It was Sunday. It was time to eat. That meant, it was brunch time. Our bellies rumbled as we perused online menus and yelp. We searched the internet up and down for a good brunch in Hoboken. My friend was visiting, and I never really have brunch out, so it was a mission, “Project Brunch.” And then we found it, the menu we were looking for, varied and fancy enough for a brunch out on a pretty Sunday afternoon.
After calling to inquire about the wait, we decided on Anthony David’s The Dining Room, just blocks away in Hoboken. I had been once before for dinner, but never brunch and the brunch menu was beautiful.
We got there, and waited. We waited in the sunshine and in the shade, on a bench and standing on stairs. We waited. Initially the hostess told us that the wait was going to be only a half an hour, but that half an hour turned into more like 45 minutes and our little bellies were growing more and more impatient and ravenous.
Finally we were seated. Deciding and waiting, allowed us to absorb our surroundings; the shop like dining area, surrounded by jarred and bottled food stuffs, small rustic details, wooden accents and glittery letters backwards and inside out on the storefront window.
The brunch menu is not just eggs, which happened to be a requisite of ours, we wanted more than just eggs. Surprisingly enough, many of the brunch menus we saw were mostly eggs. The Dining Room on the other hand, had a wider variety but a large list of benedicts (eggs).
As a brunch appetizer, as well as a starter to curb our hunger, we chose the doughnuts with a Bourbon glaze. This sounded delicious, and somehow the both of us imagined warm, soft goodness, crunchy on the outside airy and fluffy in the middle, accompanied by an intensely sweet glaze with the essence of Bourbon. Boy, did our imaginations run away with us. Because what we got, was a completely different experience.
The delightful dough balls of our dreams did not float to us with magic delicacy like we imagined, but they were brusquely tossed on our table. The plate clattered and our eyes widened. The pretty presentation that we saw a mile coming with our hungry hawk eyes, was ruined, as the plate fumbled to our table.
Despite all that, the doughnut dots looked so pretty, golden brown, with a thick white glaze and a delicate dusting of powdered sugar. There were two piles of four; one pile of smaller balls, coated in cinnamon sugar, while the larger pile of four were much much larger balls drizzled with the bourbon glaze. Excited to bite into what appeared to be deliciousness in front of us… But to our dismay, the balls and even the glaze were stone cold. Our dreams were shattered, as all the warmth in them faded. The small balls, and even the large ones were almost paralyzingly dry, chewy and doughy. There was nothing light about them, and the only thing that overwhelmed the density, was perhaps the strong bourbon glaze. None of the alcohol was cooked out of the glaze, and it made our gums burn with discomfort and liquor. It felt like the chef just dumped (no hyperbole here) bourbon into an already mixed glaze and stirred it three times. It was over saturated with the liquor and created an intense competition between sugars and liquor.
My visiting friend, ordered the steak and eggs, which came with Anthony David’s hash browns, and eggs of your choosing (hers was egg whites). The dish was more gracefully brought to our table, but this time, our hawk eyes spotted that the steak was not cooked to her request. She asked for her steak to be cooked medium to medium well, but what she got was almost grey with cooking time. The next time we caught the server, my friend asked for it to be replaced and cooked how she originally asked for it.
Unfortunately, I did not want my Hollandaise or my poached eggs to congeal, so I was granted permission to eat while we waited for the steak and eggs to return. One of the eggs was beautifully poached and perfectly runny, while the other was deflated and less perfect, but in the end not over cooked. The crabcake was more cake than anything, and mixed in it were red and green peppers. It felt like a salsa cake with some crab in it, rather than a crabcake. There was perhaps too much heat and it definitely overwhelmed the other elements of the dish. This was similar to the hash browns, that were all one texture, with the same kind of pepper and onion salsa mixture that was present in the crab cakes. I longed for the crunch of browned potatoes or the saltiness of well cooked bacon. Something to add variety and texture. The potatoes were (sp)duds. To top it all off, one of my English muffins was burnt. A burned anything should not ever happen in a place where you have to pay to eat. This is the duty of those in the kitchen. Burned things should not even be sent out. The crazy thing is, this rarely, hardly ever, happens in my favorite diners where my meal is much cheaper.
When the steak arrived again, everything was new and fresh and piping on the plate. The steak was less cooked, but this time it was under cooked in terms of what she asked for. Other than that it was fine, just fine. The steak was mildly seasoned, and for me was screaming for salt, but was perfect for her. Nothing else on the plate was mildly interesting or looked mildly appealing (scrambled egg whites). And by the time everything was settled, her appetite had subsided.
I really really really wanted to like brunch at the Dining Room. I love brunch, it’s the perfect combination of sweet and savory, breakfast and lunch, eggs and otherwise. But, this brunch with all the potential of the world fell short. The service was not great at all; brusque, rude and rushed. And the food was mediocre; lifeless textures, minimal quality control, and poor execution. I’m just disappointed because on the whole the restaurant has an inventive and intriguing menu, and I would like to taste everything on it, but I am unsure if I am bold enough to do so.