L’Arte del Gelato

Happy National Ice Cream Day, a perfect ice cream Sunday to mark the midst of summer! July is actually National Ice Cream Month and last year we celebrated by attending the Brooklyn Flea Crème de la Crème Ice Cream Bonanza! If you’re able and willing to slog through the heat of the L train to visit this year’s festival, by all means, we recommend it! If, however, you’d like to stay on the island in an air-conditioned facility (we don’t blame you!), might we suggest L’Arte del Gelato in Chelsea Market?l'arte del gelato (chelsea market)

Chelsea Market is a little bit like the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco: a hipster market in a historical building. You can buy all your gift cheeses and goat milk soaps among the various bakeries and bruncheries, and all the while marveling at the incredible variety of people that stream like fish through the narrow hallway. The crowds are not totally ideal for a hot summer day—nothing is more unpleasant than the sweat of strangers—but if you can handle it for the sake of ice cream Sundays, then a trip to L’Arte del Gelato may be worth it!

Chelsea Market (and L’Arte del Gelato) spans an entire block in Chelsea between 15th and 16th Streets, with an entrance on 9th Avenue. The closest subway stations are the 8th Avenue station on the L train, or 18th Street on the 1 train. Chelsea Market is also a short walk from the 14th Street station on the 1, 2, 3, A, C, or E trains.

l'arte del gelato (counter)

L’Arte del Gelato is a family-owned Sicilian gelateria inspired by the American dream of ice cream. With flavors listed in the original Italian, L’Arte del Gelato reminds customers of its authenticity and heritage. The creative gelato flavors are dictated by the season, as fresh ingredients are the key to well-made gelato. Although traditional gelati contain a lot milk and cream, all the sorbetti listed at L’Arte del Gelato is both dairy-free and nut-free! As always, ask your server to please wash the scoop extra, and L’Arte del Gelato is happy to oblige.

l'arte del gelato (gelato)

I chose the pera (pear) and the limone arancia (lemon and orange) flavors in a regular sugar cone. Pear is a rare fruit, particularly in New York, and reminds me of juicy, buttery holiday pears. The sweet, soft pera scoop had the grainy fruit texture that I love and balanced perfectly against the tang of the citrus flavors in the limone arancia. The lemon and orange flavors were reminiscent of a sweet, summer drink, and perfectly refreshing as we fought throngs of people to get out of Chelsea Market.

l'arte del gelato (bear)

L’Arte del Gelato supplements their permanent residence in Chelsea Market with seasonal carts during the summer at both the High Line and Lincoln Center Plaza. Whether you are Instagramming flowers from the High Line or jumping in fountains at Lincoln Center, be sure to grab a refreshing scoop at L’Arte del Gelato to complete your perfect ice cream Sunday and celebrate National Ice Cream Month!

Umami Burger

Happy American Independence Day to all you Brunch with Bearees! We love nothing more than parades, fireworks, and star-spangled pants and hope that your long weekend is filled with all of the above and more. Today we bring you to Umami Burger, to remind ourselves of the innovation and creativity that inspired the formation of this country, as well as the hamburgers and French fries that sustain it today.

umami burger (logo)

One of the things that neuroscience majors such as myself learn over and over again are the five tastes that human tongues can detect. Perhaps the most commonly known ones are sweet, salty, bitter, and sour—but a taste with which you may not be familiar is known as umami. The Japanese word for “delicious,” umami describes the savory taste of meat, mushrooms, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and a multitude of other foods that are often sources of proteins. Capitalizing on this taste is the hip chain Umami Burger, which started in my hometown of Los Angeles but has since branched out to Greenwich Village, TriBeCa, and Williamsburg.

umami burger (awning)

On a sunny spring visit to NYU’s Shakespeare in the Square, we stopped by Umami Burger for a quick lunch on a blustery day. Located on 6th Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets, Umami Burger is a short walk away from the iconic Washington Square Park. The closest subway stops are the W 4 station on the A, B, C, D, E, F, and M trains, the Christopher Street – Sheridan Street station on the 1 train, or the Astor Place station on the 6 train. As aforementioned, there are also locations in TriBeCa and Williamsburg.

umami burger (exterior)

We were seated by the window in an empty upstairs section, and immediately we noticed the aggressively thumping club music—at 11:30 in the morning. Our waiter came over and walked us through the menu and I asked him about my food allergies to dairy and to peanuts. He pointed out several gluten-free menu on the items, but was unsure about the dairy and peanut situation. He pointed out that sometimes the buns have honey, which is not vegan, but I explained to him that I actually eat meat, but not dairy products. He seemed confused, so we started off with an order of maple bacon fries while he checked on the buns with the kitchen.

umami burger (restaurant)

When he came back with information in the buns, he said that the buns indeed had dairy in them, and contained honey. The way he kept repeating the information made me think that he thought I was allergic to honey, to which I said that I was actually only allergic to dairy. The miscommunication was not a good omen for the rest of the meal, as it made me suspicious of our waiter, as well as disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to eat an actual burger at a burger place. I decided to just order the classic umami burger without the parmesan frico, or a fried disc of parmesan cheese, and, of course, without the bun. The waiter mentioned that the restaurant really discouraged substitutions or changes to the menu, “but in your case, I guess we have to make the exception.” So far, not a great start for Umami Burger, though a very popular chain in the hipster-foodie-land of Los Angeles, and likely to be a big hit in New York City.

