Rice for Brunch

If you’ve ever read New York magazine’s “21 Questions” interview, you might be under the impression that the city’s residents want to abolish brunch. Fashion designer Todd Oldham referred to brunch as “Sunday-morning prison with a big bill at the end.” Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief and mystery novelist Kate White announced that “Brunch should be abolished.” Perhaps the most cutting remarks came from Brian Williams, anchor of the NBC Nightly News. “Brunch is an unnatural event, invented by the restaurant industry,” he said. “Life is about hard choices. Before noon on weekends, it’s called breakfast. After that, it’s lunch. Pick one.”

Ouch. Perhaps I should be ashamed to say this, but I love going out for brunch with friends. Now I’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 –- what else? –- 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 can’t beat the weekend brunch. If you’re dining gluten-free, you’ll need to ask for the special menu, because servers don’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 sautéed greens and manchego in a hot but sweet chili sauce, with the side dish of crispy rice-and-grit cakes with jalapeño and parmesan.

Brunch-hating New Yorkers, here’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.

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