Warning: to anyone using my reviews to economize their brunches, I was only able to eat at Almond thanks to a parent visit. The following review contains gratuitous budget-busting.
You never know who you’ll meet in New York. It might be a celebrity. Or the Times Square Elmo. Or, if you’re my friend (and partner-in-art) Tasha, it could even be an intern for the world-famous Michelin Guide. Luckily for me, it was the third.
Tasha’s friend supplied a list of the best brunch places in all five boroughs, curated by the Michelin masterminds themselves. Many of the picks didn’t receive the coveted “Michelin Star”; however, they had so distinguished themselves that, in the eyes of the Guide, they still deserved recognition. Tasha had gotten a head start on the list, so by the time she gave me her recommendations, they had passed a double osmosis of “world-class restaurant reviewer” and “tasteful New Yorker.” Her picks would be a personalized gold standard: a Michelin’s Michelin, adjusted to youth in the city. All I needed now was a proper occasion.
So when my parents announced a visit to the city, I jumped at the chance to plan meals and plant my Michelin-recognized candidate. With my “uptown brunch march” and Tasha’s list dually in mind, I suggested a patio café in the shadow of the landmark Flatiron Building. Lucky for me, they bit.
So when Saturday morning finally came around, I threw on my cleanest collared shirt and met my parents at Almond (12 E 22nd St).
Almond is a French restaurant perched between Broadway and Park Ave, the Flatiron location of the famous Bridgehampton bistro. Almond Flatiron serves three meals a day in a cavernous dining room, flanked by a bar against the wall and an off-the-street patio at the front. On this sunny July Saturday, we opted to sit outside and soak in the city. With most of New York gone for the holiday weekend, the patio was serene – even tranquil.
Since we did sit outside, it was harder to gauge Almond’s ambiance like I could in a controlled environment. From our walled garden, however, the effect was quite nice: planter boxes lined a fence between us and 22nd Street, the shoots of green complementing the deck’s rough-hewn aesthetic. Almond leans heavily on unstained wood and retro furnishings inside to achieve a “curated” look that plays up the restaurant’s comfortable qualities without undercutting the polish necessitated to serve $30 entrees. That same attention to detail translates to the outdoor section, but is perhaps best emphasized through Almond’s expert plating and service rather than “modernist chairs.” More on those first two in a jiffy.
Seated in our nice wooden chairs, it took all of a heartbeat for our waiter to appear. With him came a bottle of water and a basket of biscuits (say that three times fast). I put in for a cappuccino and nibbled on biscuits during a short wait.
For a French restaurant, Almond’s biscuits are ripped straight from the Old South – they’re buttered without being greasy, oddly delicate in their preparation, a fact further reinforced by their size. Add dabs of house butter and orange jam to create a petite tartine, and they become more macaroon than Mississippi. Best of all, because they’re so light, you can reach for #2 without spoiling your entrée. Believe me, you’ll want seconds. Before long, the biscuits were gone and my cappuccino had arrived.
I scanned the menu for a proper follow-up, but instead, I found two. And ordered two.
Without immediate regret or financial woe.
Did I mention my parents were in town? Thank you, Bank of Mom and Dad.
My first course was the House-made Granola, a fairly standard Greek yogurt parfait bowl served with honey topping. As you’d expect from the above, any baker who can do biscuits like those can probably toast granola just fine. There is a skill ceiling for granola, and Almond’s take definitely scores top marks – however, many others do the same. For what it’s worth, I found their house granola’s sugar level hits the (ahem) “sweet spot” between oaken and candied just about perfect. The dense Greek yogurt dish pairs well with a foamy cappuccino – but then again, what doesn’t?
My second course was the Almond Hash, a fairly extraordinary egg dish served with nothing you’d expect from a dish named after a nut. The Almond Hash is an egg scramble en français. Instead of diner fix-ins, the Almond chefs work in tender duck confit, fine roasted vegetables, and crunchy pieces of saveur I can only assume are what the menu meant by “duck cracklins.” This medley is crowned with a poached egg that any logical diner splits on their fork’s dive in, smothering the Hash in golden yolk almost by design. That first bite left me too overwhelmed to analyze taste profiles – the sinfully fatty duck, caked with yolk and surrounded by veggies working overtime to save your cholesterol from the decadence on the end of your knife. The result is borderline symphonic.
Who would’ve thought duck confit could work in a dish usually prefixed by “Bandito”?
The Almond Hash is quite unlike any other hash I’ve ever had: comfort food, sure, but with a Rive Gauche apartment. I don’t know if this dish was served to any Michelin staff, but I do know it bears the restaurant’s name and therefore seems primed for a reviewer’s attention. If the Guide did indeed sample the Almond Hash, the reasoning behind their nod is perfectly clear. I only wish my coffee had lasted long enough to savor both at once.
Finally, a word about service: I was truly impressed by the training of the Almond staff. Not once did someone ask if I was done with a plate – I would put down both utensils, take minutes between bites, and rather than trip over himself to snatch my tableware, my waiter watched non-verbals and – God forbid – engaged with the table sporadically rather than hover and stare. There are many French restaurants where the European tradition is not so kindly honored. Almond is not one of them.
Excellent food, stellar service, and a wonderful outdoor patio to boot: in every way, Almond lived up to the hype. At close to $50 for food and drinks ($35 if I hadn’t ordered the yogurt – bless you, Mom and Dad), however, Almond was more one-time treat than rotation addition. I typically try to find the "neighborhood" spots that provide the best value, but there's always an element of relativity in my reviews. Almond was my first truly nice brunch in the city, and yes, further evidence that you get what you pay for.
That being said, if and when you have guests to impress over brunch, take them to Almond. I'm no Michelin Guide, but it's worth every penny.