umami burger (fries)

The maple bacon fries were rich in flavor, although I’m not sure that I would necessarily call the flavor umami so much as just decadent. Pan-fried with a maple syrup glaze, these sweet potato fries were also tossed with generous “bacon lardons,” which is a fancy French way of saying thick chunks of bacon. The “group” serving may not seem that large, but because of the intense flavor, it was certainly enough for three people. We also ordered regular fries, which were just as crispy and salty as you would hope. Honestly, these might have been the best thing on the menu.

umami burger (burger)

The classic umami burger was certainly a disappointment. We hail from the land of In-N-Out Burger so we know a thing or two about simple hamburgers. Unfortunately, Umami Burger is anything but simple. Served almost rare, the meat was juicy and bursting with strange tangy flavors that seemed misplaced—although maybe that is just what raw meat tastes like. The lack of a bun was then a double disappointment, as the whole thing fell apart almost immediately after I speared it with my fork. Let’s just say that wrapping rare meat in lettuce is not a good substitute for not having any bread that accommodates dietary restrictions. In addition, the house made ketchup did not have the same sweet tomato flavor of Heinz, or even other homemade ketchups. It had a sharp vinegar flavor that left a sour aftertaste, which was only heightened by the onions. In addition there were tomatoes and mushrooms in the mix, to confuse my tastebuds even more The entire experience—bitter, sour, tangy, and not a bit umami—drove me to drink a lot of water, which is probably good, and eat a lot of fries, which is probably bad.

The flavors were so heavy and so eclectic that it reminded me of the time my grandmother put apples, orange juice, and Japanese cucumbers in a blender and made me drink the whole thing—the textures, the flavors, the concepts were good in her mind, but definitely did not work out in the blender. And the umami burger did not work for us on the plate.

umami burger (bear)

Umami Burger is also a great deal more expensive than your average fast food burger, with each burger upwards of ten dollars and all fries, even regular ones, are extra. The crowd at Umami Burger was nonexistent, as we were seated first in an empty upstairs room with only the bartender for company, and later were joined by only a few couples, hopefully not on first dates.

Of course, this reaction is one of personal taste rather than relating allergies, so it is naturally necessary to report that we suffered no allergic reaction or even the hint of side effects from Umami Burger. However, my experience with food allergies has taught me that sometimes the simpler foods are often the safest and the most comfortable. Umami Burger was certainly an exercise in discomfort, and we will likely not return again soon.

Although America may have been founded by rakish youths who wanted to settle a new world of freedom and hamburgers, it is also a country of tradition and loyalty so we will exercise the right to freedom of hamburger choice and stick to our regular hamburgers with ketchup optional. And what a perfect day for those!

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory

The Brunch with Bear team knows no better way to kick off summer than a good ol’ ice cream Sunday, so today we’re giving you the full scoop on the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory! (See what we did there?) (We are so funny.) If you are, like we are, lying on the floor because heat rises and it’s cooler down here, pick yourself up and get down to Chinatown!

Located at 65 Bayard Street, the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory can be found between Mott and Elizabeth Streets. The closest subway stops are Canal Street on the 6, N, Q, R, J, or Z trains, but you can also go to Grand Street on the B or D trains. The Chinatown Ice Cream Factory is just a short walk from Golden Unicorn, Ping’s Seafood, and pretty much all the other restaurants in Manhattan Chinatown, so if you’re already there for dim sum, why not stay for dessert?

 
The Chinatown Ice Cream Factory is a family-owned independent ice cream establishment down in the depths of Manhattan Chinatown. For almost thirty years, the good people behind Chinatown Ice Cream Factory have attempted to blend the Western love for ice cream with the beloved and unique flavors of Chinese cuisine. Plus, their logo is a cool dragon eating ice cream!

 
Besides the regular vanilla and strawberry, they also boast great flavors like almond cookie, black sesame, don tot (an egg custard pastry at dim sum), red bean, etc. etc. The best part is that they also serve house-made sorbet for all the dairy-free bears out there! The flavors change seasonally, as they are fruit-based, but you can sample as many as you like. When we visited the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory back in April, they had lychee, black raspberry, and mango papaya sorbet available. I wish there had been a dairy-free almond cookie flavor, but alas, there was not. I opted for the mango papaya sorbet, a beautiful sunset orange hue with a sweet, soft flavor.

 
The servers at Chinatown Ice Cream Factory are very friendly, informative, and totally willing to wash the scoop extra when you tell them you have a severe dairy allergy. Although it was still snowing outside, the place was packed wall-to-wall—arguably not hard for the small shop, but still—and yet the servers were calm, patient, and handled the mix of languages with ease and grace.

