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Brunch at Marseille, 5/17/09

  • Cuisine: French
  • Atmosphere: bustling, grand bistro-chic, spacious
  • Attire: smart-casual
  • Ideal for: outdoor dining, bar scene, pre/post theater, burger, children welcomed, group dining
  • Must try: Marseille Burger
  • Price: Burger: $13.75
  • Reservations: Via phone or opentable.com
  • Phone: (212) 333-2323
  • Website: http://www.marseillenyc.com/
  • Location: 630 9th Avenue, (at 44th St)

*All of my photos from this meal can be viewed on Flickr

“This will be your first visit to NYC? How exciting! Where are you all staying, and most importantly, would you like to meet for Sunday brunch?” I said. “I think we’re at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. Brunch sounds great!” Lillie replied.

**A note of courtesy for the local Manhattanite: Don’t make a first-time visitor meet you at the venue/restaurant/landmark of choice.**

In following my rule, I told Lillie that that I’d pick her up at the Marquis and we could go to the restaurant together. Now for the hard part: Where is a decent place to eat brunch within walking distance of Times Square? Having lived in Hell’s Kitchen (Times Square’s neighbor) for two years upon my arrival to NYC, I was fairly familiar with the hood’s culinary landscape: Nizza’s great, but I just had brunch there two weeks ago; 44&X was a favorite, but I didn’t see them listed on opentable.com (to procure on online reservation); Eatery was cute to look at, but I was under whelmed by the food.
So after too much time spent scouring the opinionated boards of my favorite interactive food blog, chow.com, I decided to make our Sunday brunch reservations at Marseille.

Lillie and I arrived at the restaurant just minutes shy of our 12pm reservation, and were seated immediately. Looking around the space, Marseille vaguely resembled many of the brasseries I dined in during my trip to the French Riviera: Tarnished mirrors, large vases of fragrant flowers, intricately tiled floors and walls painted with bright Nicoise colors.

Shortly after we settled in to our seats, a server approached with a basket of breads and a small saucer with butter and orange marmalade. “We don’t serve cocktails until noon, but if you ladies want to place an order for one, I can take it now. You only have to wait for about three more minutes.” Lillie requested a mimosa and I ordered a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice (which, by the way, was among the best I’ve ever had, with the exception of Norma’s).

While I found the halved slices of rye bread to be dry (and random), the basket’s assortment of freshly-baked mini berry muffins were addicting. Lightly spread with butter and a dollop of orange marmalade, I could have made a meal out those alone.

“Which would you recommend: Merguez Sausage and Egg Scramble or the Marseille Burger?” I asked the server. “Oh,” she gushed, “Our burger is outstanding. Definitely one of the city’s best! That’s what I recommend!” Lillie perked up from reading her menu, and (almost in unison) we both exclaimed, “I’ll have the burger!”

Approaching the table with a plate in each hand, our server seemed to be coming toward us in slow motion with the sounds of a church choir singing in the background. My pulse rose as I was presented with my entrée. A large oval plate arrived with: A split hamburger bun with ingredients placed on each half (meat patty topped with Comte cheese, aioli and sautéed onions on one half, and the other half topped with crisp lettuce and a tomato slice), alongside a bowl filled with homemade frites. After seasoning the burger with a dash of salt and pepper, I united the two halves and took my first bite.

Each of my five senses went in to a euphoric stimulation-overdrive; the Marseille Burger was exceptional: The soft brioche bun proved to be durable enough to house the thick beef patty without getting soggy or falling apart. The meat was cooked until precisely “medium” in the center (as requested), allowing its natural juices to be successfully married with the homemade aioli. The buttery sautéed onions, fresh tomato slice, and mound of melted Comte cheese added textural decadence to the already-perfect sandwich. And the homemade frites? Among the best I’ve had in NYC! I finished my entire (ample) portion of the golden, crispy and perfectly salted spuds.

Besides a couple of service hiccups and some dry rye bread, I was extremely pleased with my meal at Marseille. While I do plan to return in the near future, I don’t think I can bring myself to order anything besides their outstanding burger. And to Lillie: Thank you for treating me to one of the best brunches I’ve had in recent memory. I hope you enjoyed your time in our amazing city!

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