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Baby steps to SoHo & Brunch at The Mercer Kitchen, 10/7/07

There are some neighborhoods in this fantastic city that are "uber chic, uber trendy and uber cool"...so much so, that I feel uberly-awkward and "not uberly cool enough" each and every time I pass through them. The best way I can describe this feeling is something along the lines of walking by the "cool kids" lunch table in junior high, when you're clearly not one of those "cool kids." In my case, I just wanted to pass by as fast as I could, and go about my business. For me, one of these parts of town would be SoHo, which is short for "South of Houston Street." (To learn more about this nabe, check this out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SoHo) SoHo is famous for its abundance of high-end boutiques, numerous celebrity sightings (ahem, Lindsay Lohan pre-rehab!), and artist's lofts. Just the fact that the name "South of Houston Street" was shortened from twenty letters to four (SoHo) intimidates me!

I was flattered when I was asked to join my sister's fiance's mother and sister for brunch. We agreed that Sunday would be best and decided to meet at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's The Mercer Kitchen at noon. Having never eaten at The Mercer Kitchen, I immediately checked it out on menupages.com and learned that it was located in the infamous Mercer Hotel in SoHo (where Russell Crowe threw a telephone at the front desk clerk). I couldn't wait to be in the same space where all of this dramatic A-list excitement had occurred!Sunday came quicker than I'd hoped. It's my least favorite day of the week besides Monday; as I know that the next morning I will be awakened by my screaming alarm clock at 5:15 a.m. Just one more reminder that it's the beginning of yet another (sigh) work week. I arrived at The Mercer Hotel about twenty minutes before noon, and decided to people-watch in the lobby. The atmosphere tries its hardest (and succeeds) to make one feel "at home" with plush sofas, over sized ottomans and chairs, coffee tables and fully stocked floor-to-ceiling book shelves. It's a very urban-chic, yet warm and intimate environment. Finally, about five minutes to noon, I walked down an open-air wooden staircase to The Mercer Kitchen to meet my group. The restaurant was gorgeous. There are no windows, as it's located below street level; but with the use of various mirrors, the space does not seem claustrophobic or dungeon-like in any way and was comfortably bright. The kitchen is open to the dining room, which I always appreciate in two aspects: knowing that the chefs can't as-easily pull any "fast" moves with my food; and for the shear pleasure of watching the cooking theatrics take center stage right before my eyes.

Susan and Elissa arrived downstairs within a minute or two of myself, and we were promptly seated. After some much-needed catching-up, we perused the food menu and made entree decisions rather quickly. Susan ordered the bagel & lox, Elissa chose the Gruyere omelette and I went with the shrimp & avocado salad...with the dressing on the side. My order? Boring, I know. I'd be a liar if I said that shrimp salad was my ideal meal of choice at brunch; God knows I really wanted to order the French toast or pancakes drenched in 100% pure maple syrup, or the Benedict with a bowl of extra hollandaise sauce...but I've been a bad girl for a long time, and now it's time to watch my sugar and grease intake. After ordering, we were each served a roll, which really hit-the-spot (I was famished). It was almost like they could read my mind and know just how damn hungry I was. About twenty minutes later, the entrees arrived. My salad was piled to the edges of my plate with emerald-colored greens, tomato salata, perfectly ripe chunks of avocado, thinly sliced mushrooms and butterflied shrimp. It tasted as gorgeous as it looked. It's hard enough eating a damn salad at brunch when everyone else in the restaurant is chowing down on their hollandaise-laden egg dish, but it's even harder if the salad sucks. Thankfully, this was not the case with my shrimp salad and I did not feel deprived in the least. My dining partners thoroughly enjoyed their meals, as well.

Service at the restaurant was great; not too rushed, but not too slow with absolutely no arrogance or aloofness. Will I return to The Mercer Kitchen? Most definitely and most likely for dinner and drinks. Many of the juices and colas are made from scratch on the premises!I loved the vibe and atmosphere of The Mercer Kitchen and came to the realization that maybe, just maybe I was more "uber cool" than I thought. I'm going to take baby steps and more of an open mind toward discovering SoHo and some of the other nabes that I feel are just too over-the-top-cool. After today's experience, this creature of habit and familiarity has been pleasantly surprised and is ready for her next adventure.

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