 
I grumbled at the snow freezing my hand on the outside while my ice cream froze my hand on the inside, but as my cousins pointed out, “This way it won’t melt!” Although I practically froze my face off with the combination of snow and ice cream, it was completely worth it. The mango papaya was tart but sweet and a lovely tropical aftertaste that made it seem like maybe we weren’t still in the middle of winter, but instead on a warm tropical island.

 Now that it’s summertime, it’s time to really embrace that warm island feeling—starting with the unbearable humidity and ending with a perfect scoop of ice cream. Happy Sunday and happy summer!

Fred’s

Well, we never thought we’d say it, but we have found a brunch spot where Bear actually blends into the crowd. That’s right, a small golden bear with a red plaid bow tie and no tail who is under two feet tall actually belongs at this restaurant. And which restaurant might that be, you wonder? Of course, none other than Fred’s.

An Upper West Side staple, Fred’s was named for a black Labrador Retriever bred by an organization dedicated to raising guide dogs for visually impaired individuals. Fred, despite being a great dog, was one of the few puppies unsuited to the task of becoming an effective guide dog, and she found her home near her eponymous restaurant.

fred's (menu)

Fred’s is decorated with precious photographs of puppies, sent by loving customers from around the world, and represents the loyalty and affection that is man’s best friend. As you can probably guess, Bear was delighted to see his furry friends so heavily represented at Fred’s, and felt right at home as another fluffy companion.

fred's (restaurant)

The other reason that Bear fit in at Fred’s so naturally was because Fred’s is also known as an incredibly family-friendly restaurant. Indeed, we were surrounded by beautiful Upper West Side families, most with small children that had no qualms making conversation with us and showing us their various toys, gadgets, and, yes, bears. Bear was too shy to spend much time with the children, but perhaps next time we go, he will make some new friends.

Fred’s is located in the heart of the Upper West Side, on the southwest corner of 83rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue. It is a short, pleasant walk from the 79th Street station on the 1 train, the 81st Street station on the B or C train, or the 86th Street station on the 1, B, or C train.

fred's (restaurant)

The host at Fred’s was incredibly friendly and sat me, though I was still waiting for a friend. “We’re not busy yet,” he assured, and gave me a premium seat by the window, with lots of light and opportunity for people-watching. The menu at Fred’s is extensive, and covers most of the standard brunch fair with an easy versatility. They have some special dishes, but every item is familiar and recognizable as American brunch food.

All the waiters at Fred’s have an unbelievably strong hair game going on, and all of them were friendly to the point of new-best-friend status. Our server in particular completely understood the struggle of being dairy-free and peanut-free, and having waiters rattle off the gluten-free options. “Honey, I can bring you a pile of gluten if that’s what you want,” he confirmed. He also understood that dairy did not include eggs, and said that any egg dish was doable, but he also recommended the grilled chicken sandwich. Perfect hair, perfect understanding of allergies—new-best-friend status, indeed.

While I was definitely tempted by the chicken sandwich, I eat chicken and rice almost every day, and therefore was hoping to branch out to more traditional brunch fare. I finally settled on the steak and eggs, because Fred’s offered the least expensive (read: under twenty dollars) steak and egg plate I had ever seen in the city of New York. Our waiter confirmed that it was a great choice, and made sure to have it cooked perfectly—just a little pink on the inside.

fred's (food)

Turns out the steak and egg plate is actually a three course meal on a single plate. Not only are there steak and eggs, but also fries, and a heaping green salad. Not a speck of cheese, butter, or cream evident on the plate, and the kitchen had also been considerate enough to include olive oil on the side of my salad instead of a creamy dressing. A server quickly brought ketchup for the plate, as well as balsamic vinegar at my request, to go with the olive oil.

Everything was perfect and delicious. The fries were well-cut, the eggs were scrambled firm like I had asked, and the steak was perfectly grilled to a juicy touch-of-pink. I don’t even like salad, and I ate my whole salad! The multitude of things to eat also meant that I could have the pleasure of composing bites, combining flavors, and savoring each component. Even when I was lingering on the last few bites, the servers were totally understanding that I was a slow eater, and let me really finish everything before taking my plate away.

fred's (bear)

Fred’s had a cozy, rustic ambience that allowed for great, unobstructed conversation, as well as great, unobstructed eavesdropping and people-watching. Although we went for Saturday brunch, they also have a really well-priced Sunday brunch prix fixe that we’d love to check out. As we mentioned, Fred’s is also really family-friendly, and obviously used to dealing with food allergies, not to mention furry companions! If you’re spending the day on the Upper West Side, Fred’s is the perfect place to pair with a stroll in Central Park, or a visit to the American Museum of Natural History.

We highly recommend Fred’s as a quintessential New York brunch spot on the Upper West Side. Not only was Fred’s more accommodating and understanding than other places we’ve tried, but it was also delicious and well-priced. We plan on returning for Sunday brunch when the weather gets better, and we don’t mind waiting in line. As for Bear, he was reluctant to leave his new favorite brunch spot, and wonders if they might display his picture on the wall. Apparently having a blog that primarily features his furry face is just not enough!

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!