting update!  This past week we have been fortunate to gain an extra hour of daylight, a little touch of warm weather, and over 5K viewers on the blog! Over fifty posts in, we are so thankful to have such a wide readership and hope that you have enjoyed exploring NYC ever since we began this project over two years ago. Bear and the Brunch with Bear team have had so much fun discovering the allergy-friendly side of the Big Apple, and we could not have made this project a success without you, our wonderful readers. We hope that you will stick with us as we have some great new posts coming soon. Until then, brush your fur and find a floppy hat, because spring has sprung!

brunch with bear 5K

OTTO

It was all a numbers game a few weeks ago at OTTO where I held my twenty-second birthday dinner extravaganza, with seven people, three courses, a single and singular Bear, and countless delicious moments, pun definitely intended. Otto means “eight” in Italian and is coincidentally a lucky number for the Chinese and a great omen for my twenty-second year. Lucky indeed that we chose to go to OTTO for a birthday dinner, because it turned out to be one of the best ones yet!

otto (entrance)

Located at 8th Street and 5th Avenue, OTTO is Mario Batali’s casual pizzeria and enoteca. The 8th Street entrance is a short walk from the 8th Street station on the N and R trains, the Astor Place station on the 6 train, W 4th Street station on the A, B, C, D, E, F, and M trains, or the Christopher Street – Sheridan Square station on the 1 train.

otto (bar)

Because of the ubiquitous detours and delays that plague New York City transit, we took full advantage of the charming enoteca at OTTO. The hostess ushered us over to tables set at bar height, with a full view of the pizza-making process and the ample bar while we waited for our whole party to arrive. She offered us the extensive drink menu and wine list, and we had a fun time people-watching the large assembly of young professionals yelling, “Chug! Chug! Chug!” as their peers downed half-glasses of expensive wine.

otto (pizzeria counter)

Once we were seated we were presented with paper-wrapped bread, which was excitingly dairy-free. For those of you who are unfamiliar with our experiences at Italian restaurants, edible bread is the equivalent of free boxes of Mike and Ikes at the movie theater—a rare and delicious occurrence that enhances the entire experience. While I would have liked olive oil to accompany the bread, the server did not provide any, although I’m sure he would have been accommodating had we remembered to ask.

otto (restaurant)

Our server asked us for a wine selection and though we were at an enoteca, I know nothing of wine, other than that I prefer white to red and I hardly order it at restaurants save for special occasions. For a dinner drink, I have been told red is more preferable, so on a whim, I asked for a rosé. (If it’s not obvious already, I’m a pink sort of princess.) Our server suggested sparkling, which seemed appropriate for a celebration, and he brought a bottle of the Flor ROSE’, which is the rosé version of Mario Batali’s house prosecco. The bottle itself was gorgeous—just a simple lavender and gold fleur-de-lis in the absence of a label, and the rosy hue combined with the delicate bubbles solidified its status as a wine for a princess. (But the non-royal guests also enjoyed the wine.)

otto (food)

For my dinner I ordered the bucatini alla gricia from the pasta menu. I informed our server of my food allergies, and he was immediately accommodating and understanding. He guaranteed my plate would have no cheese, and answered with a confidence that suggested a practiced policy at OTTO.

otto (bear)

The bucatini was a thick spaghetti-like noodle, somewhere in thickness between traditional spaghetti and a fat lo mein noodle. The dish also contained guanciale, a thick, bacon-like fatty pork meat, sliced into morsels and crisped to perfection. The sauce was an olive-oil-based drizzle with sweet onions and cracked black pepper that added an unexpected kick. Normally I shy away from spicy food, but the pepper actually enhanced the caramelized onions and gave what I suspect food critics mean by “body” to the dish. Though the portions were not excessive, I felt quite full by the food, which is hard to accomplish.

otto (dessert)

By some subtle hinting and not-so-subtle-bluntly-stating by one of my favorite people, our server along with several other servers in tow brought a sparkling chalice of two-toned sorbet, embellished with a waffle cookie and a candle so fancy that it seemed previously unused. (All my candles have been previously used, even the fancy ones. Especially the fancy ones.) The blood orange and tangerine sorbetto combination was the perfect citrus-y counterpart to the pasta: light and tangy and juicy in juxtaposition with the overwhelmingly savory combination of pork, onions, and pepper. Bear loves ice cream and complimentary dessert is definitely something we can get behind. (See above re: hypothetical free candy.)

otto (birthday bear)

Our dinner party of seven consisted of cousins and close friends and the rest of the OTTO clientele seemed to be similar groups gathering for special occasions and celebrations. Most groups of students seemed to be from the neighboring NYU, but there were several families with young children, and many dates there as well. Eating at OTTO definitely adds up on a special occasion, especially if you choose to include appetizers, desserts, wine, or other drinks in your selection, but the menu itself is reasonably priced for a fun weekend excursion on a student budget. Of course, we recommend that you find a mysterious benefactor to treat you to delicious Italian meals whenever possible. (Note to potential mysterious benefactors: please refer to the Contact Us page.)

We had a magical evening at OTTO, twirling pasta, clinking wine glasses, and sharing dessert. All in all, it was a perfect birthday dinner. I would highly recommend OTTO anyone looking to celebrate a birthday, a new job, a new haircut, or really any other occasion. I really appreciate Mario Batali’s dedication to excellent customer service and food allergies, as we have always had great experiences at his eateries. (He’s so Brunch-with-Bear-friendly that we should call him Mario Bear-tali.) The staff is always ready to answer questions, and when they are unsure, they are comfortable asking the kitchen to confirm. The restaurant itself is charming and as a whole, OTTO is highly accommodating and warm, and welcomes everyone from men chugging wine to birthday girls with teddy bears.