If youâ€™ve ever read New York magazineâ€™s â€œ21 Questionsâ€ interview, you might be under the impression that the cityâ€™s residents want to abolish brunch. Fashion designer Todd Oldham referred to brunch as â€œSunday-morning prison with a big bill at the end.â€ Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief and mystery novelist Kate White announced that â€œBrunch should be abolished.â€ Perhaps the most cutting remarks came from Brian Williams, anchor of the NBC Nightly News. â€œBrunch is an unnatural event, invented by the restaurant industry,â€ he said. â€œLife is about hard choices. Before noon on weekends, itâ€™s called breakfast. After that, itâ€™s lunch. Pick one.â€
Ouch. Perhaps I should be ashamed to say this, but I love going out for brunch with friends. Now Iâ€™m wondering if my affection for the meal has more to do with the place that serves it. My favorite brunch spot in New York right now is Rice, a small, local chain specializing in pan-Asian cooking. It has two outlets in Manhattan and two in Brooklyn; the one I know best is the Murray Hill location, which is a tiny space at the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 28th Street. In spite of its diminutive size, it feels spacious thanks to the high ceilings and pots of greenery on the tables. The design is casual, with sacks of â€“- what else? â€“- rice tucked under the rafters and small burlap rice bags serving as light shades.
Gluten-free meals are available here at lunch and dinner, but you canâ€™t beat the weekend brunch. If youâ€™re dining gluten-free, youâ€™ll need to ask for the special menu, because servers donâ€™t automatically bring it to the table. The $12 special (which applies to both regular and gluten-free brunches) buys you a main course, side dish, coffee/tea, and juice (for an extra $5, you can throw in unlimited mimosas, too). The gluten-free menu is extensive, yet I keep returning to the frittata with sautÃ©ed greens and manchego in a hot but sweet chili sauce, with the side dish of crispy rice-and-grit cakes with jalapeÃ±o and parmesan.
Brunch-hating New Yorkers, hereâ€™s a challenge: try brunch at Rice, and then decide whether the meal needs to be abolished.
Rice in Murray Hill [address] 115 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY [tel] 212-686-5400
Rice in Nolita [address] 292 Elizabeth Street, New York, NY [tel] 212-226-5775
Rice in DUMBO [address] 81 Washington Street, Brooklyn, NY [tel] 718-222-9880
Rice in Fort Greene [address] 166 Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn, NY [tel] 718-858-2700
All locations [website] www.riceny.com
UPDATE 01/24/2010: Rice has closed its Lexington Avenue location. The other three outposts remain open.