Max Caffé

A few weeks ago, I went to a friend’s birthday dinner at Max Caffé, a very cozy little cafe on 122nd and Amsterdam. The casual version of Max Soha, Max Caffé is filled with artsy types, most of them hailing from the nearby Columbia University. Definitely a place for the bear to wear his beret.

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The place is all dim lighting and mismatched furniture, and there is something very casual and composed about the atmosphere. The waitstaff is all very personable and friendly, and they recommended a number of things without dairy, most of them being salads. They have a large selection of paninis, but the bread ingredients were not available, so I decided to go with a basic chicken salad on baby spinach.

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To me, the salad wasn’t something that was particularly noteworthy or special, though the dressing was delicious. I appreciated the touch of orange, especially combined with the spices on the chicken. However, sometimes plain things are comforting when comfort starts to become an issue. Their selection of desserts was impressive, though I did not partake. The birthday girl received some free cake in addition to the tiramisu and ice cream and espresso that everyone else ordered.

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Because the focus was on the friends and not the food, I don’t have much to say about the restaurant. Max Caffe was not my personal favorite, but I definitely recommend it as a good foray into “hispterville” with all the couches and coffee and college students. All in all, it was a fun setting for all the girls and gossip.

Community

It’s gray and rainy here in the city, so yesterday was the perfect morning to get some warm brunch at Community Food and Juice! I’ve been to Community a few times now, and it feels a little bit like restaurants back in California, with lots of natural lighting and organic menu options. Located on Broadway, between 112th and 113th Streets, Community is the trendy place to meet friends for a casual meal around Columbia. Even better, they feature “seasonal, local, organic food whenever possible,” as stated on their website and evident in their food. If you’re coming on the subway, it’s just a little bit of walk from either 110th Street or 116th Street on the 1 train.

The atmosphere in the restaurant is full of light and life. Elegant lamps hang from the high, unfinished ceilings, accompanied by ceiling fans. Different pockets of the restaurant blend together, including the bar and the open kitchen. Community has both individual tables for small parties, as well as communal tables, much like you might see in many European restaurants, although without the discomfort. On sunnier days than today, outdoor sidewalk seating is available, and according to their website they also have private dining space.

The menu boasted many several delicious looking options and I opted for the Country Breakfast—eggs, carrot hash browns, ham and a biscuit. I explained to the waiter about my allergies, and he suggested substitutions such as the biscuit for the seven-grain vegan bread. I also substituted the maple sugar cured ham for bacon, a personal preference. He was more than happy to inform the chef and make the substitutions. I have only ever been to Community for brunch and I tend to maintain a regular order at a lot of restaurants for comfort, so I can assure you that the Country Breakfast has been consistently safe.

The eggs were perfectly fluffy, but not as fully cooked as I myself might have made them—although I tend to prefer them slightly browned. The bacon was perfectly crispy as were the carrot hash browns (a Community special, barely pictured here). My favorite thing about brunch at Community, however, is the toast and jam. It seems so simple, but because I am not allowed to have a toaster in my apartment, I miss toast a lot! Plus, the jam at Community (is it raspberry?) is so delicious with regards to flavor, texture, and color that I frequently eat the leftovers with a spoon!

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When our food came, I was so hungry that Bear bear-ly managed to snag a solo shot with the remains of my delicious brunch.

I had enough (as you can see) to take home a second brunch, which is arguably the best kind of brunch! Not to mention, our waiter wrapped it up for me in a cute little box and a brown paper bag! The ending to brunch was a little rushed, as yesterday was a weekday and I had to get to class, but I can’t wait to come back and try some other dishes. I’m particularly intrigued by the B.E.L.T. and their rice bowls. Though outside was a little chilly and damp, Community is always a relaxing place to get some a little fresh air and fresh food!

Pisticci

Last Saturday, before Sandy hit the city, I had the opportunity to go check out a restaurant to which I had never been before: Pisticci. The cute little Italian restaurant is tucked away on La Salle, just off Broadway. Being a few blocks up from Morningside Heights, the restaurant was a short walk away from campus. If you’re hailing from a little farther than Columbia, the nearest subway stop is 125th Street on the 1 train.

Inside, Pisticci is all charm and warmth. Orange-and-black paper chains were up for Halloween and one of the walls had a library façade à la my high school’s production of Beauty and the Beast. There was a lot of space in the restaurant’s multiple rooms and the general atmosphere was family-restaurant-meets-Italian-getaway. We were actually there for dinner, and as Pisticci doesn’t take reservations, there was a little bit of a wait. Although we were offered an alternative seat at the bar, we declined for a corner table near the windows.

The cold tap water was served from mason jars into elegant glasses, and the menus had giant sunflowers on them. The waitress ran off some specials and I told her about my food allergies. When I asked if there were any dishes that were easy to prepare without dairy—Italian food is always tricky—she said to let her know which dish I thought I would like, and she would ask the chef directly.

Pisticci prides itself on authentic Italian food, and many dishes were listed in their original Italian. The options were not overwhelming, but there was a wide range of antipasti, pasta dishes, and main entrées. According to their website, all the food is made fresh and from scratch, which explains the mysterious Italian-food-aromas wafting around. I asked if the maltagliati could be done without the ricotta, and she assured me it could!

Olive oil and bread came out, but I’m sorry to report that I was not able to get an ingredient check on the bread. The couple next to us was skeptical about the bread containing dairy, but as I told them, you can never be sure with severe allergies. The pasta, however, was great!

Maltagliati, according to the Internet, is a type of pasta made from leftover scraps of making actual pasta. This particular version looked like scraps of lasagna pieces that didn’t quite make the cut (haha, cut). The sauce was tomato-based with wilted spinach and shredded lamb, and was slightly spicy with a great texture. The portions were well suited for a nice meal out, but not enough for leftovers or a very hungry bear. However, such an appetite could be satisfied if you decide to add in some appetizers or some dessert.

Unlike most restaurants in Morningside Heights, the crowd consisted of less Columbia students and more neighborhood families. Students were still there in their Halloweekend costumes, but parents came with children for family dinners and professorial types seemed to be enjoying an evening off. All in all, the atmosphere was very relaxed and comfortable.

Pisticci was a great first restaurant for the Brunch with Bear team and they were very accommodating without incident. I would be interested in going back to check out some of the other dinner dishes, the sorbet options, and the brunch menu!